15 Quirky Facts About Ally McBeal

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For everything that can be said about Ally McBeal, its uniqueness can’t be argued. David E. Kelley’s legal dramedy—which aired its season finale 15 years ago today—was the talk of the country in the final few years of the 20th century with its dancing babies and (controversially) willowy stars. Here are some things you might not have known about the series that launched the careers of Calista Flockhart, Portia de Rossi, Lucy Liu, and Jane Krakowski.

1. IT WAS CREATED TO BE ON AFTER MELROSE PLACE.

With the promise of full creative control, Fox asked David E. Kelley—whose legal drama The Practice debuted six months before Ally McBeal—to create a show that would keep females in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic from changing the channel after Melrose Place on Monday nights. Their general directive was to create a show about “young, ambitious, and sexually supercharged business executives.” The former lawyer decided to make his characters attorneys.

2. BRIDGET FONDA WAS OFFERED THE ROLE OF ALLY.

In 1999 Fonda said she "refused to read the script for fear I might really like it. I’ve never wanted to do TV. I love feature films too much.”

3. FLOCKHART WAS TIRED AT HER AUDITION.

The stage actress was one of “hundreds” of actresses who tried out for the part (including Lara Flynn Boyle). "I was jet-lagged and tired, so I just went in there and thought, 'Well, whatever happens, happens,'" Flockhart told People Magazine in 1998. "When she walked in on a cold reading, she just was Ally," Kelley added.

4. FLOCKHART AND GIL BELLOWS ALREADY KNEW EACH OTHER.

Before the role of Billy—Ally's ex-turned-boss—was cast, the producers wanted Gil Bellows and Flockhart (who had already been cast as Ally) to read together. "I knew Calista from New York and knew she was a great actress," Bellows told MovieWeb. "They said they'd like to see us in a room together, so we met up ... and we had a scene together and then just sat side by side and talked a little bit." The next day Bellows was told to "hop on a plane and come shoot the pilot." Even though Bellows initially only signed a one-year contract, his character stayed for three.

5. "TELL HIM" WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE THE THEME SONG.

Kelley wanted Vonda Shepard’s cover of the 1962 Bert Berns song "Tell Him" to kick off the episodes; Shepard and her manager were hoping that Kelley would choose her original song, “Searching My Soul,” instead. After speeding the song up and cutting it down to one minute, Kelley changed his mind and did just that.

"Searching My Soul" had been released by Shepard in 1991 who, after recording two albums for Warner Bros., was dropped by the label. Fortunately for her, Kelley was a fan.

6. THE DANCING BABY WAS ON THE WEB BEFORE IT WAS ON THE SHOW.

The dancing baby was born in 1996, when Michael Girard wanted to display the capabilities of his animation software product, Kinetix Character Studio. When an Ally McBeal executive producer saw it, he knew it would work for the show as a way to acknowledge Ally’s biological clock.

7. ALLY WAS ON A COVER OF TIME MAGAZINE THAT ASKED IF FEMINISM WAS DEAD.

A few months after Newsweek called her "the quintessential postfeminist,” TIME’s June 29, 1998 cover—which featured the faces of Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Ally McBeal—posed the question: Is feminism dead? In a season two episode, Ally told John Cage (Peter MacNicol) that she had a dream she was on the cover of TIME as "the face of feminism."

8. PORTIA DE ROSSI WAS AN ACCIDENTAL METHOD ACTOR.

De Rossi had studied law at the University of Melbourne. Her interest in law disappeared once her acting career got going and she subsequently moved from Australia to Los Angeles. In 1998, she joined the show and got her big break in Hollywood as attorney Nelle Porter.

9. LUCY LIU’S MANAGER MADE HER PLAY LING WOO.

Liu initially auditioned to play Nelle. Even though Kelley liked her enough that he created the character of Ling Woo for her, Liu was set on taking a role in a play over what was initially going to just be a one-time appearance. Her manager thought otherwise: "She told me I was going to pass on the play that time and I was going to do this show, and that was that," Liu told Metro in 2014. "Then, of course, it became such a part of the zeitgeist and changed my career."

10. FOR A SHORT TIME THERE WAS A HALF-HOUR SITCOM VERSION OF THE SHOW.

In 1999, Fox ran Ally—a show that re-edited previous episodes into 30-minute installments, cutting out the courtroom stuff and adding in some unused scenes in the process. (The hope was that a 30-minute version had a better chance at syndication.) Less than half of its regular one-hour audience tuned in, so it was canceled after 10 episodes.

11. COURTNEY THORNE-SMITH QUIT THE SHOW BECAUSE SHE WASN’T EATING ENOUGH.

The actress who played Georgia Thomas admitted she pushed herself too hard to look thin for the show. "I started undereating, overexercising, pushing myself too hard, and brutalizing my immune system," she told US Weekly. "The amount of time I spent thinking about food and being upset about my body was insane."

12. LISA NICOLE CARSON BATTLED WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER.

After Carson had a breakdown in a hotel room, the McBeal and ER actress was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Given medication, she returned to work on the show and told Essence that "Everybody on the show was wonderful to me, but my contract wasn’t renewed for the final season. Nobody gave me an explanation, but I assumed it had to do with what had happened. I was devastated."

13. ALLY WAS SUPPOSED TO MARRY ROBERT DOWNEY JR.

In season four, Robert Downey Jr. joined the series as lawyer Larry Paul, who was supposed to marry Ally in the season finale. The title of the episode in question—"The Wedding"—remained, even after Downey was arrested on a drug-related charge and Kelley was forced to re-write “The Wedding” entirely, without Downey's presence.

