Romance Sparks Ally's Ratings

A kiss is still a kiss to Ally McBeal fans, especially when it's between the neurotic title character and the object of her obsession.

Monday's episode of the two-year-old Fox dramedy, in which Ally (Calista Flockhart) and Billy (Gil Bellows) deal with the fallout of last week's passionate liplock, brought in a record number of romance-loving couch potatoes.

Nearly 17 million viewers —the show's largest audience ever — turned on and tuned in to see how Ally would handle swapping spit with her now married ex-boyfriend.

Of course, in typical David E. Kelley-scripted fashion, the situation only became more complex, as the two confused would-be lovers sought advice from Ally's annoying therapist (Tracey Ullman).

Will Ally get a clue and return to the arms of hunky M.D. Greg? Will Billy stay faithful to Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith)? No one's saying, but Bellows, for one, is glad that things are heating up.

"There are a lot of other characters on the show who can be considered flashier or more funny, but I don't think there's a story line that's more compelling than Billy and Ally," the actor tells the New York Daily News. "I think their relationship anchors Ally as a human being. … Billy allows her to explore human emotions that she probably wouldn't be exploring otherwise, and I think everybody responds to romance in one way or another."

In overall ratings last week, it was NBC all the way, as George Clooney's final episode of ER helped propel the peacock network to an all-important sweeps win. Other primetime winners included ABC's Storm of the Century miniseries, Fox's reality special World's Most Shocking Medical Videos, NBC's Homicide, and the WB's family drama Seventh Heaven.

And in other TV news … Fox has taken a shine to Eddie Murphy's foamation series The PJs, giving the go-ahead for a full 22-episode order next season.