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David E. Kelley

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Title: David E. Kelley  
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Subject: The Practice, L.A. Law, Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, List of The Practice episodes, The Wedding Bells
Collection: 1956 Births, American Film Producers, American Male Screenwriters, American People of Irish Descent, American Protestants, American Screenwriters, American Television Producers, American Television Writers, Articles Which Contain Graphical Timelines, Boston University School of Law Alumni, Edgar Award Winners, Living People, Male Television Writers, Massachusetts Lawyers, People from Belmont, Massachusetts, People from Waterville, Maine, Primetime Emmy Award Winners, Princeton University Alumni, Showrunners, Television Hall of Fame Inductees
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David E. Kelley

David E. Kelley
Kelley and Michelle Pfeiffer at the 47th Primetime Emmy Awards in 1994
Born (1956-04-04) April 4, 1956
Waterville, Maine, U.S.
Occupation Television producer, writer, attorney
Years active 1986–present
Spouse(s) Michelle Pfeiffer (1993–present)
Children Claudia Kelley
John Kelley

David Edward Kelley (born April 4, 1956) is an American television writer and producer, known as the creator of Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Boston Legal, and Harry's Law as well as several films. Kelley is one of very few screenwriters to have created shows aired on all four top commercial U.S. television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox & NBC).


  • Early life 1
  • Television work 2
    • L.A. Law (1986–1994) 2.1
    • Picket Fences (1992–1996) 2.2
    • Chicago Hope (1994–2000) 2.3
    • The Practice (1997–2004) 2.4
    • Ally McBeal (1997–2002) 2.5
      • Portrayal of the Ally McBeal character 2.5.1
    • Boston Public (2000–2004) 2.6
    • Boston Legal (2004–2008) 2.7
    • 2007–present 2.8
  • Methods 3
    • Writing 3.1
    • Story elements 3.2
    • Crossover episodes 3.3
    • Casting 3.4
  • Legal profession 4
  • Public education 5
  • Medicine 6
  • Catholicism 7
  • Feature films 8
  • Personal life 9
  • Filmography 10
  • Television work 11
    • Timeline 11.1
  • Awards 12
    • Emmy awards and nominations 12.1
      • Notes 12.1.1
      • Emmy winning actors and actresses in Kelley's series 12.1.2
    • Peabody awards 12.2
    • Television Hall of Fame 12.3
  • Footnotes and references 13
  • Bibliography 14
  • External links 15

Early life

Kelley was born in Waterville, Maine, raised in Belmont, Massachusetts and attended the Belmont Hill School. He is the son of legendary Boston University Terriers and New England Whalers hockey coach Jack Kelley[1] and played the game himself. Kelley was a stick boy for the Whalers during his father's time as coach[2] and the captain of the hockey team at Princeton University, from which he graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in political science.[3]

Demonstrating early on a creative and quirky bent, in his junior year at Princeton, Kelley submitted a paper for a political science class about John F. Kennedy's plot to kill Fidel Castro, written as a poem.[4] For his senior thesis, he turned the Bill of Rights into a play. "I made each amendment into a character", he said. "The First Amendment is a loudmouth guy who won't shut up. The Second Amendment guy, all he wanted to talk about was his gun collection. Then the 10th Amendment, the one where they say leave the rest for the states to decide, he was a guy with no self-esteem."[3] Also while at Princeton, he was a member of the Princeton Triangle Club.[5]

He received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Boston University School of Law, where he wrote for the Legal Follies,[6] a sketch comedy group composed of Boston University law students which still holds annual performances. He began working for a Boston law firm, mostly dealing with real estate and minor criminal cases.

In 1983, while considering it only a hobby, Kelley began writing a screenplay, a legal thriller, which was optioned in 1986 and later became the Judd Nelson feature film From the Hip in 1987.[3][7]

Television work

L.A. Law (1986–1994)

In 1986, Steven Bochco was searching for writers with a law background for his new NBC legal series, L.A. Law. His agent sent him Kelley's movie script for From the Hip. Enthusiastic, Bochco made him a writer and story editor for the show. During this first year, Kelley kept his law office in Boston as a hedge. However, his involvement in the show only expanded. In the second year, he became executive story editor and co-producer. Finally, in 1989, Bochco stepped away from the series making Kelley the executive producer.[7] While executive producer, Kelley received two Emmys for Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series and the show received the award for Outstanding Drama Series for both years.[8] For the first five seasons that he was involved with the show, he wrote or co-wrote two out of three episodes. Kelley left after the fifth season in 1991 and ratings began to fall. As Newsday's TV critic wrote, "The difference between good and bad L.A. Law ... was David Kelley."[9] Midway through the sixth season, both Bochco and Kelley were brought in as creative consultants after the show received bad press about its decline in quality.[10]

