David E. Kelley

Active - 1987 - 2020  |   Born - Apr 4, 1956 in Waterville, Maine, United States  |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

As the creator of such beloved and enduring television series as Doogie Howser, M.D., Chicago Hope, The Practice, and Ally McBeal, writer/producer David E. Kelley has become one of the most influential and successful television figures of his era. By creating the kind of all-too-human characters that audiences can easily relate to and placing them in situations that are both believable and affecting, Kelley has almost single-handedly succeeded in keeping prime-time drama relevant in an era in which reality television may have otherwise rendered it obsolete. A graduate of Princeton University who also made a name for himself on the ice as captain of the Ivy League school's hockey team, Kelley later received his law degree from Boston University -- practicing law for a mere three years before becoming a writer and producer for L.A. Law in 1986. Kelley's legal experience provided the series with the kind of courtroom insight not easily duplicated by those who have not witnessed the legal process firsthand. His contributions to the show not only helped to make it one of the highest rated programs of the 1980s, but also served to kick off a career that would flourish throughout the following decade. Also in 1986, Kelley penned the story for the moderately successful courtroom comedy From the Hip -- marking a notable transition into features that would also carry over into the 1990s. By successfully rounding out the '80s as the creator/writer/producer of the adolescent medical drama Doogie Howser, M.D., Kelley proved that he could craft a believable and appealing sitcom with characters who -- despite being exceptionally gifted, as in the case of the eponymous medical whiz -- shared much in common with the average American in terms of social status and day-to-day problems.

In 1992, Kelley kicked off the final decade of the millennium with the quirky small-town crime drama Picket Fences. During the course of its successful four-year run, the series was nominated for no less than 27 Emmys, taking home 13, including Outstanding Drama Series and multiple actor awards when all was said and done. Of course, that was only the beginning of Kelley's success in the 1990s, and after going head-to-head with ER by creating the Emmy award-winning Chicago Hope in 1994, Kelley returned to the courtroom for both The Practice and Ally McBeal in 1997. Those two shows were initially aired with the novel approach of having each series represent opposite sides of the same case, but both Emmy-winning series went their separate ways during their second seasons, with The Practice ultimately outlasting Ally McBeal by two years.

As writer/producer of such theatrical releases as To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, Lake Placid, and Mystery, Alaska, Kelley would remain active in features as well, though the majority of his success still remained on the small screen -- where the tireless Kelley juggled responsibilities in no less than five prime-time dramas in 1999. Though Kelley's 2000 FOX drama Boston Public once again scored a hit with the television-viewing public, the same could certainly not be said for such subsequent efforts as girls club and The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire -- both of which were pulled from the air shortly after premiering in 2002 and 2003, respectively. After once again returning to the courtroom for the Practice spin-off Boston Legal, Kelley also returned to feature territory when he began pre-production on the comedy drama Chasing Montana -- a film that would star the busy writer/producer's longtime wife, Michelle Pfeiffer. As the 2000's continued to unfold, Kelly would pen shows like The Wedding Bells and Henry's Law.

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  • Father, Jack, was a Hall of Fame hockey coach at Boston University from 1962 to '72, winning NCAA championships in 1971 and '72. He later coached and held front-office positions in the NHL.
  • An avid hockey player himself, David captained his team at Princeton and played professionally for a year in Switzerland after graduation.
  • Worked as a lawyer at the Boston firm Fine & Ambrogne (1983-86).
  • Broke into television when Steven Bochco read his screenplay for 1987's From the Hip and hired him for the staff of L.A. Law.
  • Woman in rocking chair who says "You stinka" in closing credits of David E. Kelley Productions is Kelley's late grandmother.
  • In 2003, fired most of the original cast of The Practice in order to reduce costs. James Spader signed on as the series' new lead and in 2004 earned his own spin-off, Boston Legal.
  • Although initially very critical of the reality-TV craze, Kelley created his own short-lived reality show, The Law Firm, in 2005.