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'Boston Legal' bends TV laws

Maria Elena Fernandez / Los Angeles Times

"Cue the music," said the affable mad-cow-deranged legal eagle Denny Crane in the opening of a recent episode of "Boston Legal." But to whom is he talking -- the other zany lawyers at Crane, Poole & Schmidt?
No. He's speaking to you, the viewer. Again.
Since last season, "Boston Legal" has been breaking the fourth wall, allowing its attorneys to speak of their lives as television characters.
The second season ended with one of the show's Alan Shore-Denny Crane balcony moments (played by James Spader and William Shatner respectively) with Shore toasting "To next season, my friend." To which Crane responded, "Same night?" and Shore replied, "God, I hope."
Well, Shore got his wish, and ABC's Tuesday night drama seems to have upped the outrageousness ante even more for its third season.
In the second episode this season, Jeffrey Coho (Craig Bierko) and Claire Simms (Constance Zimmer) joined the firm. But when they introduce themselves to Crane as the "new guys," Crane quips: "Oh, please, if there were new guys, they would have shown up in the season premiere."
Shatner, for one, says he gets a kick out of the insider dialogue. Twice an Emmy winner for the role (the part evolved from "The Practice") and nominated again last season, Shatner noted that although playwrights have used the device to convey a specific personal message, "Boston Legal" has something else in mind.
Last season, Crane scolded his colleagues by saying: "You should have included me in that conference. I'm a good actor. I won an Emmy."
Creator David E. Kelley "is using it as shock value and entertainment value," Shatner said. "So in that shocking moment of a character looking at the audience and saying 'Cue the music,' the viewer takes a mental step backwards and says, 'Good God, did he really say that? ' "
Kelley said the decision to have his loony lawyers refer to themselves as TV characters from time to time occurred to him when he was writing dialogue last year.
"You never want to throw the audience at the wrong time when the story is important," Kelley said. "But at the same time, we don't take ourselves too seriously, and particularly the characters don't take themselves too seriously. So it feels somewhat organic."
The writers, Kelley said, never sit down for story meetings with designated episodes in which they will break from traditional screenwriting.
"It really comes out of the scene, and it's almost a way of us writers flagging things about our series that we know could only happen in television," Kelley said. "The fact that they end up on that balcony at the end of every episode, that's a routine that probably only exists in our fictionalized world. Real lawyers are a little bit too busy to do that at the end of every day."
During one episode last season, the writers placed the balcony scene in the third act instead of at the ending. So when Shore showed up at the usual drinking perch, Crane asked, "Is the episode over already?"
Some fans hope the fun is just beginning.
"I believe there were three erasures of the fourth wall in (the premiere) episode," wrote blogger Kenny Smith on www.kennysmith.org/blog.html. "Are they going for a record this season? We know from the preview that they removed the fourth wall at least once, and somehow that means I won't get anything done next Tuesday either."


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