Ally McBeal

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Ally McBeal
Ally McBeal S1 Opening.jpg
Series title card
Created by David E. Kelley
Theme music composer Vonda Shepard
Opening theme"Searchin' My Soul"
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes112 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • 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)
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time45–48 minutes
Production companies
Distributor 20th Television
Original network Fox
Picture format
  • 4:3 (seasons 1-2)
  • 16:9 (season 3-5)
Audio format Dolby Surround
Original releaseSeptember 8, 1997 (1997-09-08) 
May 20, 2002 (2002-05-20)
Related shows The Practice
External links

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 lawyer working in the Boston law firm Cage and Fish, with other lawyers whose lives and loves were eccentric, humorous, and dramatic. The series received critical acclaim in its early seasons, winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy in 1997 and 1998, and also winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1999.



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 (Greg Germann) 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 (Gil Bellows)whom she has never gotten over. To make things worse, Billy is now married to fellow lawyer Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith), who 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 and 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, Richard Fish's wattle fetish and humorous mottos ("Fishisms" & "Bygones"), John's gymnastic dismounts out of the office's unisex bathroom stalls, or the dancing twins (played by Eric & Steve Cohen) at the bar, that ran through the series. The show also used vivid, dramatic fantasy sequences for Ally's and other characters' wishful thinking; of particular note is the early internet sensation 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). Star contemporary singers also performed in the bar at the end of the shows, including acts such as Mariah Carey, Barry White and Anastacia. 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.

Ultimately, in the last installment of the fifth and final season, "Bygones", Ally decided to resign from Cage & Fish, leave Boston, and go to New York City.


Fox canceled Ally McBeal after five seasons. In addition to being the lowest-rated season of Ally McBeal and the grounds for the show's cancellation, the fifth season was also the only season of the show that failed to win any Emmy or Golden Globe awards.

Main cast

Cast of season 4 (from left): (top) Liu, Downey, Krakowski, Germann, MacNicol; (middle) Carson, de Rossi, Flockhart; (bottom) Shepard, LeGros Ally mcbeal season 4 cast.jpg
Cast of season 4 (from left): (top) Liu, Downey, Krakowski, Germann, MacNicol; (middle) Carson, de Rossi, Flockhart; (bottom) Shepard, LeGros
14 Beacon Street in Boston, the exterior of which was used as the location for the law firm "Cage & Fish" (later "Cage, Fish, & McBeal"), which was located on the 7th floor of this building 14 Beacon Street (Fish, Cage, & McBeal) (7183315650).jpg
14 Beacon Street in Boston, the exterior of which was used as the location for the law firm "Cage & Fish" (later "Cage, Fish, & McBeal"), which was located on the 7th floor of this building
1 2 3 4 5
Calista Flockhart Ally McBeal Main
Courtney Thorne-Smith Georgia Thomas Main Guest
Greg Germann Richard Fish Main
Lisa Nicole Carson Renée Raddick Main Guest
Jane Krakowski Elaine Vassal Main
Peter MacNicol John Cage Main Recurring
Gil Bellows Billy Allen Thomas Main Guest
Vonda Shepard Herself Recurring Main
Portia de Rossi Nelle Porter Main
Lucy Liu Ling Woo Main Recurring
James LeGros Mark Albert Recurring Main
Robert Downey Jr. Larry Paul Main Guest
Regina Hall Coretta Lipp Recurring Main
Julianne Nicholson Jenny Shaw Main
James Marsden Glenn Foy Main
Josh Hopkins Raymond Millbury Main
Hayden Panettiere Maddie Harrington Main


SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast aired
1 23September 8, 1997 (1997-09-08)May 18, 1998 (1998-05-18)N/AN/A
2 23September 14, 1998 (1998-09-14)May 24, 1999 (1999-05-24)239.6
3 21October 25, 1999 (1999-10-25)May 22, 2000 (2000-05-22)N/AN/A
4 23October 12, 2000 (2000-10-12)May 21, 2001 (2001-05-21)N/AN/A
5 22October 29, 2001 (2001-10-29)May 20, 2002 (2002-05-20)N/AN/A

In Australia, Ally McBeal was aired by the Seven Network from 1997 to 2002. In 2010, it was aired repeatedly by Network 10.

Crossovers with The Practice

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" (S02 E15), 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" (S01 E20), in a storyline that concluded with the Practice episode "Axe Murderer" (S02 E26), featuring Calista Flockhart and Gil Bellows reprising their Ally characters. What is unusual about this continuing storyline is that Ally McBeal and The Practice aired 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 is unclear whether they were playing the same characters they play on The Practice.


