'Ally' puts a brand-new spin on reruns

One of the more intriguing "new" fall network series is a half-hour show that partially consists of reruns.

Only the inventive David E. Kelley could create such curiosity over such a project while potentially turning recycling into a television art form.

A half-hour version of Ally McBeal, Ally will feature some scenes presented during the first two seasons of the hourlong Fox hit and unseen material culled from the series.

(The phrase is "left on the cutting room floor.")

Premiering Sept. 28, the only "new" aspect of Ally will be the theme music.

Most of Ally will consist of "office relationships and the sexual tensions among the characters," Kelley says. Don't look for courtroom scenes.

One reason Kelley came up with this abbreviated version of Ally McBeal is the potential sales value in rerun syndication. Half-hour comedies are much more valuable in syndication than hourlong projects.

This led Kelley into discussions with Fox Broadcasting, which, like all networks, looks for ways to provide prime-time programming with a minimum of expense.

(The phrase is "cheap series.")

But beyond the obvious financial aspects lurks the active mind of Kelley, who could be creating a whole new form of television.

"Perhaps in the future I could go into a network and convince programmers to let me introduce a series in an hour format for 13 episodes," Kelley said recently. "Once viewers are accustomed to the format and characters, the show could be cut to a half-hour."

Kelley believes such a hybrid could eliminate the longtime, restrictive rules about network series' being either an hour or 30 minutes.

He has already broken through television's "categorization" barrier with Ally McBeal. While the hour is billed as a comedy, it offers elements of drama.

At this juncture, critics don't know how Ally will play as a half-hour. Preview tapes have not been made available.

For the sake of discussion, let's say Ally is a resounding hit as far as audience ratings are concerned.

That could really open the creative and financial doors for Kelley and alter the face of network television.

In the '50s, before local news became an audience draw and a financial bonanza for stations, the networks offered 15-minute musical programs in the early evening featuring such pop stars as Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Dinah Shore.

Perhaps Kelley could spin off similar musical TV interludes (with sponsors, of course) featuring Vonda Shepard, who has hit it big as the musical performer on Ally McBeal. Maybe Kelley could even persuade Calista Flockhart to sing. And then again, maybe not.

Actually, these musical segments could be in the form of reruns, since cast members regularly gather at the end of the shows to dance to Shepard's rhythms.

How about a daytime half-hour: Ally's Alley, a fashion show displaying -- in reruns, of course -- the numerous styles of short skirts and at-home leisure wear (sweat shirts and pajamas) worn by Flockhart.

Now we come to a major untapped source of revenue for Kelley: the promotional spots on the network.

You see such spots regularly throughout the day (even during sporting events) and in prime time. The screen is filled with quick scenes promoting network shows.

If Kelley is successful in all the above-mentioned programming endeavors, he might be able to charge Fox for using his material for promotional purposes.

Think of all this if you tune in to Ally this fall. Perhaps David E. Kelley will really change the face of network television.