Kelley, David E.


Kelley, David E.
▪ 1999

      As creator of three different successful shows airing on three competing networks during the 1997-98 TV season, writer and producer David E. Kelley was unique in the world of television. He had begun this string of hits, each of which featured unusual scenarios and quirky characters, with "Chicago Hope" (CBS), a medical drama series set in Chicago that premiered in 1994. Debuting in the 1997-98 season to critical acclaim were two shows about lawyers (Kelley's area of expertise): "Ally McBeal" (Fox), which popularized the computer-generated "dancing baby" phenomenon and introduced TV's first unisex bathroom, won a Golden Globe award for best comedy in 1998, while the more serious "The Practice" (ABC) won the Emmy award for best drama.

      Kelley's achievement was a follow-up to his past successes with such long-running shows as "L.A. Law," "Picket Fences," and "Doogie Howser, M.D." Perhaps Kelley's most distinguishing characteristic was his ability to write dozens of scripts in succession, often completing an entire year's episodes of a show. During the 1997-98 season, he single-handedly wrote all 23 episodes for "Ally McBeal" and most of the 22 for "The Practice" at a standard length of 60 pages per script.

      Kelley was born c. 1956 in Waterville, Maine, and attended Princeton University. After graduating in 1979, he enrolled at Boston University Law School. In 1983 he received a J.D. degree and joined a Boston law firm. That same year he began working on a feature film, From the Hip, which explored the ethics of a young lawyer and was moderately successful at the box office. When the script was brought to the attention of television producer Steven Bochco, who at the time was looking for writers with legal backgrounds for his new show, Kelley was hired almost immediately as the story editor of "L.A. Law" in 1986. He quit the law firm and moved to California, and, at the age of 33 and after the show's third season, he became executive producer. "L.A. Law" won the Emmy award for outstanding drama series four of the years Kelley worked on the show.

      Kelley left "L.A. Law" at the end of the 1991-92 season and created "Picket Fences," which debuted in 1992. The show was a popular and critical success and won three Emmys in 1993. In 1994 he created "Chicago Hope." Juggling the scripts for "Chicago Hope" and "Picket Fences" became a difficult task, however, and by the end of the 1994-95 season, Kelley was exhausted. He had written 40 one-hour scripts for the two shows over an eight-month period and decided to relinquish his position as executive producer to two new producers. This time away from TV allowed him to write and produce the feature film To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday (1996), which starred his wife, actress Michelle Pfeiffer, and to develop new projects for his company, David E. Kelley Productions. In 1998 Kelley began production in 1998 on two more movies, Mystery Alaska and Lake Placid.

HEATHER A. BLACKMORE

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Universalium. 2010.

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