Upon premiering in 1997, the show was an instant hit, averaging around 11 million viewers per episode. The show's second season saw an increase in ratings and soon became a top 20 show, averaging around 13 million viewers per episode. 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. [1]

The first two seasons, as well as the fourth, remain the most critically acclaimed and saw the most awards success at the Emmys, SAG Awards and the Golden Globes. In 2007, Ally McBeal placed #48 on Entertainment Weekly 's 2007 "New TV Classics" list. [2]


SeasonU.S. ratingsNetworkRank
11997–9811.4 millionFox#59 [3]
21998–9913.8 millionFox#20 [4]
31999–200012.4 millionFox#35[ citation needed ]
42000–0112.0 millionFox#40 [5]
52001–029.4 millionFox#65 [6]

Feminist criticism

Ally McBeal received some criticism from TV critics and feminists who found the title character annoying and demeaning to women (specifically regarding professional women [7] ) because of her perceived flightiness, lack of demonstrated legal knowledge, short skirts, [8] 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?" [9] 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'." [10]


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 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 "You're the First, the Last, 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. [11] 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. [12]

Other artists featured on the show include Michael Jackson, Barry White, Al Green, Tina Turner, Macy Gray, Gloria Gaynor, Chayanne, Barry Manilow, 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 nameTk#Release date
Songs from Ally McBeal14May 5, 1998
Heart and Soul: New Songs from Ally McBeal14November 9, 1999
Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas14November 7, 2000
Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life14April 24, 2001
The Best of Ally McBeal12October 6, 2009

Home media

Due to music licensing issues, none of the seasons of Ally McBeal were available on DVD in the United States (only 6 random episodes could be found on the R1 edition) until 2009, though the show had 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. [13] Season 1 does not contain any special features, but the complete series set contains 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. [14] Season 2 was released on April 6, 2010. Seasons 3, 4, and 5 were all released on October 5, 2010. [15]

DVD nameEp#Region 1Region 2Region 4
The Complete First Season23October 6, 2009February 21, 2005April 26, 2006
The Complete Second Season23April 6, 2010February 21, 2005April 26, 2006
The Complete Third Season21October 5, 2010February 21, 2005April 26, 2006
The Complete Fourth Season23October 5, 2010May 9, 2005April 26, 2006
The Complete Fifth and Final Season22October 5, 2010May 9, 2005April 26, 2006
The Complete Series112October 6, 2009October 30, 2006April 18, 2012 [16]

Ally (1999)

In 1999, at the height of the show's popularity, a half-hour version entitled Ally [17] 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 produced, only ten aired.

In episode 2, season 3 of the British comedy The Adam and Joe Show , the show was parodied as "Ally McSqueal" using soft toys. [18]

Episode 12, season 1 of the show Futurama , "When Aliens Attack", centers on an invasion of Earth by the Omicronians precipitated by a signal loss during the climax of an episode of Single Female Lawyer, whose main character is Jenny McNeal.

In episode 8, season 4 of the show The Good Place , the Judge hands Ted Danson's character a petition to reboot Ally McBeal stating "everything else is getting rebooted."

Awards and nominations

See also

Related Research Articles

Calista Flockhart American actress

Calista Kay Flockhart is an American actress. On television, she is best known for her roles as the title character on Ally McBeal (1997–2002), Kitty Walker on Brothers & Sisters (2006–2011), and Cat Grant on Supergirl (2015–2019). In film, she is known for roles in The Birdcage (1996), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (2000). Flockhart has received a Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award, and been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards. She is married to actor Harrison Ford.

Lara Flynn Boyle American actress

Lara Flynn Boyle is an American actress and producer. She is best known for her role as Donna Hayward in the ABC cult television series Twin Peaks (1990–1991). After portraying Stacy in Penelope Spheeris's comedy Wayne's World (1992), Boyle had a lead role in John Dahl's critically acclaimed neo-noir film Red Rock West (1993), followed by roles in Threesome (1994), Cafe Society (1995), and Happiness (1998). From 1997 to 2003, Boyle portrayed Assistant District Attorney Helen Gamble in the ABC television series The Practice for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

David E. Kelley American television producer, writer and attorney

David Edward Kelley is an American television writer, producer, and former attorney, known as the creator of Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Boston Legal, Harry's Law, Big Little Lies, and Mr. Mercedes, as well as several films. Kelley is one of very few screenwriters to have created shows that have aired on all four top commercial U.S. television networks.

<i>The Practice</i> Television series

The Practice is an American legal drama created by David E. Kelley centering on partners and associates at a Boston law firm. Running for eight seasons on ABC from March 4, 1997 to May 16, 2004, the show won the Emmy in 1998 and 1999 for Outstanding Drama Series, and spawned the spin-off series Boston Legal, which ran for five more seasons, from 2004 to 2008.

Sarah Margaret Hagan is an American television and film actress.

