'Boston' lands Kelley back in Emmy court


The long Emmy drought for David E. Kelley came to an abrupt end bright and early Thursday morning, but not as early as it should. See, he forgot that the nominations were happening -- seriously -- and nobody thought to call to awaken him with the news that "Boston Legal," the ABC hour that he created and executive produces, had landed its first nomination for outstanding drama series in something of an upset.

"I found out when I got into the office just after 8," Kelley says. "And I mean, I was really thrilled. Surprised? Oh, absolutely. The fact I'd forgotten the nominations even were happening tells you how far the Emmys have fallen off of my radar."

It also tells you how distanced Kelley has grown from an awards process he once fairly dominated. That the nom Thursday for "Boston" was his first in six years is more than a bit astounding. Consider that in the previous six years (1995-2000), the esteemed producer had hauled in 11 nominations, winning three, including (famously) the statuettes for both top drama and comedy in the same year, for "The Practice" and "Ally McBeal" in 1999.

This is a guy who boasts 26 noms over the past 19 years (before 2007) along with 10 wins in an illustrious career that's found Kelley honored for "L.A. Law," "Picket Fences" and "Chicago Hope" in addition to "Ally" and "Practice." A win with "Boston" on Sept. 16 -- admittedly a long shot -- would allow him to surpass the Emmy victory total of his esteemed mentor Steven Bochco, who also has 10. Seven of Kelley's triumphs came for either top drama or comedy series.

But when Kelley repeats that old saw "it's an honor just to be nominated," you tend to believe him. It's been so long since he felt the TV academy's loving embrace that he's happy just to be invited back to a party that had removed him from its A-list. Not that his feelings were hurt.

"I'll definitely show up," Kelley promises. "I have to say, what's especially sweet about this one isn't just the fact I've kind of had a dry spell personally. It's that this show had a kind of very quiet beginning and for the most part existed without a lot of fanfare. We just kind of chugged along. Making it into Year 4 is nice enough. To get this Emmy nomination is really gratifying."

Not that "Boston" has gone completely unrecognized. It now has a total of 15 noms to show for its three seasons, including seven in 2006 and six this year, as well as four wins (including Emmy triumphs for lead actor James Spader and supporting actor William Shatner).

But uncharacteristically for a Kelley series, it had been passed over for inclusion in drama series during its first two seasons, at least in part because it couldn't be decided just what the series was: drama, comedy or a confounding hybrid. "Boston" even was submitted for comedy consideration at the SAG Awards in 2006, earning four nominations but no wins.

"We've had to address the question of what we are annually," Kelley says, "and we finally concluded we were slightly more dramatic than comedic. But that doesn't necessarily instill confidence in your getting Emmy attention."

Nonetheless, here it is, giving Kelley the unlikely designation of the Comeback Kid.

He adds: "I'll tell you what's best about this: Back in the days of 'L.A. Law,' it was hard to find five shows worthy even of being nominated. Now, there are so many quality dramas that a lot of great ones get left off the list. I have to say, it makes this one especially sweet."

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