The content of the crossover episodes of Ally McBeal and The Practice is still secret, but there's already a lot of noise surrounding the planned April 27 airing of the two David Kelley shows.
According to the tentative plan, Dylan McDermott, the slender, flirty-eyed star of the ABC drama, will pop up alongside Calista Flockhart on Fox's Ally at 9 p.m. (ET), and then, Flockhart will drop in on the law firm run by McDermott's Bobby Driscoll on ABC's Practice at 10 p.m. (ET).
To follow these trendy, lovelorn legal eagles, fans will have to channel hop--and that's generating angry noise from several Fox affiliates. It seems the affiliates feel this sweeps stunt will ultimately hurt their overall ratings by cutting into their local 10 p.m. newscasts. (Fox stations count on a hefty, Ally-fueled lead-in to boost the news Nielsens.)
Some affiliates are so steamed they're even threatening to preempt Ally, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Of course, it seems unlikely that the stations would gain any benefit by ticking off viewers who have boosted the new drama, already renewed for next season, to a strong 6.1 rating and 15 share among adults 18-49. For now they are just grumbling loudly.
"I don't know what we are going to do, but I can say there's a lot of concern about it," Roger Ottenbach, general manager of KCPQ in Seattle (surely an Ally hot bed), grouses to the Reporter. He suggested that an onscreen insert might urge viewers to stay tuned to the affiliate newscast and simply tape The Practice. He was only half-joking.
ABC's Practice stands to gain the most from the stunt, which is probably Kelley's motivation. The show barely survived in its dismal debut Saturday slot, but now the woebegone network has moved the drama to Mondays, where it's averaging an anemic 4.7 share in the important adult 18 to 49 category--the demographic which loves Ally and follows her faithfully.
Both quirky, independently minded shows are produced by 20th Century Fox Television, which probably wants to please Kelley, a hot, groundbreaking commodity in Hollywood.
Historically, cross-network programming has rarely been attempted. (A linking of CBS' Picket Fences and Fox's The X-Files was nixed by network brass.) More commonplace is show-hopping on a single network--i.e., NBC mixing storylines on the Emmy-winning Law & Order and the critically praised, but low-rated Homicide.