Josh Hopkins American actor

William Joshua Hopkins is an American actor. He has appeared in many TV series and films. He is the writer and performer of the song "Feigning Interest", a humorous music video about dating that became popular in 2007. In 2015, he starred in the ABC thriller Quantico as Liam O'Connor.

John Cage is a fictional character in the television show Ally McBeal, played by Peter MacNicol.

Ally McBeal (character)

Allison Marie McBeal is the central fictional character in the Fox series Ally McBeal played by Calista Flockhart.

Ling Woo

Ling Woo is a fictional character in the US comedy-drama Ally McBeal, portrayed by Chinese-American actress Lucy Liu. A Mandarin-speaking Chinese-American lawyer, Ling has been described as cold and ferocious and knowledgeable in an art of sexual pleasure unknown to the Western world.

Nelle Porter is a fictional character on the Fox television show Ally McBeal. She is portrayed by actress Portia de Rossi and appears in Seasons 2 through 5 of the show. A Boston-based lawyer, Nelle joins the fictional law firm of Cage & Fish with the ambition of someday becoming a partner. Romantically involved with partner John Cage during Seasons 2 and 3, she later appears mainly as a source of comic relief. She is also notable for her close friendship with Ling Woo, one of the show's most remarked-upon characters.

Mark Albert is a fictional character played by James LeGros who appeared in the third and fourth seasons of the Fox Television show Ally McBeal. In his introductory episode, Ally viewed Mark as a threat to her own position at Cage & Fish and as an undesirable replacement for her recently deceased friend Billy but, personality wise was much more like John Cage. Because of this, she treated Mark with open hostility, although this conflict was quickly resolved.

Lisa Nicole Carson is an American actress. She is best known for her supporting roles as Carla in ER (1996–2001), and Renee Raddick in Ally McBeal (1997–2002). Carson has also starred in films, most notably as Marti in Jason's Lyric (1994), Coretta in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), Josie in Love Jones (1997), and Sylvia in Life (1999).

The first season of the television series Ally McBeal began airing in the United States on September 8, 1997, concluded on May 18, 1998, and consisted of 23 episodes. It tells the story of Ally McBeal, a young lawyer who found herself without a job after being sexually harassed by her boss, only to end up employed by her friend from college, Richard Fish, to work in the firm he created with his friend John Cage, named "Cage & Fish."

The second season of the television series Ally McBeal commenced airing in the United States on September 14, 1998, concluded on May 24, 1999, and consisted of 23 episodes. On March 22, 1999, Fox aired a special titled Life and Trials of Ally McBeal in which Bill Maher interviewed the cast after nearly finishing two seasons of the show. The special was produced by a different company. The entire season originally aired Mondays at 9pm, just like the season before.

<i>Ally McBeal</i> (season 3)

The third season of the television series Ally McBeal commenced airing in the United States on October 25, 1999, concluded on May 22, 2000, and consisted of 21 episodes. The entire season originally aired Mondays at 9pm, just like the seasons before.

<i>Ally McBeal</i> (season 4)

The fourth season of the television series Ally McBeal commenced airing in the United States on October 12, 2000, concluded on May 21, 2001, and consisted of 23 episodes. The entire season originally aired Mondays at 9pm, just like the seasons before.

<i>Ally McBeal</i> (season 5)

The fifth and final season of the television series Ally McBeal commenced airing in the United States on October 29, 2001, concluded on May 20, 2002, and consisted of 22 episodes. The entire season originally aired Mondays at 9pm, just like the seasons before. Following the episode that aired March 4, 2002, the show went on a six-week hiatus and was replaced by The American Embassy. The show returned on April 15, 2002, to air the final 7 episodes.


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  7. Michelle L. Hammers, "Cautionary Tales of Liberation and Female Professionalism: The Case Against Ally McBeal" Western Journal of Communication69 2, April (2005): 168. "The ease with which McBeal's 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.
  8. "Is Feminism Dead? (Chat Transcript – Phyllis Chesler)". Time Magazine. June 29, 1998.
  9. "TIME Magazine Cover: Is Feminism Dead? - June 29, 1998". Retrieved February 24, 2018.
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  11. Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas (2000) Sony Music
  12. Atkinson, Terry (December 3, 2000) "TV Shows Breed Christmas Albums" The Post-Tribune (Gary, Indiana) (Entertainment News Service), page D-5.[ permanent dead link ]
  13. "Amazon Posts Date for Season 1 & Complete Series". TVShowsonDVD. July 3, 2009. Archived from the original on July 7, 2009.
  14. "Fox's Press Release for The Complete Series Confirms ALL ORIGINAL MUSIC!". TVShowsonDVD. August 7, 2009. Archived from the original on August 11, 2009.
  15. "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.
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  18. The Adam and Joe Show. YouTube. Retrieved on 2012-04-23. Archived June 17, 2016, at the Wayback Machine