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Boston Legal is an American legal drama-comedy (dramedy) created by David E. Kelley, which originally ran on ABC from October 3, 2004 to December 8, 2008. A spin-off of the long-running series The Practice, Boston Legal followed the personal and professional exploits of a group of attorneys working at the law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt. In its five-year run, it was nominated for 25 Emmy Awards, winning five times.

Production details

Before the show's premiere, it had a working title of Fleet Street, an allusion to the real street in Bostonmarker where the fictitious Crane, Poole & Schmidt had its offices. The working title was later modified to The Practice: Fleet Street, but this title was dropped in favor of Boston Legal before the show premiered. The real building shown as the law office is located at 500 Boylston Streetmarker, 12 minutes away from Fleet Street.

The American producers of the series also hired British writer Sir John Mortimer (creator of the UK legal series Rumpole of the Bailey) as a consultant for Boston Legal.

Premise: The Practice

Most of the final episodes of The Practice were focused on introducing the new characters of Crane, Poole & Schmidt in preparation for Boston Legal's launch. Thus, the story of Boston Legal can be said to begin with the episode of The Practice in which Eugene Young and Jimmy Berluti of Young, Frutt & Berluti decided to fire Alan Shore without consulting Ellenor Frutt, beginning a story arc of several episodes. They give Alan a severance package of only fifteen thousand dollars, even though Alan has brought in over nine million dollars of revenue to the firm. Tara Wilson gets fired for her loyalty to Alan, and Alan goes to Crane, Poole & Schmidt to represent him in the matter, thinking he has a claim under Massachusettsmarker law to take over Young, Frutt & Berluti. Denny Crane, senior and founding partner of Crane, Poole & Schmidt, takes an interest, helping develop the 'case'; even arguing at the resulting trial, cross-examining Young. During this period, Ellenor also has a run-in with Hannah Rose (Rebecca De Mornay), a partner at Crane, Poole & Schmidt, whom Ellenor ends up seriously injuring when they fight over Hannah's condescending remarks to Ellenor. The character of Hannah Rose was dropped prior to the Boston Legal pilot's being filmed.

The jury awards Alan the millions of dollars of revenue he brought in to Young, Frutt & Berluti but does not order the firm to rehire him, so Denny hires Alan at his firm. After Young is appointed a judge, his first case (in the final episode of The Practice) happens to be with Alan for the defense, making Young wonder if Alan judge-shopped (this opened the door for Steve Harris to guest-star on Boston Legal as a judge, although in the end no starring Practice characters made any guest appearances on Boston Legal), though many actors and actresses who guest-starred in The Practice have contributed to Boston Legal, taking on roles of a different character. Examples include Rene Auberjonois, John Larroquette and Christian Clemenson. One interesting fact is that Anthony Heald, who guest-starred in both shows, took on the characters of Judge Harvey Cooper in Boston Legal and of Judge Wallace Cooper in The Practice, although both are considered the same character.

Boston Legal

The pilot was originally produced with James Spader, Lake Bell, Mark Valley, Rhona Mitra and William Shatner playing the main characters, with an expanded storyline featuring Larry Miller as Edwin Poole, and with John Michael Higgins as senior partner Jerry Austin. Monica Potter was later cast as junior partner Lori Colson. After completing several episodes, the producers felt the show needed grounding, and Rene Auberjonois was cast as senior partner Paul Lewiston, effectively replacing John Michael Higgins. Despite this, Higgins's character still appeared in the first two episodes. The pilot premiered on ABC on October 3, 2004, following the series premiere of Desperate Housewives.

On November 30, 2004, it was announced that Candice Bergen would join the cast as senior partner Shirley Schmidt. The producers had been looking to introduce the character since the fall. Lake Bell and Executive Producer Jeff Rake subsequently left the series, while Rene Auberjonois was made a main cast member.

The announcement that Boston Legal would be renewed for a second season was made on April 5, 2005. The final five episodes of the first season were initially pre-empted for several weeks (until April 24, 2005) in order to expose mid-season series Grey's Anatomy to a larger audience behind Desperate Housewives. Grey's Anatomy, however, was highly successful in the timeslot, and Boston Legal was pre-empted until the autumn of 2005, where it would take over NYPD Blue's Tuesday timeslot for an extended season of twenty-seven episodes. Both Rhona Mitra and Monica Potter departed the series over the hiatus, while Julie Bowen was cast as Denise Bauer. Ryan Michelle Bathe and Justin Mentell were later cast as junior associates Sara Holt and Garrett Wells. A new writing staff headed by Janet Leahy took over as of episode four of the second season.

