David E. Kelley Likes Stirring the Pot


Nov. 3, 2006 — -- David E. Kelley wants you to scream.

He wants you to bang your fist, shout your political, social, religious views at your complete opposite, and let them do the same.

Kelley is one of the most prolific writers and producers in the history of television, with a career that's spanned two decades, and produced a bevy of critically acclaimed shows and a cabinet full of Emmys.

Yet with his latest endeavor, the smash hit "Boston Legal," Kelley is using his characters to spread a message -- one that's pretty left by any righty's point of view and that's also idealistic and unapologetic.

It is a message that, by taking current hot-button issues and putting them front and center for his team of fictional lawyers, seems to take on a society, that in Kelley's eyes, shuns the notion of speaking out and mixing it up a little bit.

Yet through the deep bond between his troublemaking, idealistic lefty lawyer Allan Shore (played by James Spader) and his aged, crazy, friend of the right Denny Crane (portrayed by William Shatner), Kelley also wants us to know that we can all disagree, and we can all get along.

"If an issue isn't going to succeed on an entertainment level, we will usually pass on it. Beyond that, if we can be provocative on an intellectual or social level as well, than all the better," Kelley said in an interview with ABC News' Chris Cuomo.

Aside from screaming about an issue, Kelley said using real-life issues also tended to resonate with people more, give viewers more to take away.

Kelley usually sends in his social warrior Allan Shore to take on the establishment.

He is a liberal and a constant winner who seems to take on any issue with a fire in his belly. Shore also seems to have a love of trouble and a voice that seems to speak for the masses that share his views and frustrations.

"I think there is a town-crier component to this series," Kelley said. "There's also a town-crier component of Shore's personality, and I think this show probably, I guess, is a reflection of me a little bit, has a scream in its belly and sometimes it just feels it needs to scream."

Kelley makes no bones about it. It isn't a coincidence that the "left" side of an issue tends to win on the show.

Although he considers himself a little grayer than Shore, Kelley said that for once in his career he decided to use his show as a voice -- more like a scream actually.

"Where I was going to distinguish this from past series is I will take cases or issues that I think are lopsided or at least slanted in my own mind, and I guess the genesis of that is I felt that people to a certain extent stopped screaming in this country," Kelley told Cuomo.

"Debate became an ugly word, and nobody was jumping up and down and saying, 'Wait a second,'" he said. "I generally think it's irresponsible for a television producer to use his show as a platform to communicate political or social views, but I got to a point a few years ago where I finally started feeling well, I do have a platform and maybe it's irresponsible not to use it."

Kelley also says that Shore loves to just mix it up, loves to take on the establishment and stand up for the outsider. There's no issue too big, or cause too small, for him to take on, and Kelley suspects that his character likes having a Republican administration to slug with along the way. Even to the point where Kelley suspects Shore may secretly want the GOP to come away with the 2006 elections.

"Shore loves to be a disrupter, too. So there's probably a part of him, I don't [think] he'd admit it, but I think he's probably happier with a Republican administration," he said.

When asked whether Shore would sue even the voters if the election went astray, Kelley reflected for a moment yet didn't think it was a stretch.

"That's not beyond him. That's certainly not beyond him," he said.

"Boston Legal" has a main character on the "other" side of the issues, Denny Crane.

Crane is, however, on his way out and losing his mental facilities as he goes. Another noncoincidence according to Kelley, yet also a voice for Republicans.

"I don't think it's a coincidence," Kelley said about Crane's at-once right and very kooky personality.

"That's not where it started from. It really started from a character. We wanted an iconic character that's past his prime and also past his cognitive prime losing his mind a little bit. We didn't sit down and say OK, once we've got a guy with symptoms of Alzheimer's let's make him a Republican."

"It just sort of seemed to be naturally organic, I guess," Kelley said. "But you'd be surprised at how many letters we get from people saying, 'Yeah, right on. Denny Crane says it like it is. Thanks for that.'"

"We have a lot of right-wing people who love the show. My parents are two of them. I'm told Rush Limbaugh likes the show," Kelley said.

Kelley's career is as diverse as it is distinguished, and he said he defined his work by his characters.

In Crane and Shore, he certainly has two defining characters. Yet, what makes them, and this show, special is the bond such opposites have.

"Usually the characters distinguish all the shows from the others, in this case that would be true," Kelley said. "I think the friendship of Shore and Crane probably will be the lasting legacy of this show."

"It is a real intimate friendship between two grown heterosexual men who aren't afraid to be vulnerable with each other, and intimate with each other with respect to their insecurities and to their feelings. The fact that they take time out every day to either service or celebrate that friendship is very unique, and I think that's something we all long for."

When asked whether there was a metaphor to that -- the friendship and melding of two opposite points of view -- Kelley wasn't sure.

But he thought there's hope -- hope that in a world so divided, there could be understanding.

"Well, I'm not sure it's metaphor. I think there's some kind of unstated hope on my part that people with polar opposite political points of view can have dialogue," he said.

"In our country, it somehow became 'don't discuss religion and politics.' I wish we could abolish that rule because those are two things that really affect the way the world works, much less this country."

As far as his purpose, Kelley says it's always to entertain.

But he seems to hope his show also wakes people up and gets them talking, gets them considering other people have something to say -- and that's a good thing.

"Whether or not people are accepting our suggestions for answers, well that's OK if they do, OK if they don't," he said. "If they let themselves give rise to the question, and consider the question, I feel we've succeeded."

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