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The Practice is an Americanmarker legal drama created by David E. Kelley centering on the partners and associates at a Bostonmarker law firm. The show won the Emmy in 1998 and 1999 for Best Drama Series, and spawned the successful spin-off series Boston Legal, which began airing in the fall of 2004 and deals with similar subject matter, though often taking a lighter, more character-oriented approach.

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. There are a number of crossovers with other David E. Kelley shows, including Boston Public, Ally McBeal, and the short-lived medical drama Gideon's Crossing. The Practice is one of David E. Kelley's more serious-themed shows, lacking much of the comedic breaks found in McBeal, Boston Legal, and others.

In its first season, the show starred Dylan McDermott, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim, and Kelli Williams. By episode two of season one, Michael Badalucco joined the cast as Jimmy Berluti. Later, at the beginning of season 2, Lara Flynn Boyle joined the cast as district attorney Helen Gamble, a role she played for six seasons.

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.

Plot overview

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 second episode, Bobby's friend Jimmy Berluti is hired as an associate. 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 between Bobby and Jimmy, who feels insulted that he was the only one on staff who is 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 eventually earns her law degree in season three, and Jimmy is eventually made partner at the end of season seven.

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 which 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. 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 against her, 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. When season eight began with nearly half the original cast missing without explanation, it caused confusion amongst longtime viewers of the show. It was never explained what became of Lindsay, Claire, Lucy, Rebecca, or Helen. The recurring characters, such as judges Zoey Hiller (Linda Hunt) and Roberta Kittleson (Holland Taylor), were also completely written off.

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 & 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. Alan sues for wrongful termination and hires Matthew Billings and Denny Crane of the blue-chip firm Crane, Poole & Schmidt to represent him. For warning Shore of his impending dismissal, associate Tara is also fired by Eugene for betraying their trust, and Lucy is brought back as a temporary receptionist. 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 with her and his childhood friend they start a new law firm.

