Ally McBeal's Mass Appeal

Star Calista Flockhart was the only cast member sporting casual attire; in sneakers, stretch pants, a white tee shirt and an old green cardigan, TV's newest "It" girl showed up decidedly slumpy.

Questions from the moderator gave way to audience participation, and Flockhart, once put on the spot by a seemingly harmless question, used animated hand gesticulations when answering. In the episode just shown, Ally was put upon by Cage to ditch her "unprofessional" talking hands in court, and the irony was not lost on the savvy 'Ally' fans. Soon she was called on her body language and pinned to the wall by the question everyone wants to know: Is Calista really like that?

"I am not Ally McBeal," a wispy Flockhart insisted, with all the impact of a little girl trying to be mad. "David insists that I am but I'm not." As Flockhart tried to make her point, Kelley pulled a roll of toilet paper from the actress' purse. "Oh yeah, then what's this?" Kelley taunted, holding the TP high. Flockhart, embarassed, grabbed the roll from her executive producer and stuffed it back in her purse. "I'm sick. I couldn't find any tissues," she snuffled.

Not only did Flockhart's behavior bear a striking resemblance to her TV alter-ego, the whole cast seemed to be in character. Krakowski, who plays the all-too-vivacious Elaine on the show, flirted with devil-may-care assurance and talked about her desire to sing on Broadway again in the future. Georgia has much in common with Thorne-Smith's even keel. Germann demonstrated his wisecracking wit and Bellows stayed quiet and looked cute, much as he does on the show. MacNicol's mischevious, free-spirited stripes most contrasted the character he plays on 'Ally,' whom he described as "a complete oddling," and a "moon-calf."

However, as the questions went on, it became more and more clear that viewers want to get inside the mind who gets inside Ally's mind. And here's a clue: where the media makes a big deal about how uncannily Kelley writes the post-modern post-feminist, he himself "didn't take it so seriously." Kelley once picked up an issue of Cosmopolitan to see what women read about and found it "ridiculous."

"It's about each character, not gender," Kelley summarized. As for negative reactions to Ally's on-again, off-again inner strength: "I love to provoke people and get them angry," he stated evenly, with neither remorse nor relish.

Then there's the ingenious plot device also known as the unisex bathroom. Kelley revealed his secret, "The truth is we had limited set space." But there's another wrinkle to the co-ed facilities, namely to fulfill Richard's "lifelong quest to get into the ladies' room."

With "Picket Fences," "Chicago Hope," and "The Practice" under his belt, Kelley's name has become synonymous with serious television. How the relatively young man bears the brunt of his mantle seems to have a profound effect on him. In one breath, he warns young writers "to not be so arrogant to stick to what it was you set out to do." In another breath, he replies "Not really," when asked about his influences.

"Ally McBeal" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on Fox.