Kelley Holds Court In Banff

King of prime time speaks to rapt audience

By SHELLY DECKER -- Edmonton Sun

BANFF -- David E. Kelley's phenomenal success has left the masses in awe, but the king of prime time believes it's only a matter of time before one of his creations gets clicked into the ozone. The former lawyer, who brought us Chicago Hope, Picket Fences, Ally McBeal and The Practice, told a captive audience at the Banff Television Festival yesterday that failure is a reality in this industry.

"I'm sure it would build my character and I'm sure it's coming,'' said Kelley, who last night received the prestigious Astral Award of Excellence for his creative genius. "I don't feel I've ever been a hit-maker.''

The writer-producer was joined in his first visit to Banff by his actress wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, at last night's Rockie Awards, where he also received a comedy award for McBeal. Their kids were not there.

Clad in a long, black gown with a plunging neckline, and a shawl, Pfeiffer beamed as her husband collected his two awards, and broke into a wider grin when a loud whistle echoed through the room after her face flooded large screens in the room.

Kelley drew on his sense of humour as he accepted the awards. "It's a bit daunting to come up and accept it. It's such a prestigious award. I look at all the people who have won this award before me and they're all really old,'' he quipped, citing his mentor Steven Bochco as he received the honour.

When he accepted the comedy award for the offbeat McBeal, he asked people to remember the show is a spoof and the hiked hemlines and bizarre antics aren't supposed to represent all women.

"It's Ally McBeal and only Ally McBeal,'' he said."Please do not take us too seriously.''

With Snoops, a new show about private eyes, and a 30-minute outtake of Ally McBeal set to air this fall, Kelley will have his name on an unbelievable four shows - and he said with such a high number "the odds are they're not all going to survive or do well.''

Critics who have seen the pilot of Snoops haven't been pleased with the offering and Kelley wasn't dodging any blows.

"Snoops is designed to be escapist fare and what was missing for me in the pilot so far was, it felt a little cold. And I think the characters and the reasons they do what they do have to emerge a little better,'' said Kelley, who's making changes to Snoops.

Tinkering with a show after its pilot is done is familiar terrain for Kelley. He did it with McBeal after its unveiling in a time when the world "concluded it was a bust and it was not going to be something that was going to be around too long.''

The idea to take edited footage and outtakes of McBeal and condense it into 30 minutes was Kelley's and one that he's ashamed to admit was driven by business. Ready for syndication, Kelley found there were few takers for the comic lawyer show. After making the cuts and looking at the final production, he was pleased.

Yet he admits that if the network had asked him to do the project, he would probably have rejected the concept. He remains concerned it may be too much for the market to bear, resulting in an Ally overdose. "Ultimately, I think the show will stand or fall on its own. If it fails as a half-hour, I think the hour will still sustain. If it succeeds as a half-hour, conventional wisdom says it can only help the hour, but we'll all be a lot smarter in October.''

But he knows time is not on his side. Years ago, new shows could count on 13 episodes before a decision would be made on whether they stayed. "Now ... if you don't come out of the box with at least a respectable number, you could be in trouble,'' he said, citing Bochco's Public Morals, which was chopped after its first show.

Kelley didn't grow up glued to the tube, and he still doesn't tune in that much.

He mainly watches the news, but is a huge fan of NYPD Blue, Seinfeld and Larry Sanders.

If the network approached him to create a program similar to McBeal, Kelley would refuse. Decision-makers may say they want original concepts but when it comes down to it, the unusual can be seen as too much of a gamble. "They're nervous to skate on ice that hasn't been skated on before,'' said the hockey fan.

While he's coming out with two feature productions - one about hockey - Kelley said his heart is in television because he has more time to explore characters.

"It's not that I didn't enjoy doing the movies and I probably will again, but (for me, it's) probably less creatively fulfilling than television.''


The world's king of nighttime TV didn't score a hat trick, but David E. Kelley held on to his reign at the Banff Television Festival's Rockie Awards last night. With his wife Michelle Pfeiffer in attendance, Kelley was given the Astral Award of Excellence.

Kelley was called up again for Ally McBeal, which won best comedy at the festival. Last year, Kelley's show The Practice beat McBeal. Both shows were nominated again in separate categories, but the split didn't result in double honours. Kelley's Practice lost to NYPD Blue for its episode revolving around the departure of Jimmy Smits's character.

Canadian-born Martin Short received a standing ovation when he accepted the Sir Peter Ustinov Comedy Network award.

"This is an enormous honour,'' said Short.

The Rockie Awards, the highlight of the festival, represented the most diverse split among nations in their history.

Canada was in the winner's circle with a story close to our hearts. Hitman Hart - Wrestling With Shadows was a unanimous choice for best sports program.

Other winners included Israel's Aharon Cohen's Debt for the best made-for-TV movie. The Austrian Bees - A Life for the Queen won in the best popular science and natural history program, while the U.K.'s Blabbermouth and Sticky Beak took the best kids' program honour.