Picket Fences (1992–1996)

In 1992, after co-creating Doogie Howser, M.D. with his mentor Steven Bochco, Kelley formed his own production company, David E Kelley Productions, making a three-series deal with CBS.[11] Its first creation, Picket Fences, airing in 1992 and influenced by Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure,[12] focused on the police department in the fictional quirky town of Rome, Wisconsin. Kelley wrote most of the episodes for the first three years.[13] The show was critically acclaimed but never found a sizable audience.[14] Picket Fences went on for four years, receiving a total of 14 Emmy awards including consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series for its first and second seasons.[8]

In 1995, the fourth and final season, Kelley wrote only two episodes. "We had almost 10 writers try to come in and take over for this one man", said Holly Marie Combs who played a character on the show. "The quality was not nearly what it was."[15]

Chicago Hope (1994–2000)

Under pressure from CBS to develop a second series even though he didn't feel ready to produce two shows simultaneously,[16] Kelley launched the medical drama Chicago Hope, starring Mandy Patinkin and Adam Arkin, which premiered in 1994.[17] Airing at the same time as the season's other new medical drama, NBC's ER, the ultimate ratings leader,[18] Chicago Hope plotted "upscale medicine in a high-tech world run by high-priced doctors".[19] During its six-year run, it won seven Emmys[8] and generally high critical praise, but only middling ratings.[20]

Originally intending to write only the first several episodes in order to return full-time to Picket Fences, Kelley eventually wrote most of the material for both shows, a total of roughly 40 scripts. Expressing a desire to focus more on his production company and upcoming projects, Kelley ceased day-to-day involvement with both series in 1995, allowing others to write and produce.[21] Towards the end of the fifth season in 1999, facing cancellation, Kelley fired most of the cast members added since he had left the show, brought back Mandy Patinkin and began writing episodes again.[22]

The Practice (1997–2004)

In 1995, Kelley entered into a five-year deal with 20th Century Fox Television to produce shows for both the ABC and FOX television networks, each agreeing to take two series. If one network passed on a project, the other got first refusal. Kelley retained full creative control.[23] Ally McBeal on FOX and The Practice on ABC were the first two projects to come from this deal.[24]

Premiering as a

External links

  • Caldwell, John: "Convergence Television: Aggregating Form and Repurposing Content in the Culture of Conglomeration". Television after TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition. Ed. Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson. Duke University Press, 2004 ISBN 978-0-8223-3393-7
  • Caves, Richard E.: Switching Channels: Organization and Change in TV Broadcasting. Harvard University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-674-01878-5
  • Ellis, John: Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty. I. B. Tauris, 2000 ISBN 978-1-86064-125-1
  • Levine, Josh: David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. ECW Press, 1999 ISBN 978-1-55022-372-9
  • Orlik, Peter B.: Electronic Media Criticism: : Applied Perspectives. LEA, Inc., 2000 ISBN 978-0-8058-3641-7
  • Tucker, Ken: Kissing Bill O'Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love And Hate About TV. St. Martin's Press, 2005 ISBN 978-0-312-33057-6


