The McBeal Files

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. -- I've been in Ally McBeal's bed. Then again, this season who hasn't?

A visit to the sets of David E. Kelley's "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice" last month reveals that Ally does keep food in her refrigerator, although the scale in her bathroom forgets the decimal point, saying a 145.2-pound person weighs 1,452 pounds.

That may explain a few things.

But it doesn't explain the show's sexual turn with the season premiere's sex in a car wash and later a kiss between Ally and Ling.

"I thought they were quite fun," said "Ally" star Calista Flockhart at a Fox party. Seated in a small booth in the VIP lounge of a Los Angeles club, Flockhart was warm and friendly. "I like the idea of Ally being adventuresome and taking risks."

And the car wash? "It was really cold. It was awful. That's all I have to say."

Kelley defended the show, saying "Ally McBeal" hasn't been more sexual than in previous seasons.

"We certainly knew the car wash scene would be provocative," Kelley said. "We thought it would send a wakeup call to viewers that the show would continue to change and grow."

Kelley took heat for those episodes from critics, and he said his father, former Pittsburgh Penguins president Jack Kelley, expressed reservations as well. But Kelley noted that growing up with his father helped him prepare for this year's successes (Emmy awards for "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice") and failures ("Snoops" and the half-hour "Ally" rerun).

"With my father being a hockey coach who won some and lost some, I probably picked up on his determination and his commitment to the work being as important as the win or the loss," Kelley said.

Much has been written about the meaning of "Ally McBeal" (most notably a Time cover story) and whether its star has an eating disorder. Flockhart said she has gotten over the chatter but admitted the show's second season and all the speculation about her health took its toll.

"When the nonsense started, it wasn't particularly hard," she said. "I just thought, oh this happens to everybody, it doesn't really affect me if I don't read the papers. But it did get really difficult, and it didn't seem to stop."

After being plucked out of the obscurity of a working New York actress, Flockhart found she wasn't struggling anymore and had to set new goals. Now she's happier, although she said she has little perspective on the series in which she stars.

"It walks a very precarious line," she said. "Some people seem to laugh at it and some people take it quite seriously, and it's certainly not correct and I think it raises issues that are touchy."

Foremost among those issues this season was the turn taken by Ally's former beau, Billy (Gil Bellows), who now sports bleached hair and flaunts his rampant male chauvinism.

The reactions Bellows gets from viewers he meets are more extreme.

"My character seemed to be well-liked before, but (critics) trashed my character," Bellows said. "He was boring, and he was just a dull character. Now they trash him differently but in an aggressive, vitriolic way because he's espousing sentiments that are not politically correct or warranted for the sensitive age we're in. That's terrific, because that means David and I are doing something right."

Jane Krakowski, who is much smaller in person than when she's gussied up on camera as Elaine, said she never gets feedback on her performance from Kelley. A half-hour later he came by to give her a hug and to compliment her performance in an upcoming episode.

"That's never happened before, ever," she said. "It's because I called him about a scene we re-shot in an episode where Elaine re-evaluates her (promiscuity)."

Then Krakowski began gushing.

"This is going to sound wrong, but David to me is like that father you love and admire and want him to do the same to you," Krakowski said. "So when you get any sort of acknowledgment or appraisal you just feel like that little kid who gets excited that daddy thought you did it well. It's weird I'm admitting it to you, but it's true."