The second episode of Season 3 introduced Craig Bierko as Jeffrey Coho and Constance Zimmer as Claire Simms. In episode 3x11 Gary Anthony Williams was added to the main cast as Clarence Bell, a role he had played twice earlier in the season. Also introduced in this episode was Nia Long as Vanessa Walker, in a guest role that lasted 3 episodes. In the 15th episode of the third season, Craig Bierko left the show.

On June 4, 2007, TV Guide announced that Rene Auberjonois, Julie Bowen, Mark Valley, and Constance Zimmer would not return for the fourth season. On June 13, 2007, it was reported that actor John Larroquette would join the cast as a senior partner transferred from the New York offices of Crane, Poole & Schmidt (Note: Larroquette previously appeared on BL's forerunner The Practice as another character, a hyper-intelligent man on trial for killing his gay lover; this role earned Larroquette an Emmy Award.); and actress Tara Summers would be joining as a young associate. Also, Christian Clemenson, who appeared occasionally as Jerry Espenson, a brilliant but socially inept lawyer, would be upgraded to contract player. The possibility was left open that Rene Auberjonois, Mark Valley, Julie Bowen, and Constance Zimmer could return in guest roles. On July 2, 2007, it was reported that both Rene Auberjonois and Mark Valley would return in recurring roles; furthermore, it was announced that Taraji P. Henson would join the cast later in the fourth season, with Saffron Burrows appearing in a recurring role. It was subsequently reported that Burrows would become a full-time cast member.

On July 19, 2007, Boston Legal was nominated for six Emmy awards, including Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series (James Spader), Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (William Shatner), and its first nomination for Best Drama Series. On September 14, 2007, James Spader won the Emmy for his role as the lead character in the show, whilst nominations were lost for William Shatner and Christian Clemenson in their roles for Supporting and Guest Actors, respectively. Also, the show itself lost as Best Drama Series to The Sopranos.

On May 13, 2008, ABC announced that Boston Legal would return for a fifth (and final) season in the fall. Saffron Burrows did not return as a series regular, having joined the cast of My Own Worst Enemy. The final season consisted of 13 episodes to bring it over the "100" episode mark, setting it up for a successful syndication run. There was speculation that Boston Legal might receive an additional episode-order if the show had another strong showing in the Emmy Awards and produced solid ratings in its new fall time slot. The season began airing on September 22, 2008.

On June 18 and June 20, 2008, it was reported that Gary Anthony Williams and Taraji P. Henson would not return for the fifth season as Clarence Bell and Whitney Rome, respectively.

On July 17, 2008, Boston Legal was nominated for a series-high seven Emmy nominations, including for Best Drama Series for a second year in a row. Spader, Bergen, and Shatner were also nominated for their respective roles.

Boston Legal began airing in reruns on ION Television in September 2008; additionally, in most markets, episodes began airing in off-network syndication on the weekend of September 28-29, 2008.

Boston Legal's two-hour-long series finale aired on Monday, December 8, 2008, at 9:00PM Eastern/8:00PM Central. The finale saw the firm sold to new Chinese interests because of Crane, Poole & Schmidt's poor financial position. The new owners were not accepted by Shirley Schmidt, Carl Sack, or Jerry Espenson, who voted against the acquisition along with three other partners. Denny Crane insulted the new owners by shooting them with a paintball gun. The acrimony engendered by the name partners' actions led the Chinese to begin plans for downsizing and replacing the litigation division of the firm. It was announced that all of the show's leading characters would be fired as of January 1, 2009. This led to a typically eloquent, but ultimately ill-received, showdown on the part of Alan Shore, wherein he turned the tables on the new owners, attempting to preemptively fire them. Though his argument was not taken in the light he'd intended, it did prompt an offer from the Chinese owners to rehire all the cast members, though Shirley mused that they would likely be let go over a longer period of time. Also, Denny's earlier actions led to his name being removed from the firm, whose name was changed to "Chang, Poole & Schmidt."

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 7, 2008, David E. Kelley said that it was in fact ABC's decision to end Boston Legal. He also stated that executives did not want to commit to a fifth season, so he had to fight to bring it back for a short season of 13 episodes.

Breaking the fourth wall

In several instances, characters would break the fourth wall by showing that they are aware of their status as characters in a television show. It was usually done in such a way that the viewer could perceive the character as referring only jokingly to said status. A recurring gag was when Denny was making a heart-to-heart sympathetic speech to someone. When Alan was in the same room, he would hold cue cards up in a way that Denny could read them.