  1. ^ Kelley's father, Jack Kelley, was the coach of the Boston University hockey team from 1962 to 1972 and of the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers in their inaugural season of 1972-1973.[3]
  2. ^ Willes, Ed. The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2004.
  3. ^ a b c Carter, Bill (March 2, 1998). "The Unintended Career Of TV's Prolific Writer; From Real Law Office to Two Fictional Ones".  
  4. ^ a b c d e  
  5. ^ La Gorce, Tammy (November 18, 2007). "From Trenton to Piscataway, a Virtual Tour of the State for Laughs". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Carter, Bill (February 7, 1990). "He's a Lawyer. He's a Writer. But Can He Type?".  
  8. ^ a b c d "Advanced Primetime Awards Search". Retrieved 2007-04-08. 
  9. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 24
  10. ^ Carter, Bill (January 30, 1992). L.A. Law,' to Halt Slide, Reaches Back to Bochco"'".  
  11. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 28
  12. ^ a b Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 27
  13. ^ a b Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 31
  14. ^ a b c d Levine, Stuart (May 3, 2001). "Kelley acts as judge, jury for series quality".  
  15. ^ Urankar, Stan (July 10, 1997). """Outside those "Picket Fences. Sun News Ohio. Archived from the original on 2007-03-02. Retrieved 2007-04-01. 
  16. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 35
  17. ^ O'Connor, John J. (September 19, 1994). "Doctor Shows for the High-Tech 90's".  
  18. ^ For the six seasons, ER ranked in the top four, Chicago Hope's highest ranking was 23rd.[4]
  19. ^ O'Connor, John J. (October 23, 1999). "The Operation Was a Success: 'E.R.' Lives".  
  20. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 37
  21. ^ a b Coe, Steve (June 12, 1995). "The dramatic license of David Kelley.".  
  22. ^ a b Carter, Bill (May 23, 1999). "Calling Dr. Geiger".  
  23. ^ Caves, Switching Channels: Organization and Change in TV Broadcasting. p. 26
  24. ^ The other two projects were Ally, a short-lived 30 minute edit of Ally McBeal on FOX and the quickly cancelled Snoops on ABC.
  25. ^ a b c Kissel, Rick (May 3, 2001). Practice's' good legal standing"'".  
  26. ^ a b James, Caryn (April 27, 1998). "Ally McBeal Teams Up With Less Flitty Lawyers".  
  27. ^ a b c d Levine, Stuart (May 3, 2001). "As former lawyers, writers on same page".  
  28. ^ Wethington, Jessica (May 3, 2001). "Script-to-b'cast a race vs. deadline".  
  29. ^ "Kelley Defends The Practice".  
  30. ^ Stanley, Allesendra (September 27, 2003). "Same Old Law Firm, New Snake".  
  31. ^ Kimberly, Stevens (November 23, 1997). "NOTICED; Ally, the Talk Around the Water Cooler".  
  32. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 8
  33. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. pp. 62-63
  34. ^ Sterngold, James (December 18, 1997). "Strong Women in TV? They'd Sure Better Be; Progress, but Slowly, on Camera and Off".  
  35. ^ a b Jefferson, Margo (March 18, 1998). "You Want to Slap Ally McBeal, but Do You Like Her?".  
  36. ^ Time Magazine cover (June 29, 1998). "Time cover of June 29, 1998".  
  37. ^  
  38. ^  
  39. ^ a b Millman, Joyce (September 20, 1999). "Kelleyvision".  
  40. ^  
  41. ^ Carter, Bill (January 12, 2000). "TV NOTES".  
  42. ^ Flint, Joe (January 12, 2000). "News Corp. May Make David Kelley Highest-Paid Producer in TV History".  
  43. ^ Perkins, Ken Parish (December 13, 2000). "Prolific writer/producer David E. Kelley can't seem to sustain hits".  
  44. ^ "2004-05 Final audience and ratings figures".  
  45. ^ "2005-06 primetime wrap".  
  46. ^ House' Finale Wins Tuesday for FOX"'". May 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  47. ^ Porter, Rick (2008-05-13). Boston Legal' Bowing Out"'".  
  48. ^ Martin, Ed (2008-05-23). "Why Boston Legal is One of Broadcast's Best".  
  49. ^ Boston Legal (April 13, 2007). Justice in the Arts Award for David E. Kelley"'".  
  50. ^ a b Bells' stop ringing after seven episodes"'".  
  51. ^ Steinberg, Jacques; Eliott, Stuart (2008-05-13). "ABC Fall Roster Is Heavy on the Already Proven".  
  52. ^ Stack, Tim (November 17, 2006). "David E. Kelley makes a big comeback".  
  53. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (2008-05-28). "David E. Kelley leaving studio after 22 years".  
  54. ^
  55. ^"Will New Shows From J.J. Abrams, David E. Kelley and Jerry Bruckheimer Save NBC?". 2009-01-11. 
  56. ^
  57. ^ Collins, Scott (May 13, 2012). "NBC says buh-bye to 'very old' 'Harry's Law' viewers".  
  58. ^ NBC rejects 'Wonder Woman' Entertainment Weekly 2011-05-12
  59. ^ a b Kenneally, Tim (May 8, 2012). "David E. Kelley medical drama to be TNT series".  
  60. ^ Kondolojy, Amanda (May 10, 2013). Southland' & 'Monday Mornings' Canceled by TNT"'". TV by the Numbers. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  61. ^ Elavsky, Cindy (September 21, 2015). "Celebrity Q&A".  
  62. ^ Tucker, Kissing Bill O'Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love And Hate About TV. p. 4
  63. ^ Ellis, Seeing Things: Television in an Age of Uncertainty p 123
  64. ^ McNiff, Eamon; Cuomo, Chris (November 3, 2006). "David E. Kelley Likes Stirring the Pot".  
  65. ^ Orlik, Electronic Media Criticism: : Applied Perspectives, p. 125
  66. ^ Levine, David E Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 31
  67. ^ Levine, David E Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. pp. 60-61
  68. ^ Carter, Bill (September 10, 1997). "Looks Like a Hit".  
  69. ^ a b Caldwell, Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition, p. 64
  70. ^ Holbrook, Thom. "Picket Fences and The X-Files". Thom Holbrook's Crossover & Spin Offs. Retrieved July 15, 2011. 
  71. ^ a b Speier, Michael (May 3, 2001). "Attorneys quick to offer reality check".  
  72. ^  
  73. ^  
  74. ^ Bilger, Burkhard (December 22, 1996). "TV's Powerful Doctor Shows vs. the H.M.O.".  
  75. ^ Carter, Bill (November 7, 2002). "'"A Catholic Writer Brings His Anger to 'The Practice.  
  76. ^  
  77. ^ "David E. Kelley Lashes Out Again".  
  78. ^ "Hollywood and ACLU vs. Catholicism".  
  79. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 23
  80. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 41
  81. ^ "Corrections".  
  82. ^ a b "What lies beneath: Michelle Pfeiffer spills her dinner down her top on Italian date night with her husband". The Daily Mail (London: CBS Interactive Inc.). October 4, 2007. Retrieved October 23, 2008. 
  83. ^ "HELLO!".  
  84. ^ Pringle, Gill (Friday 13, 2007). "Michelle Pfeiffer: The former beauty queen is back after a five-year break". The Independent (London: Independent Print Limited). Retrieved July 3, 2011. 
  85. ^ "Michelle Pfeiffer Biography". October 23, 2008. Retrieved October 23, 2008. 
  86. ^ Levine, David E. Kelley: The Man Behind Ally McBeal. p. 34
  87. ^ Each U.S. network television season starts in late September and ends in late May, which coincides with the completion of May sweeps.
  88. ^ Episodes 11 through 13 did air overseas.
  89. ^ The last two episodes aired in 2005 in syndication on TV One.
  90. ^ Lower case letters in "girls club" are correct.
  91. ^ The remaining episodes were aired on Bravo.
  92. ^ Michael Schneider (May 11, 2009). "'"NBC passing on 'Legally Mad.  
  93. ^ Hibberd, James (May 16, 2010). "NBC's fall schedule, upfront revealed". The Live Feed (The Hollywood Reporter). Retrieved May 16, 2010. 
  94. ^ Rise, Lynette (May 12, 2011). "'"NBC rejects 'Wonder Woman. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 6, 2012. 
  95. ^ Stevens, Dana (October 1, 2001). "The Kelley Curse".  
  96. ^ Peabody Awards for David E. Kelley, accessed September 2014.
  97. ^ 58th Annual Peabody Awards, May 1999.
  98. ^ 58th Annual Peabody Awards, May 1999.
  99. ^ 62nd Annual Peabody Awards, May 2003.
  100. ^ 65th Annual Peabody Awards, May 2006.
  101. ^ The Deadline Team (December 16, 2013). "Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David E. Kelley, Jay Leno, Rupert Murdoch, Ray Dolby, Brandon Stoddard Named To TV Academy's Hall of Fame". Retrieved February 25, 2014. 

