David E. Kelley started out writing for L.A. Law but left in 1992 to start his own series, Picket Fences. By 1999, he emerged as the king of prime time television. During the 1999-2000 season, he was involved in no fewer than five series. Also in 1999, Kelley accomplished the singular feat of winning Emmys for both outstanding drama series and outstanding comedy series, for his work on The Practice and Ally McBeal.
Born in 1956, in Waterville, Maine, famed television writer and producer David Edward Kelley majored in politics at Princeton University, where he also served as captain of the ice hockey team. His father coached the NHL's Hartford Whalers and later served as the president of the Pittsburgh Penguins. After graduating from Princeton in 1979, Kelley attended Boston University Law School, where he earned his J.D. in 1983. He worked at the Boston law firm of Fine & Ambrogne, mostly dealing with real estate and minor criminal cases.
But the energetic Kelley found practicing law somewhat boring, and in late 1983, he began writing a screenplay for a movie. He optioned the screenplay in 1986 and obtained an agent, who sent Kelley's script to Steven Bochco, a TV producer who was looking for legal-minded writers to work on his new drama series. Bochco met with Kelley and was so impressed that he hired the young lawyer as story editor of the new show, L.A. Law. Kelley took a leave of absence from his job at Fine & Ambrogne and moved to Los Angeles, California.
Though the first film he wrote, From the Hip (1987)—about an ambitious young lawyer—was only moderately well-received, David E. Kelley's work for L.A. Law, which debuted on NBC in the fall of 1987, quickly earned him recognition. The show became a hit, and after a year Kelley quit his job in Boston. He moved up to executive story editor at the beginning of the 1987-88 season, then began to work his way up the producing hierarchy. When Bochco left to develop shows for ABC, at the end of the show's third season, Kelley was named executive producer. In addition to his producing credit, he was still writing a majority of the show's episodes.
In 1989, 1990 and 1991, L.A. Law won the Emmy Award for outstanding drama series; Kelley himself won Emmys for writing in 1990 and 1991. He also worked with Bochco on the development of Doogie Howser, M.D., which premiered in 1989.
Kelley left to create his own series, Picket Fences, for CBS, in 1992. The eccentric series, set in the fictional small town of Rome, Wisconsin, earned critical acclaim, including back-to-back Emmys for best drama series, in 1993 and '94. Between Picket Fences and his next creation, the medical drama Chicago Hope, which premiered in 1994, Kelley wrote more than 40 one-hour episodes during a single season.
In 1995, David Kelley relinquished his duties on both shows to spend more time with his family. He had married the actress Michelle Pfeiffer in March 1993, and adopted a daughter, Claudia Rose, whom Pfeiffer had previously adopted on her own. The couple's son, John Henry, was born in 1994. During his sabbatical from TV, Kelley wrote and co-produced his second feature film, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday (1996), featuring Pfeiffer in the title role. The film received mixed reviews.
Kelley's next two TV offerings, ABC's The Practice and FOX's Ally McBeal, both focused on law firms in Boston, but each had a radically different slant. While The Practice portrayed the gritty everyday workings of a group of criminal defense lawyers, Ally McBeal focused on a stylish, impossibly neurotic female lawyer and her colleagues at a wacky, high-fee law firm. After its debut in the spring of 1997, The Practice started slowly, but went on to win the Emmy for outstanding drama in 1998. By contrast, Ally McBeal, released in the fall of 1997, was an immediate hit among viewers and brought stardom to Calista Flockhart, who played the series' title character.
In 1999, Kelley emerged as the unchallenged king of primetime TV. During the 1999-2000 season, he was involved in no fewer than 5 series, including Ally, a new half-hour version of Ally McBeal made up of previously unused footage from the first 2 seasons, and Snoops, a sexy private-eye drama that has been panned by critics but has received surprisingly good ratings. He also played an increased role in a revamped Chicago Hope. On September 12, 1999, Kelley accomplished the singular feat of winning Emmys for both outstanding drama series and outstanding comedy series, for his work on The Practice and Ally McBeal.
Other recent series created by Kelley include Boston Public (2000-2004) and Boston Legal (2004-2008), which starred James Spader and William Shatner.
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