Season 1

  • In "An Eye for an Eye," a frustrated Alan Shore states that "I want to be on cable. That's where all the best work is being done." Later in the season, in "A Greater Good," Paul Lewiston threatens Alan Shore by saying "If you attempt to undermine our case in any way, your employment will be terminated", to which Alan replies sarcastically "In that event I will go to cable".

Season 2

  • In "Schadenfreude", Alan finds Denny on the balcony where they typically have their cigars at the episode's end. Denny asks, "Is the show over already?"
  • In "Finding Nimmo", Alan remarks, after a particularly nonsensical comment made by Denny, "All reality, none of it's scripted."
  • In "A Whiff and a Prayer", Denny remarks, "I always wanted to go out with my pride. Failing that, at least my old time slot."
  • In "Gone," Denny says to Alan, "I wish you had let me in on the game. I can act, you know. I won an Emmy."
  • At the end of "Too Much Information," Alan walks out on Denny's balcony remarking "There you are! Hardly seen you this episode. It saddens me."
  • In "Live Big," Denny says, "I'm tired of my Alzheimer's being a story point."
  • In "Race Ipsa", Chelina says, "God, the last time I saw you...," to Alan, who replies, " I think it was a Sunday, then I was taken off the air, you went off to do movies, and I got switched to Tuesdays, and..." and Chelina responds, "Here we are... with old footage." Later, Melissa, referring to Chelina, says, "Don't fall for her, Alan, she's just a guest star."
  • At the end of "Squid Pro Quo," as Denny and Alan speculate on what to expect from Marlene Stanger, a sexy new attorney, Denny sums up the situation by saying, "I can't wait to see her next week," referring the next week's episode.
  • In "BL Los Angeles," Denny asks Shirley to kiss him, saying, "It's the sweeps episode." Later, on Denny's balcony, Alan offers a toast: "To next season, my friend." Denny asks him, "Same night?", to which Alan responds, "I hope!"

Season 3

  • In "Can't We All Get A Lung?," Alan says to Joanna (Jane Lynch), "These past few years I've felt this inexlicable compulsion to be somewhat if I were some.. series regular on a television show."
  • In "New Kids on the Block," when he is told there are new lawyers in the firm, Denny responds, "Oh, please! If there were new guys, they'd have shown up in the season premiere." Then he welcomed them by saying "Welcome to Boston Legal," acknowledging the name of the show rather than the name of the fictional firm. Denny further breaks the fourth wall by saying, "Cue the music." None of the other characters seem to perceive this as unusual, except for Jeffrey Coho, who seems surprised to hear the show's theme music and looks around, seemingly for its source.
  • In "Angel of Death," Denny plays the first few notes of the show's theme song on his "trombone-kazoo," in tune with the real song playing over the opening credits.
  • In "Fat Burner," Denny turns to Alan after the prosecution's summation and asks, "Why is the other side's closing argument always so short?", referring to how the show's writers only focus on the main characters' summations.
  • In "Lincoln," Lincoln Meyer (David Dean Bottrell) pulls a gun on Shirley and says, "oh dear. I bet if this were a movie they'd have one of those ominous chords play right about now", and as he speaks an ominous tune starts to play..
  • At the end of "Dumping Bella," Denny (dressed as Dick Cheney) is dancing with Alan (dressed as Shirley Schmidt). Denny comments that the neighbors would be puzzled if they saw Dick Cheney dancing with Shirley Schmidt on their balcony. Alan replies, "Well, if they're regular viewers, they know by now [that] anything goes."
  • The episode "Guantanamo by the Bay" begins with Jerry returning to ask for his old job back, telling Schmidt that the thought of coming back makes him so happy that it brings a song to his mind. Schmidt asks him to "hum a few bars" of the song, and Jerry breaks into the Boston Legal theme song, as the theme song actually starts playing with the opening credits. He continues to hum along enthusiastically throughout the entire opening credit sequence.
  • In episode 24 "Trial of the Century" Denny Crane again says, "To next season, my friend", Alan Shore responds, "I can’t wait to see what we do next!" and Denny Crane states, "I’m just getting started!"
  • During the third season finale, Denny mentions he once captained his own spaceship, referring to the USS Enterprise.

