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Half-hour ‘Ally’ is a failure
The hourlong ‘Ally McBeal’ remains, however

SHARE Half-hour ‘Ally’ is a failure
The hourlong ‘Ally McBeal’ remains, however

Fox has finally given up on one of the season's stranger experiments, pulling the plug on the abbreviated "Ally" that had been airing on Tuesday nights.

Proposed by creator/producer/writer David E. Kelley, "Ally" took old, hourlong episodes of "Ally McBeal" and cut them in half -- concentrating on a single storyline and adding some material that may have been cut from the original to pad that storyline out to the 22 minutes required of a half-hour show.The thought was that Fox could expand on the successful "Ally McBeal" franchise at a minimal cost. It was certainly considerably cheaper to make -- or remake -- an "Ally" than it is to produce a new episode of a sitcom. And, given Fox's noted lack of success in coming up with successful sitcoms, the experiment seemed worth a shot.

As it turned out, however, it wasn't. It aired 10 times and averaged an anemic 3.1 rating. The handwriting was on the wall when "Ally" was yanked off the schedule during the important November sweeps period.

(None of this has anything to do with the hourlong "Ally McBeal," which remains one of Fox's most successful series.)

But the cancellation of "Ally" makes Kelley, arguably television's most powerful producer these days, 0-for-2 this season. ABC canceled his new show "Snoops" just weeks ago.

Of course, he's still got "Ally McBeal" on Fox, "The Practice" on ABC and "Chicago Hope" on CBS, so it's not like he's down-and-out. Oh, and there's that big multi-series, multimillion-dollar development deal he signed with Fox not long ago.

Which means he's having a considerably better season than is the Fox network. Of the seven shows Fox announced for its fall 1999 schedule, five have been canceled. In addition to "Ally," the list of failures includes the much-hyped "Action"; "Harsh Realm," the new show from the creator of "The X-Files," which got the ax after only three episodes; "Ryan Caulfield: Year One," which got the ax after only two episodes; and "Manchester Prep," which was canceled before it even premiered.

The only survivors, "Get Real" and "Time of Your Life," are barely hanging on in the ratings. And, overall, Fox's ratings are down some 15 percent.

But the failure of "Ally" is a blow to both Fox and Kelley that goes far beyond the show's failure on the network. Traditionally, hourlong shows have not done as well in syndication as half-hour shows, and the hope was that the 30-minute "Ally" would be a way for both David E. Kelley Productions and Twentieth Television to reap the rewards that come when a show goes into syndication.

(And that's where the really big bucks are -- potentially billions of dollars for shows that have long, successful runs in their post-network lives.)

Not that they're necessarily going to give up on the idea of shortening "Ally McBeal" to "Ally" for syndication, but the shorter show's failure on the network doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the plan.

What exactly Fox will replace "Ally" on a long-term basis (and, at Fox these days, long term means more than two weeks), has yet to be determined. There's a previously scheduled repeat airing of the movie "Mrs. Doubtfire" this week; on Jan. 11 and Jan. 18 "That '70s Show" will air at 7 p.m. and be followed by a same-week repeat of the new Sunday comedy "Malcolm in the Middle."