Footnotes and references

In 2014, David E. Kelley was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.[101]

Television Hall of Fame

Year For Producing organizations
1998 The Practice ABC and David E. Kelley Productions[97]
Ally McBeal Fox and David E. Kelley Productions[98]
2002 Boston Public David E. Kelley Productions in association with 20th Century Fox Television[99]
2005 Boston Legal David E. Kelley Productions in association with 20th Century Fox Television[100]

The following information is from the Peabody Awards database.[96]

Peabody awards

Among the actors and actresses who have won Emmys for playing roles in Kelley's series are Peter MacNicol, Tracey Ullman, Sharon Stone, William Shatner, James Spader, Alfre Woodard, Charles S. Dutton, Michael Emerson, James Whitmore, Beah Richards, Edward Herrmann, Michael Badalucco, Holland Taylor, John Larroquette, Camryn Manheim, Christine Lahti, Héctor Elizondo, Mandy Patinkin, Kathy Baker, Ray Walston, Paul Winfield, Richard Kiley, Fyvush Finkel, Leigh Taylor-Young, Tom Skerritt, Richard Dysart, Jimmy Smits, and Larry Drake.

Emmy winning actors and actresses in Kelley's series

  1. Information from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences online database[8]
  2. Several shared writing nominations not included.
  3. In 1999, he was the first producer ever to take home Emmys for both Best Comedy Series (Ally McBeal) and Best Drama (The Practice).[95]