Season 4

  • In "The Mighty Rogues", Jerry announces, "During the strike, I fell in love." Katie asks, "What strike?" Jerry responds, "It doesn't matter, the point is..." This episode aired on April 15, 2008, shortly after the conclusion of the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, which had held up the production of Boston Legal for over two months.
  • In "The Court Supreme", Alan asks Denny "Maybe we could go to Wednesdays?" The show was then rescheduled to Wednesdays.
  • Almost the entire pre-credits sequence of the following episode, "Indecent Proposals", consists of a conversation between Denny, Carl, Clarence and Whitney discussing how they've changed from Tuesdays at 10 o'clock to Wednesdays at 10 o'clock (referencing the aforementioned rescheduling of the show at 10pm, but purportedly discussing the shifting of an office meeting at 10am). Whitney then even mentions that they were skipping the next week (as did the show), but that they'd be back again for the following two weeks (which were the final two episodes of the season). Denny asks, "What about next year?", to which Whitney replies that it'd be best to check with 'Howie' in Word Processing.
  • In "Patriot Acts", when Judge Clark Brown inquired as to why the same firm is representing both sides of a trial, Denny responds "Saves on guest cast."

Season 5

  • At the end of "Guardians and Gatekeepers", Alan begins talking about the pair's mortality, implying that it is their "last year", referring to this season being the last of the series. Denny replies "Really? I can't imagine this is our last year. Aren't there still some time slots we haven't tried?" referring to the numerous time slot changes the show had gone through.
  • In "The Bad Seed", when a client asks to see one of the named partners of the firm, Alan, upset, says, "Why wouldn't he ask for me, am I not the star of this show?"
  • In "Happy Trails", Alan is arguing with other guest characters, and at one point, a character who hadn't had any lines yet starts to speak up. Alan responds, "You're an extra. You don't get to talk."
  • In "Mad Cows", Jerry threatens to leave the firm if Denny is fired: "It's not an ultimatum! It's a fact! If he walks, I walk. Alan Shore might too! Maybe even Carl, who knows? We could do a spinoff! Don't think we haven't been approached already. Hell, it's not like you want the bunch of us anyway. The network sure doesn't." The last part refers to ABC's cancellation of the show.
  • In "Roe", Denny urges Alan not to take a new client wanting an abortion. Denny explains that he likes to pretend his life is like a television show where everyone watches him and says "who's going to watch a show about abortion? It's not fun." Alan responds, "Try to look at it as a challenge - consider it your Emmy episode." Denny, annoyed, mumbles that he "can hear them changing the channel".
  • In "Kill, Baby, Kill", Denny again remarks about it being the final season of the show, saying, "Carl, we need to bond. This is our last season!"
  • In "Thanksgiving," Alan comments on how Denny will "live on" long after the rest of the characters "doing Priceline commercials;" referring to William Shatner's role as the "Priceline Negotiator" in Priceline's TV advertisements.
  • In "Juiced", Catherine Piper (Betty White) brings a lawsuit concerning the death of television programming for the elderly, and Carl Sack points out that there is only one show on television that features a cast largely over the age of 50. Says Carl, "... The only show unafraid to have its stars over 50 is Bo..." (Concluding the sentence would require him to say "Boston Legal." Upon his abrupt stop, he looks directly at two cameras and gestures at them) "...Gee, I can't say it, that would be breaking the wall." During the same episode, Catherine's cellphone ringtone is the theme tune from The Practice - in which she also appeared.
  • In the two-part series finale, Shirley Schmidt talks to Alan Shore about the decision of the new Chinesemarker owners of Crane, Poole, & Schmidt to keep them on-board as litigators instead of laying them off as originally planned. Shirley states to Alan that the feeling is "more Life on Mars", a subtle reference to another David E. Kelley show.
  • Later in the two-part series finale, when Alan and Denny agree to get married, Denny exclaims, "It'll be great -- like jumping a shark!" A television series is said to have "jumped the shark" when its storyline veers into absurd or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations, and usually indicates that the series is past its prime. The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the American TV series Happy Days in which Fonzie, wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a confined shark while water skiing.


