Shorter, faster 'Ally' cuts to the comedy

By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

Think of it as Ally: The Remix.

How it will work: Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley will select one plot from the three or four juggled in each hour episode and suggest scenes for inclusion in the shorter Ally.

Producers say Ally, which premieres Sept. 28 (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET), plays like a new show.

"It feels different," says Jonathan Pontell, co-executive producer of both shows. "The dynamics change quite a bit on the stories when you reorganize and reshuffle them."

The original Ally McBeal (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET) is up for 13 Emmys, including best comedy. Calista Flockhart stars as Ally, an eccentric young lawyer who works at a Boston firm.

The show is Fox's second-highest-rated, after The X-Files, and finished its season at No. 21, attracting 13.8 million viewers weekly.

Though networks often air repeats of series outside their usual time slots, re-editing a show into a different format is a new concept.

Most Ally McBeal episodes run long and must be trimmed before airing. The scenes cut out will be used in the new show, Pontell says.

How Ally will differ from the original:

Courtroom scenes will be eliminated for the most part, to focus Ally on relationships in and out of the office.

Music, a big part of Ally McBeal, still will play a role. Most Allys will end just as the one-hour show does - with the gang hanging out at the bar while Vonda Shepard plays piano and sings. Series composer Danny Lux has written an instrumental theme for Ally.

Added scenes will show Ally and roommate Renee (Lisa Nicole Carson) and Ally's double date with John "The Biscuit" Cage (Peter MacNicol).

"Ally will be faster-paced," Pontell says. "We've consciously made transitions faster and tried to snap it up a bit in order to fit the show into 22 minutes," plus commercials and promo spots.

Producers haven't decided which plot will kick off Ally, but the new version will begin with the second half of the first season, "which is when we began to hit our stride."

Broadcast TV stations pay huge sums to air reruns of hit half-hours in syndication. Most hour shows end up on cable; even NBC's ER, TV's top-rated show, wound up on TNT.

The economic upside for Ally McBeal creator Kelley is considerable. Though FX bought reruns of the original show in a deal worth a reported $750,000 per episode, 20th Century Fox's syndication arm could sell Ally separately

Will Ally encourage other producers to repackage their series?

The idea might appeal to them, says 20th Century Fox Television president Sandy Grushow, "but my best guess is that this is not something most people will readily duplicate." Most dramas aren't as heavy on humor as Ally McBeal and thus don't lend themselves to a half-hour treatment, he says.

Wedding bells will toll on series, but for whom?

Producers promise a big wedding when Ally McBeal returns Oct. 25 with new episodes.

The premiere will guest-star Ray Walston (Picket Fences) as the minister who officiates and Jason Gedrick (The Last Don) as the groom. No word on whom Gedrick is marrying and how the marriage affects the law firm, but producers say the bride isn't one of the show's regulars.

No characters have been added to the cast - yet - but both Dyan Cannon (as Judge Whipper Cone ) and Tracey Ullman (an Emmy nominee as Ally's therapist) will be back for multiple episodes.

Fox will reach back to Ally McBeal's first season to create the fall comedy called Ally. The half-hour show blends old footage from the hour-long original with previously unaired scenes.