Case is closed for 'Ally McBeal' after Fox comedy suffers drop in ratings

Thursday, April 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The verdict is in and ``Ally McBeal'' is out.

The Emmy-winning show that brought singing lawyers, dancing babies and bizarre courtroom behavior to television will end its five-year run on Fox next month, the network said Wednesday night.

Creator David E. Kelley broke the news to the cast earlier in the day.

``There were tears. It was emotional,'' said 20th Century Fox Television spokesman Chris Alexander.

The final episode of the series, which had slipped in the ratings, will air May 20.

``It's sad to say goodbye to something you love, even when perhaps it is time,'' Kelley said in a statement.

``Ally McBeal'' made a star of Calista Flockhart, who played the smart but emotionally troubled title character, an attorney who focused as much on her love life as her caseload.

For a time the show was a water-cooler topic at workplaces across the nation, so much so that in 1998 Time magazine displayed Flockhart opposite feminist icons such as Susan B. Anthony and asked in its headline: ``Is Feminism Dead?''

The actress took exception.

``I mean, this is a comedy about an exaggerated character, and to compare her to Susan B. Anthony is outrageous,'' she told TV Guide at the time. She also said she was offended that people confused her with her neurotic character.

Not that McBeal's colleagues at her fictitious Boston law firm were any less quirky. One man had a fetish for throat wattles; another went by the embarrassing name of ``The Biscuit.''

Kelley, one of Hollywood's most prolific TV writer-producers, had a hand in creating most of the scripts. The show reflected his offbeat, often dark sense of humor and romance. It won the best comedy series Emmy in 1999.

Kelley had characters break out in courtroom song, had Ally visit with her dead boyfriend, Billy, and generally created a world where fantasy, if not happy endings, ruled.

Musical stars were a fixture of the show, with Elton John, Barry White, Barry Manilow, Mariah Carey and others making guest appearances. Some performed at the bar where McBeal and her colleagues gathered after work, others simply appeared in Ally's twisted imagination.

In one episode, with her biological time clock ticking, the attorney was bedeviled by the image of a dancing baby.

McBeal's great love was portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., whose own real-life troubles with drugs led to his departure from the show.

Kelley, a former Boston lawyer who is married to actress Michelle Pfeiffer, told The Associated Press last fall that he knew the character-driven show was a more perishable commodity than his other legal series, ``The Practice.''

``I always thought the series would end after six years,'' he said then.

Kelley, meanwhile, remains a force in television with ``The Practice,'' ``Boston Public'' and his new ``girls club'' _ about three female lawyers in San Francisco _ on next season's schedule.