Ally McBeal

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For the character, see Ally McBeal (character).
Ally McBeal
Original title card
Genre Surreal dramedy
Created by David E. Kelley
Starring Calista Flockhart
Courtney Thorne-Smith
Greg Germann
Lisa Nicole Carson
Jane Krakowski
Vonda Shepard
Portia de Rossi
Lucy Liu
Peter MacNicol
Gil Bellows
Theme music composer Vonda Shepard
Opening theme "Searchin' My Soul"
Composer(s) Danny Lux
Vonda Shepard
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 112 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) David E. Kelley
Bill D'Elia
Producer(s) Kayla Alpert (2000–01)
Kim Hamberg (1998–2002)
Mike Listo (1997–2000)
Jack Philbrick (2000–02)
Steve Robin (1997–2002)
Pamela J. Wisne (1997–2002)
Cinematography Thomas F. Denove
Billy Dickson
David A. Harp
Tim Suhrstedt
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 45–48 minutes
Production company(s) 20th Century Fox Television
David E. Kelley Productions
Distributor 20th Television
Original channel Fox
Picture format 4:3 Season 1-2
16:9 Season 3-5
Original run September 8, 1997 (1997-09-08) – May 20, 2002 (2002-05-20)
Related shows The Practice

Ally McBeal is an American legal comedy-drama television series, originally aired on Fox from September 8, 1997 to May 20, 2002. Created by David E. Kelley, the series stars Calista Flockhart in the title role as a young lawyer working in the fictional Boston law firm Cage and Fish, with other young lawyers whose lives and loves were eccentric, humorous and dramatic. The series placed #48 on Entertainment Weekly '​s 2007 "New TV Classics" list.[1]


The series, set in the fictional Boston law firm Cage and Fish, begins with main character Allison Marie "Ally" McBeal joining the firm (co-owned by her law school classmate Richard Fish) after leaving her previous job due to sexual harassment. On her first day Ally is horrified to find that she will be working alongside her ex-boyfriend Billy Thomas—whom she has never gotten over—and to make things worse, Billy is now married to fellow lawyer Georgia, who also later joins Cage and Fish. The triangle among the three forms the basis for the main plot for the show's first three seasons.

Although ostensibly a legal drama, the main focus of the series was the romantic and personal lives of the main characters, often using legal proceedings as plot devices to contrast or reinforce a character's drama. For example, bitter divorce litigation of a client might provide a backdrop for Ally's decision to break up with a boyfriend. Legal arguments were also frequently used to explore multiple sides of various social issues.

Cage & Fish (which becomes Cage/Fish & McBeal or Cage, Fish, & Associates towards the end of the series), the fictional law firm where most of the characters work, is depicted as a highly sexualized environment, symbolized by its unisex restroom. Lawyers and secretaries in the firm routinely date, flirt with, or have a romantic history with each other, and frequently run into former or potential romantic interests in the courtroom or on the street outside.

The series had many offbeat and frequently surreal running gags and themes, such as Ally's tendency to immediately fall over whenever she met somebody she found attractive, or Richard Fish's wattle fetish and humorous mottos ("Fishisms" & "Bygones"), or John's gymnastic dismounts out of the office's unisex bathroom stalls, that ran through the series. The show used vivid, dramatic fantasy sequences for Ally's and other characters' wishful thinking; particularly notable is the dancing baby.

The series also featured regular visits to a local bar where singer Vonda Shepard regularly performed (though occasionally handing over the microphone to the characters). The series also took place in the same continuity as David E. Kelley's legal drama The Practice (which aired on ABC), as the two shows crossed over with one another on occasion, a very rare occurrence for two shows that aired on different networks.

Main cast[edit]


In Australia, Ally McBeal was aired from the Seven Network from 1997 to 2002. In 2010, Ally McBeal was aired repeatedly with Network Ten.

Crossovers with The Practice[edit]

Seymore Walsh, a stern judge often exasperated by the eccentricities of the Cage & Fish lawyers and played by actor Albert Hall, was also a recurring character on The Practice. In addition, Judge Jennifer 'Whipper' Cone appears on The Practice episode "Line of Duty" (S02E15), while Judge Roberta Kittelson, a recurring character on The Practice, has a featured guest role in the Ally McBeal episode "Do you Wanna Dance?"

Most of the primary Practice cast members guest starred in the Ally McBeal episode "The Inmates" (S01E20), in a storyline that concluded with the Practice episode "Axe Murderer" (S02E26), featuring Calista Flockhart and Gil Bellows reprising their Ally characters; what's unique about this continuing storyline is that Ally McBeal and The Practice happened to air on different networks. Bobby Donnell, the main character of The Practice played by Dylan McDermott, was featured heavily in both this crossover and another Ally McBeal episode, "These are the Days."

