''The Practice,'' ''C-16,'' and ''Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman'' are some of the shows we examine

ABC, 10-11 PM

Don’t tell Dylan McDermott that ”TV is good.” ABC — the network that coined the slogan — has shifted his acclaimed legal drama, The Practice, to the deathly slot of Saturdays at 10 p.m. after a six-week run in NYPD Blue‘s cushy Tuesday berth last season, and the actor who stars as Boston attorney Bobby Donnell is shouting ”Objection!”

”My anger really hasn’t subsided,” says McDermott, seething in his trailer on The Practice‘s L.A. set in July. ”I think it sucks. If you asked me last year, ‘What’s your biggest fear, Dylan?’ I would’ve said, ‘Saturdays at 10.”’

Executive producer David E. Kelley (Picket Fences, Chicago Hope) went through his own anger stage when he heard about the show’s new home back in May. ”We were led to believe we’d be elsewhere,” he sighs, adding that ABC had mentioned Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday nights as possibilities. ”There were extenuating circumstances” with the other nights, offers ABC drama series VP Steve Tao. (Translation: ABC didn’t want to scrap its Sunday movie or move NYPD Blue or PrimeTime Live.) Kelley briefly considered quitting the series, but ultimately decided to stay on: ”It wouldn’t have been fair to the cast. They’re stuck with the Saturday slot, and I’m the one who brought them in.”

So what’s so bad about Saturday night? For one thing, ”the urban audience, historically, is not home,” Kelley points out. For another, Chuck Norris’ CBS maul-apalooza, Walker, Texas Ranger, owns the time slot. ”On Saturday nights, people want escapist entertainment,” concedes Kelley, who says he’s never seen Walker. ”Someone with a huge veal Parmesan in their stomach who flops down on the couch may just say: ‘Show me somebody dead. Don’t bore me with a lot of procedural motions.”’

So far, Kelley and McDermott’s worst fears about Saturdays have been realized: Since returning in reruns in July on that night, The Practice has ranked near the bottom of Nielsen’s weekly list. ”I was looking for it [in the ratings] and couldn’t find it,” says McDermott, ”so I started from 100 backwards.” At least he can take heart in ABC’s apparent commitment: The network has ordered 22 additional episodes — a full season’s worth.

To attract new viewers, Kelley is sexing the show up a bit: tackling more sensational cases (a gay murder, a physician-assisted suicide) and adding Twin Peaks‘ sultry Lara Flynn Boyle to the cast as an assistant DA who becomes a love interest for McDermott’s Donnell. But ”sexy can mean a lot of things,” Boyle notes. ”How we’re portraying sexy is with a lot of brains. The TV stereotype of sexy — the big push-up bras — there’s no place for that on The Practice.”

Those who already like the show appreciate the refreshingly non-glam supporting cast — including Camryn Manheim’s Ellenor Frutt (she’s the rarest of prime-time figures, a heavyset woman who’s not played for laughs). And there’ll be lots more of breakout star Steve Harris’ street-style private eye-turned-lawyer Eugene Young. ”I’m inclined to write stories for him because he’s so much fun to watch, and he’s got such power,” Kelley says of the burly, brazen actor. Harris isn’t taking all this acclaim too seriously. ”It won’t affect my work,” he says, wearing dark shades and digging into a bowl of grits before the day’s shooting begins. ”I don’t believe in big heads — plus I’ve got a mama who’ll put that in place for me.”

The Practice
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