Actor Character Status Season(s)
James Spader Alan Shore 2004-2008 (The Practice 2003-2004) 1–5
John Larroquette Carl Sack 2007-2008 4–5
Christian Clemenson Jerry Espenson 2005-2008 (recurring season 2-3) 2–5
Tara Summers Katie Lloyd 2007-2008 4–5
Candice Bergen Shirley Schmidt 2005-2008 1–5
William Shatner Denny Crane 2004-2008 (The Practice 2004) 1–5
Rene Auberjonois Paul Lewiston 2004–2008 (recurring Season 4-5) 1–5
Lake Bell Sally Heep 2004–2005 (The Practice 2004; recurring Season 3; 2007) 1, 3
Rhona Mitra Tara Wilson 2004–2005 (The Practice 2003–2004; recurring Season 2) 1, 2
Monica Potter Lori Colson 2004–2005 (recurring Season 2) 1, 2
Mark Valley Brad Chase 2004–2007 (recurring Season 4) 1–4
Ryan Michelle Bathe Sara Holt 2005–2006 2
Julie Bowen Denise Bauer 2005–2007, 2008 (recurring Season 5) 2–3, 5
Justin Mentell Garrett Wells 2005–2006 2
Constance Zimmer Claire Simms 2006–2007 3
Craig Bierko Jeffrey Coho 2006–2007 3
Gary Anthony Williams Clarence Bell 2006–2008 3–4
Saffron Burrows Lorraine Weller 2007–2008 4
Taraji P. Henson Whitney Rome 2007–2008 4

Recurring cast and notable guest stars

Guest stars include:


Ratings and audience profile

Though the show never produced blockbuster ratings, it maintained the majority of its audience over its five-year run despite being switched four times to different nights (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.) The day after the series finale, Kelley told TV Guide ABC had treated Boston Legal like its "bastard child," and though he was satisfied with a five-season run in this era of television, the show could have lasted longer.

It was one of ABC's most influential shows because of the audience it drew. According to Nielsen Media Research, Boston Legal drew the richest viewing audience on television, based on the concentration of high-income viewers in its young adult audience (Adult 18–49 index w/$100k+ annual income).

Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of Boston Legal 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. All times mentioned in this section were in the Eastern and Pacific time zones.

Season Timeslot Season Premiere Season Finale TV Season Season
(in millions)
1st Sunday 10:00 pm October 3, 2004 March 20, 2005 2004–2005 #27 12.5
2nd Tuesday 10:00 pm September 27, 2005 May 16, 2006 2005–2006 #46 10.3
3rd September 19, 2006 May 29, 2007 2006–2007 #62 9.6
4th Tuesday 10:00 pm
Wednesday 10:00 pm
September 25, 2007 May 21, 2008 2007–2008 #51 9.6
5th Monday 10:00 pm September 22, 2008 December 8, 2008 2008–2009 #46 9.6

DVD releases

On February 9, 2006, announced that Fox Home Entertainment was releasing Boston Legal Season 1 on DVD on May 23, 2006. It is the first David E. Kelley show that FOX has released on DVD in the United States (though Ally McBeal has been released on DVD in other countries). The season one box set had five discs while the season two and three sets had seven discs.

Note: Some of the Season 1 DVDs, provided by select offline retailers, included a promotional DVD featuring the episodes from The Practice that introduced Alan Shore and the firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt. This was only included in the very early sales of the DVD as a promotion.

DVD Name Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Season 1 May 23, 2006 July 24, 2006 August 9, 2006
Season 2 November 21, 2006 March 5, 2007 February 21, 2007
Season 3 September 18, 2007 January 14, 2008 October 10, 2007
Season 4 September 23, 2008 October 13, 2008 December 3, 2008
Season 5 May 5, 2009 May 11, 2009 August 5, 2009
The Complete Series TBA May 11, 2009 November 18, 2009


Awards won

Emmy Awards

Golden Globe Awards:
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV William Shatner (2005)

Awards nominated

Emmy Awards:
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series William Shatner (2009)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Christian Clemenson (2009)
  • Outstanding Drama Series (2008)
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series James Spader (2008)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series William Shatner (2008)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Candice Bergen (2008)
  • Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series Arlene Sanford (2008)
  • Outstanding Drama Series (2007)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series William Shatner (2007)
  • Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Christian Clemenson (2007)
  • Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series Bill D'Elia; Son of the Defender (2007)
  • Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour); Lincoln (2007)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series William Shatner (2006)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Candice Bergen (2006)
  • Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Michael J. Fox (2006)
  • Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series Nikki Valko, Ken Miller (2006)
  • Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series Phil Neel (2006)

Golden Globe Awards:
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television William Shatner (2007)
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television Candice Bergen (2006)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series – Drama James Spader (2005)

Screen Actors Guild:
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series James Spader (2007)
  • Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (2007)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Comedy Series (2006)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series James Spader (2006)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series William Shatner (2006)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series Candice Bergen (2006)


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