Main cast

  • Dylan McDermott as Bobby Donnell (1997–2003, 2004), senior partner of the firm. A deeply sensitive and compassionate man, Bobby often struggled with his conscience and the idea of being a lawyer.
  • Michael Badalucco as Jimmy Berluti (1997–2004), an associate, and later, partner at the firm. An Italian-American from a working-class background, Jimmy often struggled with his conscience, loneliness and feelings of inadequacy, as well as a brief story arc involving his problems with gambling addiction. Jimmy, like Bobby, was raised as a Catholic, and his strict upbringing often played a part in his various ethical dilemmas.
  • Lisa Gay Hamilton as Rebecca Washington (1997–2003). At the beginning of the series, Rebecca was the firm's receptionist and occasional paralegal. She passed the bar exam after attending law school at night for several years without the knowledge of anyone at the firm. She has worked for Bobby since he opened his first practice as a solo practitioner, and the two were very close. Rebecca left the firm for unknown reasons between the seventh and eighth seasons of the show. In reality, like a number of other cast members, Hamilton had been fired because of budget cuts.
  • Steve Harris as Eugene Young (1997–2004), was the second highest-ranking partner at the firm, and senior partner for the show's final season. Eugene also struggled with his conscience, but was more strongly devoted to the letter of the law and legal ethics than either Bobby or Jimmy. This was largely due to the influence of his older brother, who died in prison after a coerced confession led to his conviction for a crime he didn't commit. The first season made several references to the fact that Eugene was formerly a private investigator before becoming an attorney.
  • Camryn Manheim as Ellenor Frutt (1997–2004), another partner at the firm. Ellenor, a single mother, had a child via artificial insemination, and often struggled with issues related to her weight and appearance. A running joke on the show was that nearly all of Ellenor's friends were murderers. This was because many episodes would open with Ellenor visiting or being visited by her previously unseen friends who would almost always reveal that they were being charged with murder, or that there was a body in their presence that they knew nothing about. Another recurring joke was Ellenor's tendency to knock across the room those who annoyed her past a certain point.
  • Kelli Williams as Lindsay Dole (1997–2003), a partner at the firm, Bobby's girlfriend and later, his wife. Lindsay was stalked and terrorized by three mentally unbalanced clients over the series, the last of whom she was convicted of murdering (the verdict was later reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct by A.D.A. Walsch). She and Bobby have a child together, but separated when Lindsey left to start her own firm, and eventually decided to divorce after she caught Bobby beginning an affair with a former girlfriend. At the end of the seventh season, Lindsay was invited by Eugene to rejoin the practice, but vanished without explanation before the eighth season. In reality, Williams was one of several actors fired from the show due to budget cuts.
  • Lara Flynn Boyle as Helen Gamble (1997–2003), an Assistant District Attorney who often prosecuted cases in which the firm was involved. Helen, a personal friend of many of the firm's partners, is nevertheless relentless in her attempts to prosecute those who do wrong, sometimes crossing the line of legal ethics; after her friend Richard Bay was murdered on the orders of a drug lord he had helped to prosecute, Helen orchestrated the gunman's death by giving false information to the police about his willingness to surrender. During the series, Helen was a roommate to both Lindsay and Ellenor. Helen also vanishes without explanation after the seventh season, as Boyle was fired from the show due to budget cuts.
  • Marla Sokoloff as Lucy Hatcher (1998–2003, 2004), the firm's wise-cracking, nosy receptionist. Lucy was hired after Rebecca became an associate. Lucy later became a part-time counselor for rape victims. Lucy initially vanished without explanation after the seventh season (like the other cast members, Sokoloff was fired due to budget cuts), but she returned as a guest star for the final episodes of the show.
  • Jason Kravits as Richard Bay (1999–2001), a diminutive, hard-nosed Assistant District Attorney and frequent nemesis of the firm. In contrast to Bobby's numerous moral dilemmas, Richard always saw himself as being a "white knight of justice" and truly believed in the guilt of all those he prosecuted. He was close friends with Helen Gamble, and on several occasions tried to initiate a romantic relationship with her. He was machine-gunned to death in the courthouse parking garage after successfully prosecuting a drug lord; Helen later orchestrated the killer's murder by obtaining his identity and falsely telling the police that the man was prepared for an armed standoff should they attempt to apprehend him. Although Bay's killer attempted to surrender peacefully, his manner of holding his cell-phone, combined with Helen's statement, led the police to believe he was holding a gun, and he was shot to death.
  • Ron Livingston as Alan Lowe (2001-2002), who replaced Richard Bay as the firm's recurring adversary for a while. His character vanished without explanation after one season.
  • Jessica Capshaw as Jamie Stringer (2002–2004), a high-strung, promiscuous Harvard Law School graduate and associate at the firm. Jamie joined the practice after Lindsay was convicted of murder, and eventually became involved in a brief romantic relationship with Eugene. When the firm dissolved, she joined Jimmy in his own practice.
  • Chyler Leigh as Claire Wyatt (2003), Lindsay's associate at her new practice. In the seventh season finale, she was invited to join the firm, but vanished without explanation before the eighth season due to Leigh being one of those fired due to budget cuts.
  • James Spader as Alan Shore (2003–2004), a highly unethical friend of Ellenor's who was hired by the firm at the beginning of the show's final season. In the last few episodes of the show's run, he was fired from the firm and went to work at Crane, Poole & Schmidt. This transitioned his character into the spin-off series Boston Legal.
  • Rhona Mitra as Tara Wilson (2003–2004), paralegal and third-year law student. Tara was fired after informing Alan Shore of his impending dismissal from the firm, and helping him steal client files. Along with James Spader, Mitra also joined the cast of Boston Legal after The Practice ended, and her character became an attorney.