Year For Category Result Other notes
1988 L.A. Law Outstanding Drama Series Nominated Shared with Steven Bochco, Terry Louise Fisher, Phillip M. Goldfarb, Scott Goldstein, Gregory Hoblit, Rick Wallace
L.A. Law Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Nominated Shared with Terry Louise Fisher
1989 L.A. Law Outstanding Drama Series Awarded Shared with Steven Bochco, William M. Finkelstein, Michele Gallery, Phillip M. Goldfarb, Scott Goldstein, Judith Parker, Rick Wallace, Alice West
L.A. Law Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Nominated
1990 L.A. Law Outstanding Drama Series Awarded Shared with Robert M. Breech, William M. Finkelstein, Elodie Keene, Michael M. Robin, Rick Wallace, Alice West
L.A. Law Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Awarded For the episode "Bang...Zoom...Zap"
L.A. Law Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Nominated For the episode "Blood Sweat & Fears". Shared with co-writer William M. Finklestein
1991 L.A. Law Outstanding Drama Series Awarded Shared with Rick Wallace, Patricia Green, John Hill, Robert Breech, James C. Hart, Elodie Keene, Alan Brennert, Alice West
L.A. Law Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Awarded For the episode "On The Toad Again"
L.A. Law Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Nominated For the episode "Mutinies On The Banzai". Shared with co-writers Alan Brennert and Patricia Green.
1993 Picket Fences Outstanding Drama Series Awarded Shared with Robert Breech, Mark B. Perry, Jonathan Pontell, Michael Pressman, Alice West
1994 Picket Fences Outstanding Drama Series Awarded Shared with Robert Breech, Ann Donahue, Geoffrey Neigher, Jack Philbrick, Jonathan Pontell, Michael Pressman, Alice West
1995 Chicago Hope Outstanding Drama Series Nominated Shared with Michael Braverman, Dennis Cooper, Rob Corn, Michael Dinner, James C. Hart, John Heath, Michael Pressman, John Tinker
1996 Chicago Hope Outstanding Drama Series Nominated Shared with Kevin Arkadie, Rob Corn, Bill D'Elia, Michael Dinner, Patricia Green, James C. Hart, John Heath, John Tinker
1998 The Practice Outstanding Drama Series Awarded Shared with Bob Breech, Jeffrey Kramer, Christina Musrey, Jonathan Pontell, Ed Redlich, Gary M. Strangis, Pamela Wisne
Ally McBeal Outstanding Comedy Series Nominated Shared with Jeffrey Kramer, Mike Listo, Jonathan Pontell, Steve Robin, Pamela Wisne
Ally McBeal Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Nominated
The Practice Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Nominated For the episode "Betrayal"
1999 The Practice Outstanding Drama Series Awarded Shared with Bob Breech, Jeffrey Kramer, Christina Musrey, Gary M. Strangis, Pamela Wisne
Ally McBeal Outstanding Comedy Series Awarded Shared with Peter Burrell, Jeffrey Kramer, Mike Listo, Jonathan Pontell, Steve Robin, Pamela Wisne
Ally McBeal Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series Nominated
2000 The Practice Outstanding Drama Series Nominated Shared with Bob Breech, Jeffrey Kramer, Christina Musrey, Gary M. Strangis, Pamela Wisne
2007 Boston Legal Outstanding Drama Series Nominated
2008 Boston Legal Outstanding Drama Series Nominated

Emmy awards and nominations


Note: The above timeline does not include the three additional episodes of Snoops broadcast in non-U.S. markets nor the short-lived Ally.


Premiere Season[87] Title Network Involvement Status
19861987 L.A. Law NBC Writer, story editor, executive story editor, supervising producer, co-producer, executive producer, creative consultant ended 1994
19891990 Doogie Howser, M.D. ABC Co-creator (with Steven Bochco), writer, creative consultant ended 1993
19921993 Picket Fences CBS Creator, writer, executive producer ended 1996
19941995 Chicago Hope CBS Creator, writer, executive producer, executive consultant ended 2000
19961997 The Practice ABC Creator, writer, executive producer ended 2004
19971998 Ally McBeal Fox Creator, writer, executive producer ended 2002
19992000 Snoops ABC Creator, writer, executive producer, actor (uncredited) canceled after 10 episodes[88]
Ally Fox Creator, writer, executive producer canceled after 10 episodes
20002004 Boston Public Fox Creator, writer, executive producer, executive consultant ended 2004[89]
20022003 Girls Club[90] Fox Creator, writer, executive producer canceled after 2 episodes
20032004 The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire CBS Creator, writer, executive producer canceled after 5 episodes
20042005 Boston Legal ABC Creator, writer, executive producer ended 2008
20052006 The Law Firm NBC, Bravo Creator, writer, executive producer canceled after 2 episodes[91]
20062007 The Wedding Bells Fox Creator, writer, executive producer canceled after 7 episodes[50]
20092010 Legally Mad NBC Creator, writer, executive producer not picked up[92]
20102011 Harry's Law NBC Creator, writer, executive producer picked up as a 2010-11 midseason replacement,[93] Cancelled in 2012
2011 Wonder Woman NBC Creator, writer, executive producer not picked up[94]
2013 Monday Mornings TNT Co-Creator, writer, executive producer canceled after one season[59]
2013 The Crazy Ones CBS Creator, writer, executive producer canceled after one season