Regular Practice cast members Lara Flynn Boyle and Michael Badalucco each had a cameo in Ally McBeal (Boyle as a woman who trades insults with Ally in the episode "Making Spirits Bright" and Badalucco as one of Ally's dates in the episode "I Know him by Heart") but it remains ambiguous whether they were playing the same characters they play on The Practice.


The show's ratings began to decline in the third season, but stabilized in the fourth season after Robert Downey, Jr. joined the regular cast as Ally's boyfriend Larry Paul, and a fresher aesthetic was created by new art director Matthew DeCoste. However, Downey's character was written out after the end of the season due to the actor's troubles with drug addiction.[2]

Along with Dharma & Greg, Ally McBeal was one of the last two surviving shows to debut during the 1997-98 season, one of the weakest in television history for new shows. (Only seven shows to debut would be picked up for a second season, and only Dharma & Greg and Ally McBeal would last longer than three seasons, each providing enough episodes for syndication.) Both shows ended at the end of the 2001-02 season, five years after their debut. Coincidentally, both shows were produced by 20th Century Fox Television.


Season U.S. ratings Network Rank
1 1997–98 11.4 million Fox #59[3]
2 1998–99 13.8 million Fox #20[4]
3 1999–2000 12.4 million Fox #35[5]
4 2000–01 12.0 million Fox #40[6]
5 2001–02 9.4 million Fox #65[7]

Feminist criticism[edit]

Despite its success, Ally McBeal received some negative criticism from TV critics and feminists who found the title character annoying and demeaning to women (specifically professional women[8]) because of her perceived flightiness, lack of demonstrated legal knowledge, short skirts,[9] and emotional instability. Perhaps the most notorious example of the debate sparked by the show was the June 29, 1998 cover story of Time magazine, which juxtaposed McBeal with three pioneering feminists (Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem) and asked "Is Feminism Dead?"[10] In episode 12 of the second season of the show, Ally talks to her co-worker John Cage about a dream she had, saying "You know, I had a dream that they put my face on the cover of Time magazine as 'the face of feminism'."[11][12]


Ally McBeal was a heavily music-oriented show. Vonda Shepard, a virtually unknown musician at the time, was featured continually on the show. Her song "Searchin' My Soul" became the show's theme song. Many of the songs Shepard performed were established hits with lyrics that paralleled the events of the episode, including "Both Sides Now", "Hooked on a Feeling" and "Tell Him". Besides recording background music for the show, Shepard frequently appeared at the ends of episodes as a musician performing at a local piano bar frequented by the main characters. On rare occasions, her character would have conventional dialogue. A portion of "Searchin' My Soul" was played at the beginning of each episode, but remarkably the song was never played in its entirety.

Several of the characters had a musical leitmotif that played when they appeared. John Cage's was "My Everything", Ling Woo's was the Wicked Witch of the West theme from The Wizard of Oz, and Ally McBeal herself picked "Tell Him", when told by a psychiatrist that she needed a theme.

Due to the popularity of the show and Shepard's music, a soundtrack titled Songs from Ally McBeal was released in 1998, as well as a successor soundtrack titled Heart and Soul: New Songs From Ally McBeal in 1999. Two compilation albums from the show featuring Shepard were also released in 2000 and 2001. A Christmas album was also released under the title Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas.[13] The album received positive reviews, and Shephard’s version of Kay Starr’s Christmas song (Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man with the Bag, received considerable airplay during the holiday season.[14]

Other artists featured on the show include Barry White, Al Green, Tina Turner, Anastacia, Elton John, Sting and Mariah Carey. Josh Groban played the role of Malcolm Wyatt in the May 2001 season finale, performing "You're Still You". The series creator, David E. Kelley, was impressed with Groban's performance at The Family Celebration event and based on the audience reaction to Groban's singing, Kelley created a character for him in that finale. The background score for the show was composed by Danny Lux.

Soundtrack name Tk# Release date
Songs from Ally McBeal 14 May 5, 1998
Heart and Soul: New Songs from Ally McBeal 14 November 9, 1999
Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas 14 November 7, 2000
Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life 14 April 24, 2001
The Best of Ally McBeal 12 October 6, 2009

DVD releases[edit]

Due to music licensing issues, none of the seasons of Ally McBeal were available on DVD in the United States (only 6 random episodes can be found on the R1 edition) until 2009, though it has been available in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Hong Kong, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Taiwan, Australia, Brazil and the Czech Republic with all the show's music intact since 2005. In the UK, Ireland and Spain all seasons are available in a complete box set.

20th Century Fox released the complete first season on DVD in Region 1 on October 6, 2009. They also released a special complete series edition on the same day.[15] Season 1 does not contain any special features, the complete series set however does contain several bonus features including featurettes, an all-new retrospective, the episode of The Practice in which Calista Flockhart guest starred and a bonus disc entitled "The Best of Ally McBeal Soundtrack". In addition, both releases contain all of the original music.[16] Season 2 was released on April 6, 2010. Seasons 3, 4 and 5 were all released on October 5, 2010.[17] Season 1 and 2 are also available on the US iTunes Store.

