|ALLY MCBEAL FOX, 9-10 PM STARTS SEPT. 14|
When you're Ally McBeal, the most exhaustively debated hit of the '97-98 season (comedy or drama? role model or feminist's nightmare?), what do you do for an encore? "Nudity," cracks Gil Bellows, a.k.a. Ally's erstwhile beau Billy. Oh, like so pedestrian a thrill could shock fans of a show notorious for unisex bathrooms, wattle fetishes, dancing babies, and the erotic possibilities of sipping a cappuccino. Surely creator David E. Kelley can do better. "You never know what's gonna come out of David's pen," admits coexecutive producer Jeffrey Kramer. Whatever it is, it's golden: Ally, a consistent time-slot winner in the all-important 18-to-49 demo, was also blessed with 10 Emmy nods. At this point, even the most incredulous of the stars accept Kelley's more eccentric devices. Courtney Thorne-Smith (Billy's maddeningly patient wife, Georgia), for example, initially balked at the idea of coed toilets but now says, "I don't even bother to argue anymore." Yes, the bathroom will be back, as will Biscuit's (Peter MacNicol) remote toilet flusher and Tracey Ullman's theme-song-obsessed shrink. While the show will likely lose a chunk of its uncommonly large male audience to ABC's Monday Night Football early in the season, the producers hope to hang on to a few with the addition of another babelicious attorney, Scream 2's Portia de Rossi. The inestimable John Ritter will guest-star as Elaine's (Jane Krakowski)--then Ally's--boyfriend in at least two episodes. Also, Ally and Renee (Lisa Nicole Carson) move into a duplex, and Billy and Georgia ("the normal people," says Bellows) redecorate. "Thank God," Bellows adds. "There were pinks and weird greens and the cheesiest curtains in our bedroom. No wonder they made love at the office." Expect one notable absence: "The dancing baby was a delicious way to visualize Ally's biological clock," says Kramer. "But it's time to move on." Bellows, for one, is thrilled. "May it die a painful death." - written by Shawna Malcom, Entertainment Weekly.