Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 8
Spin-off Boston Legal
Created by David E. Kelley
Original language(s) English
First episode date 4 March 1997
|Genre Legal dramaComedy-drama|
Starring Dylan McDermottLisa Gay HamiltonSteve HarrisCamryn ManheimKelli WilliamsMichael BadaluccoLara Flynn BoyleMarla SokoloffJason KravitsRon LivingstonJessica CapshawChyler LeighRhona MitraJames Spader
Network American Broadcasting Company
Cast Dylan McDermott, Kelli Williams, Camryn Manheim, James Spader, Michael Badalucco
The Practice is an American legal drama created by David E. Kelley centering on the partners and associates at a Boston law firm. Running for eight seasons on ABC from 1997 to 2004, the show won the Emmy in 1998 and 1999 for Best Drama Series, and spawned the spin-off series Boston Legal, which ran for five more seasons, from 2004 to 2008.
- Main cast
- Recurring cast
- Notable guest stars
- Budget reduction and major revamp
- DVD releases
- US television viewership
The Practice focused on the law firm of Robert Donnell and Associates (later becoming Donnell, Young, Dole, & Frutt, and ultimately Young, Frutt, & Berluti). Plots typically featured the firm's involvement in various high-profile criminal and civil cases that often mirror current events. Conflict between legal ethics and personal morality was a recurring theme. Some episodes contained light comedy. Kelley claimed that he conceived the show as something of a rebuttal to L.A. Law (for which he wrote) and its romanticized treatment of the American legal system and legal proceedings.
At the start of the series, attorney Bobby Donnell employs associate attorneys Ellenor Frutt, Eugene Young (who joined Bobby's practice seven years earlier), Lindsay Dole, and receptionist/paralegal Rebecca Washington (with whom Bobby started his practice). By the fourth episode, Bobby's friend Jimmy Berluti is hired as an associate. Before that, Jimmy is an attorney working as a loan officer. When he falsifies loan documents to help Bobby's struggling practice, he loses his job, and Bobby hires him.
Bobby originally opens his practice with idealistic dreams of protecting the innocent; but, during the firm's early days of financial struggle, Bobby quickly learns that drug dealers and other undeniably guilty clients tend to be the ones who provide the business that keep the firm running.
Bobby maintains sole control over the firm until an ultimatum by Lindsay motivates him to name Ellenor, Eugene, Lindsay, and Rebecca as junior partners. To maintain control over the firm, Bobby writes into the charter that each partner received one vote in partnership meetings, while Bobby would get two. While this decision prevents Lindsay's power play from becoming ugly, it temporarily causes some tension when Bobby and Lindsay later become romantically involved, potentially creating a voting bloc. The partnership agreement also initially alienates Jimmy who feels insulted that he was the only one on staff not named a partner. This is exacerbated by the fact that Rebecca is made partner despite her being the receptionist and not an attorney. Rebecca earns her law degree in Season 3, and Jimmy is eventually made partner at the end of Season 7.
Bobby and his associates all share a friendship with A.D.A. Helen Gamble, who even shares a brief romance with Bobby – all highly unusual, considering how often Helen's job places her in opposition to the firm.
A recurring strategy used by the practice – especially Eugene – is informally known as the "United States of America defense", an appeal to patriotism that emphasizes the rights of their client as Constitutional priorities that must be upheld by the jury. However, the firm is far more notorious for employing a strategy they refer to as "Plan B", which involves creating doubt with the jury as to their client's guilt by accusing a third, usually innocent party of the crime in order to plant the seed of reasonable doubt. While the strategy is often effective, it would occasionally backfire once the D.A.'s office grew familiar with the strategy, and it once resulted in a defamation lawsuit against them. This tactic invariably causes great emotional distress for the attorney employing the plan when they know that the target is most likely innocent. Thus, in such cases, Plan B is used only as a last resort. Despite the firm's friendship with Helen Gamble, the practice's use of Plan B, combined with the firm's high win/loss ratio, attracts ire and scrutiny from the D.A.'s office, particularly in the case of senior A.D.A. Kenneth Walsh.
In 2003, Bobby Donnell leaves the firm, fearing he had become the "blue-chip" lawyer he had long resented. He names Eugene as senior partner. Along with Ellenor, Eugene decides to make Jimmy a full partner and extends an offer to Lindsay (who had left to start her own practice), and her associate Claire Wyatt to return to the firm.
This occurred at the end of season seven, at the end of which most of the cast was fired for budgetary reasons as ABC agreed to renew the show only if the budget per episode was drastically cut. Season eight began with nearly half the original cast missing. It was never explained what became of Lindsay, Claire, Lucy, Rebecca, or Helen. Many of the recurring characters, such as judges Zoey Hiller, were also completely written off, though several, such as Roberta Kittleson did return for several episodes during the eighth season.
