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Tuned In: 'Boston Public' flunks initial test from TV critics

Saturday, July 22, 2000

By Rob Owen Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, CALIF. -- Proponents of public education will likely blanch at David E. Kelley's latest series, "Boston Public." This week, critics got their first look at the drama, set at a suburban Boston public school, and reactions were mostly negative.

Grumblings mostly centered on a scene of a teacher pulling out a gun and firing to get control of an unruly classroom. It's later revealed the teacher fired only blanks, but critics thought it unrealistic that in the post-Columbine era there would be no ramifications aside from a lecture by the principal.

Kelley defended the scene, saying he's heard even more outrageous stories from teachers. "It'll be provocative, but it'll shed light on some of the things that maybe you don't think go on in high school, but they do. ... I expect people and teachers to be initially outraged by a lot of the scenes in the opening episodes, but on balance, I do think they will stand up and cheer because these characters will ultimately be revealed as heroes."

As a longtime Kelley fan, I was particularly disappointed in what I saw in the first episode of "Boston Public." At this stage in the gestation of "Ally McBeal," which also got its share of mixed reviews at first, I could see promise in "Ally." I don't have the same feeling about "Boston Public."

Not only is the gun incident ridiculous, but also Kelley has students creating Web site animations of a teacher getting his head lodged in a horse's butt. First off, it's needlessly crude. Second, it's totally unrealistic that a teen would create such a graphically sophisticated Web site.

There are some good actors here, particularly Anthony Heald (the judge who said "Mass-a-CHU-setts" on "The Practice"), Fyvush Finkel (Kelley's "Picket Fences") and Chi McBride (better off in "Boston Public" than his last starring role as the title character in "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer"). Perhaps with time, Kelley will make each of the characters more distinctive and the stories more real and less reliant on over-the-top Kelley goofiness.

"X-FILES" RUMBLINGS: Yes, the show will get a new co-star. No, he won't be Scully's partner. And fear not, this interloper won't take over Mulder's office, either.

Robert Patrick joins the series this fall as FBI Special Agent John Doggett, a former New York City police detective who's a knee-jerk skeptic and FBI insider, as opposed to Mulder, the consummate FBI outsider.

"Everything is kind of changing," "X-Files" creator Chris Carter said. "Agent Scully, who has always been the skeptic over seven years, has seen enough that it has eroded her skepticism. Now that Agent Mulder has been abducted, as reported by Skinner, the only way to find him is to accept what Skinner is saying. So the two of them become believers, although reluctant believers."

Carter first encountered Patrick when he auditioned for a role on "Harsh Realm." He didn't get that part, but Carter chose him for "X-Files" over other finalists, including Bruce Campbell, Hart Bochner and Lou Diamond Phillips. Just as Scully is named after Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, Doggett is named after Vin Scully's broadcast booth partner, Jerry Doggett.

Carter said with a change in tone, "The X-Files" will return to predominantly dark, scary episodes when the eighth season begins Nov. 5 with a two-parter. David Duchovny's Agent Mulder will appear in the season premiere and 11 other episodes this season, but he'll have a major role in only six episodes.

Carter said his relationship with Duchovny, damaged by Duchovny's lawsuit against Fox that accused Carter of complicity in selling "X-Files" reruns to cable network FX for less than market value, has improved.

"We had lunch twice in the last week and a half," Carter said. "While we weren't able to speak a lot last year because of the lawsuit, there has been a lot of repair of something that was damaged... I still am yet to understand, truly, what it is I was accused of doing, and have it articulated to me in any kind of understandable way."

Carter said it's possible "The X-Files" could continue beyond this season, but neither he, Duchovny or Gillian Anderson have contracts beyond this season.

As for Scully's pregnancy, Carter said details about the baby and its father will be revealed throughout the season. And no, it's not a phony pregnancy.

"Yes, there is the potential she was having sex," Carter said. "It makes it a lot more fun now to go back and find out what really happened. If anyone feels cheated, they will get their prurient interest satisfied."

Carter may have slipped, revealing the sex of the baby, when he jokingly said, "I'm his father and its mother."

Carter wouldn't confirm or deny the death of Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), but he said Davis will return "dead or alive."

Carter's "X-Files" spin-off, "The Lone Gunmen," won't premiere until February or March, possibly taking "The X-Files" time slot for several weeks. Carter described the spin-off as a lighter show, "kind of like 'Mission Impossible' on laughing gas." The Lone Gunmen characters will continue to appear on "X-Files" this fall.

Carter said he bears no ill will towards Fox after former Fox Entertainment president Doug Herzog canceled Carter's "Harsh Realm" last fall after only a few episodes.

"The guy who canceled it got canceled himself," Carter said with more than a little glee.

"MALCOLM'S" EMMY NEWS: Although "Malcolm in the Middle" got robbed of an Emmy nomination for best comedy series, the Fox show did pick up five nominations, including Jane Kaczmarek for best lead actress in a comedy. And Kittanning native Todd Holland was nominated for outstanding directing in a comedy for the show's pilot episode.

Holland, who continues to direct the series this season and serves as co-executive producer, said he got the news from relatives in Pennsylvania.

"I went on the Internet to see what the results were and I went to the wrong place and I couldn't find it anywhere, and then my Web server kept stopping before it got to my category," Holland said. "I was getting my coffee and I thought, my cousin Judy Conti in Punxsutawney will know. If I was nominated, she'll send me a congrats e-mail, and if I wasn't, she'll say, 'You were robbed.' So I ran to my e-mail and sure enough, she was the one who told me. She's my industry resource."

Holland said he was surprised the series itself didn't get an Emmy nomination, but remains optimistic for future years.

"That category is slow to open up [to new shows]," Holland said. "If we hang around long enough and if we keep our quality, we'll have a shot next year."

"ALLY" OOPS: After winning best comedy series at last year's Emmy awards, David E. Kelley's "Ally McBeal" was deservedly shut out of the best comedy series category this past week after a truly sub-par season. Kelley said he was disappointed by the Emmy snub, but not surprised. He said some of the show's stories got too big, including the episode where Ally falls for a schizophrenic homeless man.

"I don't think the audience particularly gravitated toward it because they said, 'That doesn't happen to me, it's been a while since I've walked down the street and met a homeless man and dated him,' " Kelley said. "I think where this show succeeds in finding those situations where the audience can laugh at them because they've been there. My intent this year is to try to dial it back a little and refocus on the emotional center of these characters. "

With "Boston Public" launching and plans to continue writing some episodes of "The Practice," Kelley has hired a staff to help with "Ally" for the first time. Kelley said he expects to rewrite most of the scripts his staff churns out, at least in the beginning, but they are contributing stories for the show.

Kelley said in the upcoming season Courtney Thorne Smith will appear on a recurring basis, but if Gil Bellows (as the ghost of Billy) returns it will be "much less often."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour through Tuesday.

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