By last season, the seventh for ABC's "The Practice," this once-intriguing legal drama had become so desperately, predictably kookie it should have been sued for malpractice.
Then its creator, David E. Kelley, handed down a startling verdict: Most of the cast would be fired in a push to inject the show with new life. Gone was Dylan McDermott, who starred as the founder of the fictional Boston law firm, along with several other castmates.
"The Practice" begins its unlikely eighth season Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT, and here's the big surprise: It's fun to watch again.
Camryn Manheim, Steve Harris, Michael Badalucco and Jessica Capshaw remain, and Rhona Mitra has been added to the cast.
But the truly inspired new ingredient is James Spader as Alan Shore, an untrustworthy antitrust lawyer who promises to keep things interesting.
Spader employs his handsome but lopsided face and an affect-less voice to depict Shore as shrewd, brilliant - and creepy. All by himself, Spader puts "The Practice" back in the game.
Other programming to look out for includes new fall series premiering this week:
- "10-8" (ABC, 8-9 p.m. Sunday). After growing up a street tough in New York City, Rico Amonte becomes a cop when his brother, an LAPD detective, brings him out West to get him out of trouble. Danni Nucci stars as a displaced New Yorker trying to fit in with California cops.
- "Cold Case" (CBS, 8-9 p.m. Sunday). If you haven't yet had your fill of Jerry Bruckheimer-produced forensic-science procedurals like "CSI," "CSI: Miami" and "Without a Trace," maybe you should take a hard look at yourself. Barring that, take a look at this drama about the lone female detective in the Philadelphia homicide squad who is assigned to "cold cases" - long-ago but yet-to-be-unsolved crimes. Kathryn Morris ("Minority Report") stars.
- "The Lyon's Den" (NBC, 10-11 p.m. Sunday). Why DID that managing partner die? Good-guy pro-bono lawyer Rob Lowe butts heads with the bad guys in his lofty D.C. law firm. Who knows what mischief he will uncover? Starring Lowe (fresh from "The West Wing"), it also has a solid supporting cast including Kyle Chandler, Elizabeth Mitchell and Frances Fisher.
- "It's All Relative" (ABC, 8:30-9 p.m. Wednesday). His parents are conservative working-class. Her parents are upscale, toney and, well, two gay men. Here's a comic but unfunny twist on "Romeo and Juliet." (Or is it "All in the Family" meets "La Cage aux Folles"?)
- "Karen Sisco" (ABC, 10-11 p.m. Wednesday). Bringing to TV the tough but vulnerable crimefighter portrayed by Jennifer Lopez in Steven Soderbergh's 1998 film "Out of Sight," Carla Gugino ("Spy Kids") plays a U.S. marshal on Florida's Gold Coast whose dad (and best friend) is a retired lawman who dabbles as a P.I. This action-drama is a treat - and so is its star.
- "Married to the Kellys" (ABC, 8:30-9 p.m. Friday). A stranger in a strange land, New York writer Tom Wagner moves with his wife Susan to her hometown of Kansas City, where her close-knit family is controlling, competitive and a little nutty. Starring Breckin Meyer, it's a sitcom about clashing cultures that amusingly declares "Viva la difference!"
EDITOR'S NOTE - Frazier Moore can be reached at email@example.com