During the final year of the firm's existence, the remaining attorneys are senior partners Ellenor, Eugene, Jimmy, and associate Jamie Stringer. Lucy Hatcher, the firm's longtime receptionist/paralegal, has been replaced by Tara Wilson, a third year law student and paralegal. Ellenor hires an old friend, Alan Shore, the top anti-trust attorney in Massachusetts after he is fired from his firm Carruthers-Abbot for embezzling. Alan's joining the firm is a mixed blessing; he attracts lots of business and generates enough revenue to make up for the three departed lawyers, but his unorthodox out-of and in-court antics, perceived ethical short-comings and near illegal methods often clash with Eugene, Jimmy and, occasionally, Ellenor.
Near the series end, Eugene and Jimmy fire Alan without consulting Ellenor, creating a phenomenon known as a law firm divorce. It begins when, despite Alan's bringing in over $9,000,000 in revenue, he is offered just $15,000 severance. For warning Shore of his impending dismissal, paralegal Tara is also fired by Eugene for betraying their trust, and Lucy is brought back as a temporary receptionist. Alan sues for wrongful termination and hires Matthew Billings and Denny Crane of the blue-chip firm Crane, Poole & Schmidt to represent him. The jury decides that Young, Frutt & Berluti are to pay Shore $2.3 million.
Alan and Tara are hired by Crane, Poole & Schmidt as an associate and paralegal respectively. After this case the tensions caused between the partners' loyalties during the Shore months leads to the dissolution of the firm. Shore offers to forfeit his winnings, but the offer is declined. A soul searching discussion between Jimmy and Jamie about being true to his original reasons for wishing to become a lawyer leads Jimmy to decide to start practicing in his own neighborhood. Eugene is appointed a superior court judge, and Ellenor takes time out from law to spend time with her daughter. Jamie later joins Jimmy and his childhood friend to start a new law firm.
Notable guest stars
The series holds the Emmy Award record for most wins in the Guest Actor and Actress categories for a single series, as well as most nominations in those categories. Emmys went to John Larroquette, Edward Herrmann, James Whitmore, Beah Richards, Michael Emerson, Charles S. Dutton, Alfre Woodard, Sharon Stone, and William Shatner. In addition, Tony Danza, Paul Dooley, Henry Winkler, Marlee Matlin, Rene Auberjonois, and Betty White were nominated but did not win. Larroquette, who won for his guest appearance during the second season, was nominated again for an episode from the sixth season, but did not win. The series won the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for five consecutive years (from 1998–2002).
Budget reduction and major revamp
By the end of the seventh season, faced with sagging ratings, ABC conditioned the show's renewal on a drastic budget reduction. As a result, six cast members were fired: Dylan McDermott, Kelli Williams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Chyler Leigh, Marla Sokoloff, and Lisa Gay Hamilton. The addition of James Spader and Rhona Mitra to the cast for the eighth season somewhat revived the ratings; Spader went on to win an Emmy for his appearance. However, on March 11, 2004, ABC announced that The Practice would not return for a ninth season; rather, Kelley would create a new spin-off series Boston Legal, starring Spader, Mitra, Lake Bell and William Shatner.
The Practice had 8 seasons and a total of 168 episodes.
Additionally, Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott) appears in the Ally McBeal season 1 finale "These Are the Days", while Lara Flynn Boyle and Michael Badalucco each make cameos in "Making Spirits Bright" and "I Know Him by Heart".
The Practice, Volume 1, was released as a Four-Disc DVD Set in North America on June 12, 2007. The set includes all six episodes of season 1 and the first seven episodes of season 2. It also includes a featurette, "Setting Up The Practice". The set was also released in Region 4 on June 6, 2007 and in Region 2 on June 29, 2008.
On January 3, 2014, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series in Region 1 and would release the final season on DVD on April 15, 2014.
In 2012, Medium Rare Entertainment acquired the rights to the series in Region 2 and released "The Practice: The Complete First and Second Seasons" on DVD in the United Kingdom on February 27, 2012.
In 2014, StudioCanal released the first and second seasons over three volumes in Germany with German and English audio. The third, fourth and eighth seasons have also been released in 2016 with plans to release the fifth and sixth at a later date.
On July 1, 2007, Volume 1 was released in Italy and Greece.
U.S. television viewership
Viewer numbers per season of The Practice on ABC.
Note: Each U.S. network television season starts in late September and ends in late May, which coincides with the completion of May sweeps. The first two seasons include the household rating. Seasons 4 and 5 reached the top 10 rankings.
The exposure from its January 30, 2000, post-Super Bowl episode (attracting 23.8 million viewers) plus their weekly lead-in from early 2000 to mid-2001, the then mega-hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, helped the series reach its ratings peak.