Yet another example of why it is so helpful to stand for nothing if you want to be successful in the TV industry:
"Ally McBeal," "The Practice" and "girlsclub" creator David E. Kelley -- the man who last year got tons of free publicity when he elected himself Chief Creative Type Taking an Important Stand Against Reality TV -- has signed up to do his first reality TV series.
Yes, former Boston lawyer Kelley has agreed to executive-produce a reality series in which a bunch of lawyers compete to catapult their careers, with one eliminated each week until a winner emerges.
About 15 months ago, the prolific TV series writer-producer went into full "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!" mode over the proliferation of reality series.
"We live in a time when the medium is no longer respected by its guardians," Kelley said then as he picked up his Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award from the Writers Guild of America.
He said his pleasure at receiving the award was "tempered slightly by the reality of what television is becoming."
He warned, Chayefsky-like: "I believe there are studio executives and network heads out there who would rather make a show with an Aaron Sorkin than have lunch with the next contestant on 'How to Marry a Terrorist,' but those voices have gone silent for now."
(Ironically, Kelley's reality series is for NBC, which apparently would rather not make a show with Sorkin, having reportedly been instrumental in his decision to leave "The West Wing," the landmark series he created for the network.)
In truth, when Kelley gave that moving speech, there was no reality series on the air or, surprisingly, even in development in which contestants compete to marry a terrorist. But there was this enormously successful reality series in which a bunch of young women competed to be crowned official made-for-TV girlfriend of a guy they thought was a millionaire but who really was a construction worker. "Joe Millionaire" was crushing Kelley's series "The Practice" because ABC had moved the lawyer drama from Sunday to Monday nights. That caused Kelley to tell the trade paper Variety that "it would be folly to try to guess what's in [ABC executives'] heads because that would start with the presumption that there's something" in them.
Shortly after attending the Writers Guild Award ceremony in March 2003, Kelley cooked up an episode of "The Practice" that would be his statement to the TV-watching world about reality TV. In it, a deranged woman kidnaps a network head and then negotiates to sell to another network a reality series about the kidnapping and possible execution of that suit. That, naturally, got Kelley loads more media attention, especially when he cast then-CBS CEO Leslie Moonves (who recently was promoted at CBS-parent Viacom) in the role of CBS CEO Leslie Moonves. Kelley also persuaded Fox TV topper Sandy Grushow, the guy whose network aired "Joe Millionaire," to make a cameo appearance. Kelley cast Andie MacDowell as the deranged woman, which was smart because TV viewers get uncomfortable and tune out if asked to watch made-for-TV deranged women who are unattractive.
"I remain fascinated by the law, and this will be another franchise set in that arena," Kelley says about his reality series in NBC's announcement.
And, of course, lawyers are much better than terrorists (and the women who want to marry them), unless you're living next to one who's threatening to take you to court because the leaves from your tree are falling on his side of the fence.
NBC provided few details about how the show will work. Variety, which broke the story, said the lawyers will try real civil cases, using binding legal arbitration that takes place outside the courtroom. The show also will try to recruit current or former judges, and a jury will decide the outcome of cases.
Kelley told Variety that he's still not a fan of those other reality shows, which he said "pander to the lowest common denominator."
Variety does not quote him noting that the guys he's involved with on this series list among their credits the UPN reality series "Chains of Love" -- you remember that bit of Mensa TV programming in which one hot guy was chained at the wrists and ankles to four babes and, over the course of the show, shed three of them, paying each whatever he decided she was worth out of the $10,000 pot he'd been given at the outset. He winds up with just one chick and announces whether he thinks she's a keeper, in which case they split what's left of the 10 grand; otherwise he pays her a kill fee and keeps the rest for himself. NBC does list the credit, however, in its announcement about the Kelley show.
Also listed by NBC as being among the producers' credits: ABC's "The Ultimate Love Test," in which longtime couples agree to split up, with one of each pair going to a resort at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to hang out with people who represent everything they feel is lacking in their current partner; after a few weeks of this they get to decide whether they want to go back to their partner. And WB's "Surreal Life," in which a bunch of desperate former celebrities shack up in a mansion provided by the network and frantically try to revive their careers.
David Garfinkle, one of the executive producers with whom Kelley is working on the as-yet-unnamed new show, said in NBC's announcement that their goal in doing this project is to "elevate the medium."
Chimed in producing partner Jay Renfroe, "It doesn't matter if you're producing scripted stories or reality stories; storytelling is at the heart of the process."