Television work

Year Title Involvement Notes
1987 From the Hip Writer, story
1996 To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday Screenplay, producer
1999 Mystery, Alaska Co-writer, producer
Lake Placid Writer, producer


Pfeiffer had entered into private adoption proceedings before she met Kelley.[83] In March 1993, she adopted a newborn daughter Claudia Rose.[84] They married on November 13, 1993, and christened Claudia the same day.[85] In August 1994, Pfeiffer gave birth to a son, John Henry.[4][82][86]

In January 1993, actress Michelle Pfeiffer was set up on a blind date with Kelley. He took her to the movies to see Bram Stoker's Dracula the following week, and they began dating seriously.[82]

Although he is sometimes assumed to be a Catholic because his programs address Catholic issues, Kelley was raised a Protestant.[81]

Personal life

Besides his first film, From the Hip, which received poor reviews,[79] Kelley wrote and produced three other films. 1996's To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, a romance, co-starring his wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, received tepid critical and box office reception.[80] In 1999, came two films: Lake Placid, a combination of suspense, horror and comedy, and Mystery, Alaska, about a fictional small-town ice hockey team that plays a game against the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League. Neither movie did well with either the critics or the audience.

Feature films

Kelley has incorporated religious subject matter from the beginning, including issues involving Protestantism, Judaism, Scientology and Catholicism among others.[12] With the widespread media coverage of child sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church during the mid-to-late 1990s, Kelley began to introduce this controversy into his scripts. For instance, the character Bobby Donnell on The Practice, a Catholic, became personally estranged from the Church over the issue of sexually abusive priests. While the conservative Catholic League did not object to this episode,[75] they frequently complained of anti-Catholic bias in Kelley's shows because of his references to this subject.[76][77][78]


In HMOs as dramatically evil while glossing over the complexities. Doctors are too often shown as selfless patient advocates ready to battle whatever the financial cost.[74]


Samuel G. Freedman, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, writing in the New York Times, praises Kelley's series Boston Public as an attempt to both reflect and change public opinion about public education, particularly the urban, overcrowded, underfinanced variety. He liked the realism of the setting, the mixed ethnicity of the faculty and (ofttimes antipathetic) student body and the bureaucratic struggles. He criticized Kelley, though, for pandering to stereotypes of teachers and students and for failing to show successful teaching strategies.[72]

Public education

  • Ex parte meetings (where lawyers meet in a judge's chambers without opposing counsel present) do not happen,
  • Judges would not allow attorneys to badger or attack witnesses,
  • His shows overplayed prosecutorial and law enforcement misconduct,
  • The time required to select and empanel a jury is never shown and is not allowed for in the story's timeline, and
  • Many of the cases would never have made it to trial.[71]

Other aspects of the legal profession in Kelley's shows have been criticized as unrealistic. Attorneys have complained that:

was considered more accurate in its portrayal of the law than L.A. Law or Ally McBeal. The importance of legal strategy sometimes at the expense of the truth rang true. One attorney said, "[I]t's really about the tactics and the mistakes that opposing counsel makes." Judges were represented as complex, less-than-perfect human beings, sometimes with emotional problems. Plots demonstrated how a defendant's personality would impact the adjudication of a case.[71] Stuart Levine of Variety magazine said, "[The Practice] isn't afraid to paint the firm's clients as the dregs of society."[14] Kelley said,

The Practice

Legal profession

Kelley often uses regular actors from older shows in newer shows. For example, Anthony Heald and Rene Auberjonois both played judges on The Practice, and both went on to be regular cast members in later shows (Heald on Boston Public as a vice-principal and Auberjonois on Boston Legal as a partner at a law firm). Both Kathy Baker and Justin Shenkarow (Picket Fences) have been used in Boston Public. Kathy Baker as Meredith "The Hook Lady" Peters and Justin Shenkarow as the student Warren Dickson. In addition many actors who either had the main roles or major roles in Kelley's previous shows would make at least one guest appearance in Boston Legal.


Kelley's most elaborate crossover was only partially successful. He sought to crossover an episode of his Picket Fences with Chris Carter's The X-Files. Both shows aired Friday nights, but on different networks. The intent was to begin the story on one show, then hope viewers would switch channels to watch the conclusion on another network. CBS balked, and both scripts were rewritten, with The X-Files' Fox Mulder no longer set to appear on Picket Fences. Yet, both episodes deal with Wisconsin and cows, with Fences referencing an FBI investigation in a neighboring town. CBS blurred the connection further by postponing the Fences episode by one week.[70]

Kelley repeated this maneuver with his Boston Public, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal shows. Thereafter, many other crossovers occurred including shows not created by Kelley.[69]

