'Ally McBeal' actor comes back from the dead...sort of

Thursday, November 12, 1998

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

He's alive!

No, he's dead.


Monday's "Ally McBeal" was a bit confusing for those aware character actor Phil Leeds died of pneumonia this summer. There he was playing Judge Happy Boyle in an episode filmed after his death in August. Then Happy died in the midst of a court case.

"Ally McBeal" co-executive producer Jonathan Pontell, who directed Monday's episode, said the case of the woman with orange skin (you had to see it) was intended to be part of September's second season premiere. Leeds filmed his courtroom scenes for that episode just before his death.

But the season premiere (dedicated to Leeds' memory) ran six minutes long, and series creator David E. Kelley felt other stories needed more attention. So the orange woman case was cut. For Monday's episode, scenes of Happy Boyle presiding over that case were edited together with an unused shot from last season where he falls asleep on the bench (but instead of sleeping, he died). The shot where he asks to see the orange woman's teeth was reused from a first season episode where he asked to see Ally's teeth.

"We put it all together to make a real kind of patchwork scene where he actually dies," Pontell said in an interview late Tuesday from the set in Manhattan Beach, Calif. "It was a real tribute to Phil. We really liked him quite a bit, and I think David felt he wanted to give him a proper send-off."

Monday's episode also marked the return of multiple special effect scenes representing Ally's imagination. Pontell said the effects come and go depending on the nature of the episode.

"They're very time-consuming," he said. "You can wind up with two or three seconds of screen time and spend two or three hours shooting it. But I know people generally like those fantasies."

Pontell said newcomers Portia de Rossi (lawyer Nelle Porter) and Lucy Liu (Richard's new girlfriend, Ling Woo) will soon be added to the opening credits. But never fear, the show's original cast won't be ignored.

"We have a Georgia A-story coming up shortly," Pontell said. "The additions give David more places to go to. Calista worked very hard last season and I think this will give her a little relief, too."

Pontell said speculation that the thin Flockhart suffers from an eating disorder has taken its toll.

"It's not true that any publicity is good publicity," he said. "The prurient interest is getting a little old and we sort of hope that goes away. It's been hard on her."

Then there's Kelley's fixation with frogs. In recent episodes, John "The Biscuit" Cage (Peter MacNicol) has seen his beloved pet frog Stefan straddle the line between life and death before finally winding up on Cage's plate at a Chinese restaurant. Now Stefan is definitely dead.

One episode had Cage singing "Be a Frog," first heard in an episode of Kelley's "Picket Fences" with guest star Michael Jeter as "The Frog Man."

"This goes back a long way," Pontell said. "David did a wonderful episode of 'L.A. Law' called 'On the Toad Again' about a certain toad that excretes some kind of substance that people lick and get very high from. I don't know where it comes from, but this is the third permutation of frogs."

Cage still has a replacement frog, Millie, but viewers may not see her for a while.

"There are no immediate plans for Millie," Pontell said. "I think everybody's a little frogged out."