Recurring cast

  • Bill Smitrovich as Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Walsh, was Helen Gamble's mentor and a chief prosecutor for the DA's office. Walsh despises criminal defense attorneys -especially those at Bobby Donnell's firm. Walsh once coerced a man charged with murder in order to obtain a confession. Bobby Donnell, who was a young and inexperienced lawyer at the time, believed his client was guilty and didn't appeal the sentence. Walsh is also the D.A. who prosecuted and convicted Lindsay Dole for murder. It was later discovered that he had withheld a forensics report which might have supported a self-defense plea. This contributed to grounds which allowed Lindsay's conviction to be overturned. He once told Helen Gamble there was a time when he once befriended criminal defense attorneys, but that time had long since passed.
  • Holland Taylor as Judge Roberta Kittleson. Kittleson is an older woman with a notorious sex life, but is considered an excellent judge. She has a relationship with Jimmy during a few seasons of the show. Later, when Lindsay is being threatened by a stalker, Jimmy wrongly believes that Judge Kittleson may be the culprit, which leads to tensions between them. They eventually break up.
  • Linda Hunt as Judge Zoey Hiller, a senior Judge that many of the firm's lawyers frequently appear before in trial. Hiller is known for being an excellent judge that always goes by the letter of the law. She has a close friendship with Bobby. Though they frequently quarrel on application of the law, they both maintain a strong respect for each other.
  • Ray Abruzzo as Detective Mike McGuire. Mike is regularly the detective who interacts with the firm attorneys and their clients.
  • Kate Burton as A.D.A. Susan Alexander. She appears regularly in episodes from the pilot through the series finale.
  • Edward Herrmann as attorney Anderson Pearson. Pearson works at the firm Finley-Hoag as counsel for the tobacco industry and is Lindsay's former law professor. He originally is opposing counsel in the tobacco industry lawsuit, and later becomes a client of the firm when he is charged with murder.
  • Anna Gunn as A.D.A. Jean Ward.
  • James Pickens, Jr. as Detective Mike McKrew.

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).

  • Michael Emerson as serial killer William Hinks, a role which won him an Emmy


The Practice had 8 seasons and a total of 168 episodes.

DVD release

In 2007, 20th Century Fox released the first season of The Practice on DVD in Region 1, 2, and 4.

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".It was released June 6, 2007, in Australia. A region 2 version (Europe) was released on March 30, 2008.

On July 1, 2007, Volume 1 was released in Italy and Greece.

DVD Name Ep# Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The Practice: Volume 1 13 June 12, 2007 March 30, 2008 June 6, 2007

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. Seasons 4 and 5 reached the top 10 rankings.

Season Timeslot
(Eastern & Pacific Time)
Season Premiere Season Finale TV Season Viewers
(in millions)
1st Tuesday 10:00PM March 4, 1997 April 8, 1997 1996–1997 9.2 #43
2nd Saturday 10:00PM
(September 20, 1997 to
January 3, 1998)

Monday 10:00PM
(from January 5, 1998)

September 20, 1997 May 11, 1998 1997–1998 10.2 #88
3rd Sunday 10:00PM September 27, 1998 May 9, 1999 1998–1999 12.7 #35
4th September 26, 1999 May 21, 2000 1999–2000 16.4 #10
5th October 8, 2000 May 13, 2001 2000–2001 18.3 #9
6th September 23, 2001 May 19, 2002 2001–2002 12.9 #26
7th Sunday 10:00PM
(September 29, 2002 to
December 15, 2002)

Monday 9:00PM
(January 27, 2003 to
May 5, 2003)

September 29, 2002 May 5, 2003 2002–2003 10.0 #55
8th Sunday 10:00PM September 28, 2003 May 16, 2004 2003–2004 9.1 #63

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 from 1999–2001.

Awards & Nominations

Awards Won

Emmy Awards:

Golden Globe Awards:
  • Best TV-Series - Drama
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Camryn Manheim (1999)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Drama Dylan McDermott

NAACP Image Awards:

Peabody Awards
  • Peabody Award (1999)

Awards Nominated

Emmy Awards:

Golden Globe Awards:
  • Best TV-Series - Drama (2000-2001)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Drama Dylan McDermott (2000-2001)

NAACP Image Awards:
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Steve Harris (1999-2002, 2005)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Lisa Gay Hamilton (2000)
  • Outstanding Drama Series (2000-2002)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Beah Richards (2001)

Screen Actors Guild Awards:
  • Outstanding Performance by an Ensembled Cast in a Drama Series (1999-2001)


External links

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