Kelley frequently crossed the cast of different shows. One crossover program event (which crossed networks also) involved characters from Kelley's Ally McBeal on the Fox network appearing on his ABC show, The Practice, and, in turn, The Practice characters appeared on Ally McBeal. This was done in spite of the two shows' different tones (one a comedy, the other a drama).[69] This crossover was partially credited for raising ratings for The Practice, which it sustained after those episodes.[25]

Crossover episodes

In Ally McBeal, Kelley utilized two techniques: a voiceover providing an interior monologue for the title character, and Walter Mitty fantasy sequences (ala Dream On as critics have noted) giving a humorous and often deeply honest (but sometimes ironic) explanation of the character's inner thoughts.[35][67][68]

Kelley uses humor and the surreal and mixes tragedy with farce. He describes his strategy as follows:

Instead of taking clear stands on issues, Kelley creates scenarios meant to challenge audience preconceptions. For example an episode of Ally McBeal dealt with a female employee who sued for sexual harassment because she noticed that other prettier women were being promoted. There was deliberately no clear point of view.[4]

Kelley seeds his plots with political and social "hot-button" issues. One method is by introducing provocative legal cases. Episodes have covered the gamut of contemporary issues from the culpability of tobacco companies and gun makers to assisted-suicide crusaders.[39] Another way is by undergirding the character's social interrelationships with serious explorations such as feminism, sexuality and divorce.[64] Instead of lessons, Kelley strives to "raise moral and ethical questions without easy answers."[13] He avoids a didactic narrative by not losing sight of the audience's desire to be entertained.[65] He states:

Kelley structures his episodes with multiple storylines. An episode may include a self-contained subplot plus other story arcs that either began in a previous episode or will continue subsequently—some will continue the entire season. The viewer is thereby rarely sure whether what appears as a simple incident will blossom into a major plot point.[63]

Story elements

Kelley has been criticised for not delegating. A Picket Fences writer described his time on the show as "the most boring period of my life—you'd write a scene... [and Kelley would] rewrite it completely. Or he just cut you out completely—you learned nothing. Having a writing staff was a needless expense for the network."[62] Kelley gradually became more comfortable bringing in writers for ideas and taking over writing responsibilities.[27] Kelley described this as a natural evolution:

Kelley writes his first drafts longhand using a heavy metal Bic ballpoint and yellow legal pad. He easily churns out scripts in two to four days, initially working without collaboration, finding it faster and easier than trying to explain what he wants to others.[4]



Kelley is working on the Amazon Studios series Trial.[61]

A new comedy series created by Kelley, The Crazy Ones, starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar, premiered on CBS on September 26, 2013. The show was cancelled after a season due to lukewarm reception.

A new medical series, Monday Mornings, co-created with Sanjay Gupta, premiered February 2013 on TNT, the cable television channel owned by Time Warner. Set in Portland, Oregon, the show stars Ving Rhames, Alfred Molina and Jamie Bamber.[59] In May 2013, the show was canceled by TNT.[60]

In 2011, Kelley wrote a script for the pilot episode of a new Wonder Woman TV series for Warner Bros. Television, but the pilot was rejected by NBC for its fall 2011 lineup.[58]

In May 2008, Kelley signed a deal with Warner Bros. Television[53] and later penned a spec script for another legal drama entitled Legally Mad in a comic vein. NBC ultimately rejected the series. NBC will pay a two million dollar penalty to Warner Bros. for Kelley's scripts.[54] Kelley was the creator and executive producer of Harry's Law, which premiered on NBC on January 17, 2011. The series starred Kathy Bates in the titular role.[55] [56] The show was cancelled in 2012 even though it was the network's second most-watched drama, because its audience skewed too old; the more important 18-49 demographic viewership was very low.[57]

The Wedding Bells premiered in fall 2007 and was canceled after seven episodes.[50] Additionally, Kelley worked on an Americanized version of the BBC show Life on Mars for the 2007–2008 season on ABC and also worked on an adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Station. He later handed off production to another creative crew.[51][52]


The fifth and final season began in 2008 with Kelley writing most of the episodes. The season only aired thirteen episodes, making a series run of 101 episodes. The 2-hour series finale drew 11 million viewers. Still, the show drew over 15 million viewers much of its first season—and Kelley felt ABC's treatment of the show over the years ultimately killed it, saying to The Practice.[49]

In 2007, Boston Legal began to see a rise of viewership as a result of its following ABC's popular Dancing with the Stars series, mostly ranking either first or second most-watched program of the evening in its ten o'clock time period, beating out CBS and NBC's shows.[46]

Boston Legal on ABC, premiering in 2004, gave continuity and success to the Kelley franchise. It was a spin-off of his long-running legal drama The Practice, and followed attorney Alan Shore (a character who became the star of The Practice in its final season, played by James Spader) to his new law firm, Crane, Poole & Schmidt. It also starred veteran television actors Candice Bergen and William Shatner. Critically popular with less than spectacular ratings (ranked 27th for the first season,[44] 46th for the second[45]), the show was an "Emmy darling" during its run, winning seven times and being nominated over 25 times. The show won the Peabody Award in 2005 for its signature political commentaries.

