MAJOR cast departures on "Ally McBeal" have thrown the Fox legal dramedy into a courtroom tizzy.|
Original "Ally" cast members Courtney Thorne-Smith (Georgia) and Gil Bellows (Billy) both announced this week that they're leaving the show in May.
That could hurt, since their (now-divorced) characters have been a major component of an on-again, off-again love triangle with willowy Boston lawyer Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart).
And Lisa Nicole Carson, who plays Ally's sexy roommate Renee, is off the show indefinitely -- but is expected to return -- after reportedly spending two weeks in a psychiatric ward.
"I don't think the show will have a problem sustaining its audience" with the departures, said industry analyst Marc Berman of MediaWeek.
"This isn't like when Thorne-Smith left ‘Melrose Place' at the end of its fifth season, when its numbers were sliding.
"I think her leaving now, after only three seasons, won't affect the show negatively," Berman added, "not when it's still very fresh and has a couple of good years ahead of it."
Still, "Ally McBeal" Internet fan sites were buzzing yesterday with the news of Thorne-Smith's departure.
"I was afraid this would happen," wrote SP on one site, www.allymcbeal.tktv.net. "[Thorne-Smith] is the main reason I keep watching the show. ‘Ally' has lost much of its ‘oomph,' if you ask me."
"It's really sad that Gil [Bellows] is leaving," wrote another fan. "The character of Billy has been a huge part of what makes the character of ‘Ally.' The dynamic of the show will surely change."
But Berman said other characters, like Ally's evil officemate Ling (Lucy Liu), will now have to step up to the plate.
"There are enough strong characters, including Lucy Liu, who wasn't introduced until the second season," Berman said. "And if they're smart, they'll try to bring some new blood into the show."
Series creator David E. Kelley says he will do just that.
"Billy and Georgia will re-occur next season, and new characters will be introduced this year," Kelley said in a terse statement.
"We've had a great run with these characters, who we originally planned to use for the first season only."