Sony to Float 'Ally McBeal' Soundtrack


Some of the same magic that's made the "Titanic" album the biggest-selling collection of score music ever also contained in Fox-TV's hit series "Ally McBeal"? The folks at Sony Music--which released the "Titanic" album--are banking a good chunk of cash on it. Though the big-screen tale of tragic romance is far from the foibles and fables spun around the TV attorney, the hope at Sony's 550 Music label and Soundtrax divisions is that a similar female-dominated connection between audience and subject and the integral use of music will lead to another hit. They're jointly committing a reported $3 million to an "Ally McBeal" album, scheduled to be in stores May 5. It will feature original songs and other material performed in the series by singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. On the show, Shepard serves as a sort of musical Greek chorus for McBeal as the young lawyer, played by Calista Flockhart, navigates modern life and love. A single of Shepard's "Searching for My Soul," which is used as the show's theme, will be rushed to radio stations--some of which have already aired the song taped off television--on April 7. "It's been amazing, very flattering," says Shepard of both the public and industry attention, noting that she now gets about 1,000 e-mails a week about her music, many asking for a CD release. "Sometimes with music you don't realize how much it moves people and touches them." John Doelp, executive vice president and general manager of 550 Music, says the company's aggressive pursuit of the project stemmed from the belief that fans of the show--which has an average weekly audience of 10.9 million viewers but in recent weeks has done even better, with 15.7 million last week--have developed a "Titanic"-like attachment. "In a very short time, they've created through an excellent show a very loyal fan base," he said. "And the show itself is music-oriented. What better way to have a souvenir of the show than to have an album? You can experience the same moods and feelings as when watching."

Doelp is aware that previous albums tied to TV shows have been hit-and-miss. Even the biggest among recent ones--a "Friends" collection that included the sitcom's hit theme and previously unreleased tracks by Hootie & the Blowfish and the Pretenders, among others--fell 200,000 short of the million sales mark. A collection related to Fox's youth-targeted "Party of Five" has sold just 63,000 copies. By contrast, "Titanic," which has been No. 1 on the album charts for almost three months, has sold more than 6 million copies. Shepard--whose involvement with the show stems from her friendship with creator David E. Kelley and his wife, actress Michelle Pfeiffer--has no track record as a hit-maker. Her most recent album, a 1995 release on her own independent label, sold just 9,000 copies before she started getting attention from the "Ally" exposure. But to the executives who made the deal, this release's potential cannot be measured by past history. "Vonda Shepard and David Kelley have found a way to transcend the limitations of music on a TV series," says Glenn Brunman, executive vice president of Sony Music Soundtrax. "Vonda is the musical muse for Ally, and it's clear that the show was conceived with the use of music as the central focus." Shepard has spent the last three weeks in the studio touching up the "McBeal" songs for the release, with such cover tunes as "Walk Away Renee" and, from the notorious "dancing baby" episode, "Hooked on a Feeling," included along with her original songs. Also featured is an acoustic version of "I Only Want to Be With You," which she says many people have asked to use for weddings. She'll launch a two-month concert tour to promote the album on May 1, and plans to consider offers that have come in for a solo recording deal for herself. The main question about the planned album is whether the show's prime demographic--adults in the 25-to-50 or so range, especially women--will rush to record stores to buy it.

Copyright Los Angeles Times