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Elaine Liner is Caller-Times' media critic. Her columns are published Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. She has been known to occasionally gossip with her readers in the Elaine Liner Forum. Elaine can be reached at

Tuesday, October 26, 1999

David Kelley's shows hitting below the belt

Creator of 'Ally McBeal,' 'The Practice' goes heavy on nudity, crudity and on 'out-Blueing' 'NYPD'

So now, thanks to David E. Kelley, there are six words you can't say on TV. Last Thursday's "Chicago Hope" boldly used one of the seven television unspeakables made famous in a George Carlin comedy routine. In a storyline about a doctor who does everything right only to have it all go wrong, the character (played by Mark Harmon) summed it with the bumpersticker sentiment, "---- happens."
   Well, sure, Sherlock. But up till now nobody saw fit to let it verbally hit the fan in network primetime.
   All of Kelley's shows are up to their ears in it this season. The double Emmy-winning creator-writer of "Ally McBeal," "Ally," "The Practice," "Chicago Hope" and the grotty new "Snoops" seems to have perfected the art of envelope-pushing in terms of sexual content, violence and R-rated dialogue.
   Kelley's shows are starting to make Steven Bochco's seem less blue by the week.
   Kelley's the guy who had a serial killer dress up as a nun on "The Practice" (he loves to bash the Catholic church) and get shot by a naked district attorney. On "Hope" he had a priest fighting to have his penis reattached after it was severed in a sexual incident.
   Last night's season opener of "McBeal" featured Ally (Calista Flockhart) getting it on with a stranger in a car wash (at least he wasn't a priest). Next week she explores her Sapphic urges in a 25-second smooch with Ling (Lucy Liu). That episode also reveals another character's fantasies about spanking and a reference to Elaine the secretary (Jane Krakowski) serving as a "fluffer," a porn industry term I dare not explain here.
   Is this "Ally McBeal" or "Sex and the City"?
   Because it's Kelley the wonderboy, the networks don't realize, or don't care, that he's serving up smut on a silver platter.
   CBS let the S-word drop on "Chicago Hope" with barely a raised eyebrow.
   "The producers felt strongly the line was important for artistic truthfulness," network spokesman Chris Ender said last week. "It's not a statement, it's not a sign, it's not a symbol of things to come."
   A big ho-hum.
   After the "Hope" episode aired, CBS "Late Show" host David Letterman poked fun at it by announcing that the network execs had approved two uses of the same word on his show. He proceeded to use it dozens of times for comic effect, each utterance politely bleeped for the post-primetime viewers.
   The shocking thing about Kelley's antics is that only TV critics appear to be taking offense. After last week's "Hope," I expected some indignant calls or at least a few e-mails from viewers upset at hearing that word on a show that's supposed to be family-friendly.
   Maybe we're so used to hearing blue language in real life and in movies and cable TV that it slid by on a network show quicker than stuff through a goose.
   It happens.
   But maybe it shouldn't.
   'NYPD' Y2K
   Delayed by the success of the new ABC series "Once and Again" (9 tonight), "NYPD Blue" won't return with new episodes until Jan. 11. After that, it will air for 22 weeks without a rerun.
   "Once and Again," meanwhile, will continue with new episodes until the end of the year. The drama from the creators of "thirtysomething" follows the budding romance of a couple of divorced parents (Sela Ward and Billy Campbell) whose kids are in school together. Each week more of the characters reveal themselves in smartly written storylines told from different points of view.
   This series has attracted a large female viewership, but "Blue" is also popular among women. Both have to occupy a 9 p.m. timeslot because of adult content and occasional nudity.
   Newly canceled is CBS's flagging sitcom "Work with Me," which starred Kevin Pollak and Nancy Travis. Also expected to get the ax this week is ABC's "Wasteland."
   Silver screen classics for free
   The "Landmarks of Cinema History" series is going on at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The weekly festival of great films is free and open to the public each Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Corpus Christi Hall, room 118.
   Coming up this week is "Citizen Kane," the Orson Welles classic from 1941 starring Welles as a newspaper publisher who enters politics. The cast includes Joseph Cotten, Ruth Warrick, Everett Sloane and Dorothy Comingore.
   On Nov. 3, "Rome: Open City," Roberto Rossellini's 1945 drama starring Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi.
   On Nov. 10, "On the Waterfront," Elia Kazan's 1954 film that made Marlon Brando a contender. Co-starring Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint.
   Jean-Luc Goddard's sexy "Breathless" screens Nov. 17. "Bonnie and Clyde" is slated for Dec. 1. Robert Altman's sprawling "Nashville" is offered Dec. 8.


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