In addition to Snoops, Kelley continued to have a string of unsuccessful series: girls club in 2002, The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire in 2003 and the reality show The Law Firm in 2005. All the while, he continued overseeing Boston Public and The Practice.

Boston Legal (2004–2008)

The program was initially considered a modest hit but received less than glowing reviews. The previous season, Kelley stumbled with both the short-lived Snoops, his first attempt at delegating most of the responsibilities to others, and with Ally, the experiment with 30-minute shortened episodes of Ally McBeal. The TV critic from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram opined that these failures and the weaknesses he saw in Boston Public were a sign that Kelley had lost the Midas touch.[43] The show lasted four seasons, garnering one minor Emmy.

Premiering on FOX in 2000, Boston Public, which follows the lives of teachers and administrators at a Boston high school, joined The Practice and Ally McBeal for the season, meaning Kelley was responsible for writing or overseeing 67 episodes.[25]

In 2000, 20th Century Fox Television extended its arrangement with Kelley.[41] The deal, which ran for six years, reportedly made Kelley the highest-paid producer in TV history—up to $40 million a year—in return for a first-look at his projects.[42]

David E. Kelley accepting award at the 62nd Annual Peabody Awards

Boston Public (2000–2004)

Kelley's Ally McBeal was hugely successful in attracting the 18-to-34-year-old women audience demographic. The New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, quoted two young, professional women saying they liked shows with female characters like themselves, single, even obsessed. Dowd quoted the executive producer of Law & Order, Dick Wolf, "I think there is a wish-fulfillment factor when you put an attractive woman in a situation where she is doing real, adult stuff."[40]

Writing in, Joyce Millman disputed that Ally McBeal should even be described as a "women's show"—that its representations of women were, in fact, a male fantasy. She felt that Kelley treated his female characters "sadistically" in general, beginning all the way back to L.A. Law, saving only The Practice for positive remarks.[39]

Later, however, much press coverage was spent on the controversial nature of women in Ally McBeal. Time magazine featured a cover story about the decline of feminism with a picture of Ally (among a pantheon of feminist heroes) on the cover.[36] In the article, Ginia Bellafante used the McBeal character as a modern exemplar proving that "[M]uch of feminism has devolved into the silly."[37] In response, author Erica Jong felt that the Time journalist diminished her argument by using only pop-cultural references and ignoring the majority of real-world women who have made significant progress.[38]

When the program Ally McBeal first ran, many women lauded its portrayal of the lead character. Sharon Waxman, writing for The Washington Post, commented that Kelley had a keen insight into the human nature of both men and women. She quoted Dyan Cannon: "This man understands the way a woman thinks, ... the complex ways we've found to hide our fears."[4] A New York Times writer used the character as an example of a strong television woman's role,[34] another saw herself, at times, in the character's portrayal of self-absorption and reflection, her crafted neuroses, her vulnerabilities.[35]

Portrayal of the Ally McBeal character

Parallel to The Practice, Kelley penned all the scripts for the first season, then brought in other writers in subsequent years although he continued to write many episodes himself.[27]

The New York Times felt that the show uniquely emphasised "character and caricature".[26] The show lasted five seasons, seven Emmys (one for Outstanding Comedy Series for its second season), mostly positive reviews and a barrage of criticism for its portrayal of women, with many journalists saying that the character Ally was a giant step backwards.[33]

When Ally McBeal premiered in 1997 on FOX, Kelley was also shepherding his other two shows, Chicago Hope and The Practice, although he was not actively participating in Chicago Hope at the time.[22] The title character Ally is a young, attractive, impulsive, Harvard-educated lawyer described by a New York Times journalist as "stylish, sexy, smart, opinionated, and an emotional wreck."[31] In contrast to The Practice and its idealistic lawyers, the law firm in Ally McBeal was founded only to make money.[32]

Ally McBeal (1997–2002)

In 2003, due to sagging ratings, ABC cut Kelley's budget in half for the eighth and final season. He responded by firing most of the cast and hiring James Spader for the role of Alan Shore,[29] whom The New York Times described as "a lecherous, twisted antitrust lawyer with a breezy disregard for ethics."[30] The final episodes of The Practice were focused on introducing the new characters from his next show, Boston Legal.

[28] By the fifth season, he would usually only edit the final script and was generally not on the set during filming.[27]

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