DVD name Ep# Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The Complete First Season 23 October 6, 2009 February 21, 2005 April 26, 2006
The Complete Second Season 23 April 6, 2010 February 21, 2005 April 26, 2006
The Complete Third Season 21 October 5, 2010 February 21, 2005 April 26, 2006
The Complete Fourth Season 23 October 5, 2010 May 9, 2005 April 26, 2006
The Complete Fifth and Final Season 22 October 5, 2010 May 9, 2005 April 26, 2006
The Complete Series 112 October 6, 2009 October 30, 2006 April 18, 2012[18]

Ally (1999)[edit]

In 1999, at the height of the show's popularity, a half-hour version entitled Ally[19] began airing in parallel with the main program. This version, designed in a sitcom format, used re-edited scenes from the main program, along with previously unseen footage. The intention was to further develop the plots in the comedy-drama in a sitcom style. It also focused only on Ally's personal life, cutting all the courtroom plots. The repackaged show was cancelled partway through its initial run. While 13 episodes of Ally were created, only 10 were actually broadcast.

In popular culture[edit]

McBeal and 1990s young affluent professional women were parodied in the song Ally McBeal (tune of "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan) by a cappella group Da Vinci's Notebook on their album The Life and Times of Mike Fanning, released in 2000.[20][21]

In episode 2, season 3 of the British comedy The Adam and Joe Show, the show was parodied as 'Ally McSqeal' using soft toys.[22]

A season 2 episode of Futurama, "When Aliens Attack", featured a parody of the show entitled Single Female Lawyer. The principal crux of the parody was that, effectively, Single Female Lawyer had no discernible plot other than the fact that the female lead was very attractive, wore a short skirt, and slept with her clients. The show has been broadcast into space for centuries, but the last episode was missing (due to Philip Fry's incompetence and time travel) and so a warlike alien race, who had become hooked on the show, demanded that Earth either play out the final episode for them or they would ignite the planet's atmosphere. Luckily, due to the nature of the show being little more than fan service, it was easy for Fry, Leela and the others to replicate it by simply putting Leela in a miniskirt and ad libbing the dialogue on the spot.[citation needed]

Awards and nominations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The New Classics: TV". Entertainment Weekly. June 18, 2007. Retrieved February 5, 2012. 
  2. ^ Brian Cronin (March 5, 2014). "TV Legends Revealed - Robert Downey Jr. Was Written Out of Own TV Wedding". Comic Book Resources. 
  3. ^ "The Final Countdown". May 29, 1998. 
  4. ^ "Final ratings for the 1998–1999 TV season". Archived from the original on October 23, 2009. 
  5. ^ "TV Ratings 1999–2000". 
  6. ^ "The Bitter End". June 1, 2001. 
  7. ^ "How Did Your Favorite Show Rate?". May 28, 2002. 
  8. ^ Michelle L. Hammers, "Cautionary Tales of Liberation and Female Professionalism: The Case Against Ally McBeal" Western Journal of Communication 69 2, April (2005): 168. "The ease with which McBeals depictions of women are reincorporated into dominant masculinist discourses ... is particularly problematic for professional women. The increased danger that co-optation poses for professional women is due to the complex ways in which the discursive sedimentation that surrounds the female body, particularly as it has been traditionally sexualized and linked to emotionality, operates as a barrier to women's full and effective participation in professional spheres. Thus, McBeal operates as a cautionary tale about the dangers presented by the co-optation of postfeminist and third-wave feminist discourses as they relate to current professional discourses surrounding the female body.
  9. ^ "Is Feminism Dead? (Chat Transcript – Phyllis Chesler)". Time Magazine. June 29, 1998. 
  10. ^,16641,19980629,00.html
  11. ^ "Ally McBeal, episode 12, season 2". 20th Century Fox. August 22, 2009. 
  12. ^ File:Is Feminism Dead - Time cover.jpg
  13. ^ Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas (2000) Sony Music
  14. ^ Atkinson, Terry (December 3, 2000) "TV Shows Breed Christmas Albums" The Post-Tribune (Gary, Indiana) (Entertainment News Service), page D-5.[1]
  15. ^ "Amazon Posts Date for Season 1 & Complete Series". TVShowsonDVD. July 3, 2009. 
  16. ^ "Fox's Press Release for The Complete Series Confirms ALL ORIGINAL MUSIC!". TVShowsonDVD. August 7, 2009. 
  17. ^ "Ally McBeal DVD news: Release Date and More for Individual Sets of Seasons 3, 4 and 5". Archived from the original on July 17, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Ally McBeal: Season 1-5". EzyDVD. Retrieved January 28, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Ally" (1999) at IMDB
  20. ^ "Ally McBeal". Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  21. ^ Rogovoy, Seth (February 18, 2003). "Da Vinci's Notebook fills doctor's prescription". Berkshire Eagle. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  22. ^ The Adam and Joe Show. YouTube. Retrieved on 2012-04-23.

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