The Biz: 'Girls' tarnishes golden boy Kelley

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Has David E. Kelley lost his golden touch?

The writer-producer had his highly touted Fox show, "Girls Club," yanked after two poorly rated October runs. It was supposed to replace his "Ally McBeal," which Fox executives forced off the air last spring as ratings collapsed. Even Kelley's two shows that remain-Fox's "Boston Public" and ABC's "The Practice"-are enduring significant ratings slides.

The failure was alarming in its quick hook. The show about three single female attorneys in San Francisco was hardly given a chance to build a following. Even promotion during Fox's summer smash "American Idol" failed to help; "Girls Club" only produced ratings of a 2.5 and a 2.1 in the key 18 to 49 demo.

Meanwhile, "Boston Public," which made Fox the leader among the 18 to 49 demo in its Monday time slot through mid-November last season, has fallen to third with a 3.9 rating (5.1 million viewers)-down 33%. Kelley's "The Practice" is also sliding, with a 16% drop in the 18-49 demo to a 4.8 (6.2 million viewers) in comparable season-to-date ratings.

It's too early to write Kelley off the TV hit-maker A-list, but his mystique has taken a blow. "Everyone figured he was Barry Bonds, he was always going to hit one out of the park," says Shari Anne Brill, VP, Carat USA.

Representatives for Fox, ABC, Kelley's production company, Twentieth Century Fox Television and for Kelley himself declined to comment or didn't return calls.

too late

While "Ally McBeal" resonated in the late `90s, "Girls Club" seems to have been a few years too late-and the women less likable. "In terms of where the country is, it didn't connect," says Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP, Initiative Media. "We are more about family, and have concerns about going to war."

A person close to Kelley said he never wanted to produce "Girls Club." In fact, he had proposed a drama about a "quirky family," but Fox charged him with "the Fox-David Kelley version of `Sex and the City."'

"He should have stayed the course and followed his instincts," the person said. Fox declined to comment.

Even though the show had no pilot for the upfront, advertisers were undeterred. It commanded an average of $178,400 per spot, according to Ad Age's fall-pricing survey-more than the highly touted new "CSI: Miami" on CBS. Fox thus may have been quick to pull the show in order to avoid having to pay out a load of make-goods.

not so fresh

The struggles of third-season "Boston Public," a show about life in an urban high school, may be due to a lack of fresh plotlines. "There are only so many things you can do," says Bill Carroll, VP, Katz Television Group, which sells national spot time for local stations. "There's the bleeding-heart teachers and the put-upon principal. It's just a high school."

NBC's "Fear Factor" has also come into the time slot and leads among 18 to 49 viewers. More disturbing for Fox executives, however, is that CBS's two returning comedies in the hour are ahead in the demo. In the spring upfront, "Boston Public" saw a 37% decline in average price per spot from 2001 to $146,887, according to the Ad Age survey-despite a much healthier market.

The outlook for the "The Practice" is not as dire, despite a 32% drop in per-spot prices in the upfront, to $180,106. Despite the ratings slips, the show still wins its time slot among 18 to 49s and has held off a potential challenge from NBC's new "Boomtown."

Still, the aging show has also met with criticism about a lack of juicy new stories, prompting Kelley to take a more active writing role this season.

One promising note for "The Practice": HBO's "The Sopranos," which until Nov. 17 served as a strong lead-in for "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Mind of the Married Man," will end Dec. 8.

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