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Star to Depart Amid Makeover of 'Practice'

Dylan McDermott's exit comes as ABC halves the amount it will pay Fox to produce an episode.

May 20, 2003|Brian Lowry | Times Staff Writer

"The Practice" will be getting an extreme makeover that includes the departure of star Dylan McDermott -- one of several expected casualties due in part to the much-reduced fee ABC will pay for the legal drama's eighth season.

Sources say the Walt Disney Co.-owned network cut almost by half the $6 million per episode that producer 20th Century Fox earned this season for the Emmy-winning program. Renewal negotiations between ABC and the News Corp. unit came within days of the network's fall-schedule announcement last week.

In a statement, series executive producer David E. Kelley confirmed McDermott's departure and acknowledged that additional changes are likely in an effort to cut costs. "Due to economic and creative realities, many key people will not be returning, including Dylan. It hurts, professionally and personally," he said.

This month's season finale had set up the possible exit of McDermott's character, attorney Bobby Donnell. Even so, with all the networks currently selling advertising for the upcoming season, the prospect of wholesale changes could depress media buyers' appetite for the program.

ABC issued its own statement saying the network would put its faith in Kelley to maintain the program's appeal. Network insiders also said the changes were based as much on a desire to chart a new creative direction as on budgetary concerns.

Kelley bitterly criticized ABC after ratings for "The Practice" plummeted in January -- when the network moved it to Monday nights -- calling the time-period change "an act of stunning stupidity, which did all the damage it was meant to do." This fall the series will return to Sunday.

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