14. DOWNEY JR.’S LOSS WAS JOSH GROBAN’S GAIN.

The rewritten version of "The Wedding" centered around a high school student (played by Josh Groban) suing a girl for dumping him as a prom date. Groban’s singing performance at the end of the episode led to three interview requests the following morning; they were his first three interviews ever.

15. KELLEY WROTE OR CO-WROTE ALL BUT ONE EPISODE.

The season five episode “Blowin’ in the Wind” was the lone episode out of the series' 112 installments where Kelley didn’t receive a writing credit. He tended to write each episode on yellow legal pads, in four days.

Rewind Time With This Blockbuster-Themed Party Game

Amazon/Big Potato Games
Amazon/Big Potato Games

With only one Blockbuster location left in the world, the good old days of wandering video rental store aisles and getting chewed out for late fees are definitely a thing of the past—but like so many relics from the '90s, the pull of nostalgia has ensured that Blockbuster (or at least the brand) won't disappear for good. Now the video store is back in the form of a party game from Big Potato Games that is designed to test the movie knowledge of you and up to 11 friends.

Marketing itself as “a movie game for anyone who has ever seen a movie,” the Blockbuster party game consists of two parts. In part one, players from each team compete head-to-head to name as many movies as they can that fit under specific categories (e.g., movies with Tom Cruise, famous trilogies, movies with planes). In the second half, two teams face off against each other to test their skills at a game of movie-related charades. The catch? Players can only describe movies in one of three randomly chosen ways: acting out scenes, rattling off a famous quote, or describing the films with one word.

The real selling point of the whole package is that Big Potato fit all the game cards and buzzer into a box that is virtually identical to the old-school Blockbuster VHS rental cases, right down to its distinct color scheme and shape. All it's missing is the membership card. 

The Blockbuster board game costs $26 on Amazon and $20 at Target. That’s a fair price for getting the chance to rewind time.

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8 Festive Facts About Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies

The holiday season means gifts, lavish meals, stocking stuffers, and what appear to be literally hundreds of holiday-themed movies running in perpetuity on the Hallmark Channel, which has come to replace footage of a crackling fireplace as the background noise of choice for cozy evenings indoors. Last year, roughly 70 million people watched Hallmark's holiday scheduling block. If you’re curious how the network manages to assemble films like Check Inn to Christmas, Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays, and Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen with such efficiency—a total of 40 new films will debut this season on the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Hallmark Movies Now—keep reading.

1. The Hallmark Channel Christmas movie tradition started with ABC.

The idea of unspooling a continuous run of holiday films started in the 1990s, when ABC offshoot network ABC Family started a "25 Days of Christmas" programming promotion that would go on to feature the likes of Joey Lawrence and Mario Lopez. The Hallmark Channel, which launched in 2001, didn’t fully embrace the concept until 2011, when ABC Family moved away from the concept in an effort to appeal to teen viewers.

2. Most Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are shot in Canada.

To maximize their $2 million budget, most Hallmark Channel holiday features are shot in Canada, where tax breaks can stretch the dollar. Wintry Vancouver is a popular destination, though films have also been shot in Montreal and Toronto. One film, 2018's Christmas at the Palace, was shot in Romania to take advantage of the country's castles.

3. Each Hallmark Channel Christmas movie only takes a couple of weeks to film.

If you’re wondering why a holiday movie on basic cable can regularly attract—and keep—a list of talent ranging from Candace Cameron Bure to Lacey Chabert, the answer is partly scheduling. Most Hallmark holiday movies take just two to three weeks to shoot, meaning actors don’t have to commit months out of the year to a project. Actors like Rachael Leigh Cook, who stars in this year's A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, have also complimented the channel on giving them opportunities to be with their families while on location: Cook said that the production schedule allowed her time to FaceTime with family back home.

4. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies use a variety of tricks to create snow.

Even more pervasive than Dean Cain in the Hallmark Channel Christmas line-up is snow. Because some of the films shoot in the summer, it’s not always possible to achieve that powder naturally. Producers use a variety of tricks to simulate snowfall, including snow blankets that mimic the real thing when laid out; foam; commercial replica snow; crushed limestone; and ice shavings. Actors might also get covered with soapy bubbles for close-ups. The typical budget for snow per movie is around $50,000.

5. There’s a psychological reason why Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are so addictive.

Like a drug, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies provide a neurological reward. Speaking with CNBC in 2019, Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and a faculty member in the Media Psychology department at Fielding Graduate University, explained that the formulaic plots and predictability of the films is rewarding, especially when viewers are trying to unwind from the stress of the holiday season. “The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge said. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”

6. Hallmark Channel Christmas movie fans now have their own convention.

Call it the Comic-Con of holiday cheer. This year, fans of Hallmark Channel’s Christmas programming got to attend ChristmasCon, a celebration of all things Hallmark in Edison, New Jersey. Throngs of people gathered to attend panels with movie actors and writers, scoop up merchandise, and vie for prizes during an ugly sweater competition. The first wave of $50 admission tickets sold out instantly. Hallmark Channel USA was the official sponsor.

7. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are helping keep cable afloat.

Actors Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas are pictured in a publicity still from the 2017 Hallmark Channel original movie 'Miss Christmas'
Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas in Miss Christmas (2017).
Hallmark Channel

In an era of cord-cutting and streaming apps, more and more people are turning away from cable television, preferring to queue up programming when they want it. But viewers of Hallmark Channel’s holiday offerings often tune in as the movie is airing. In 2016, 4 million viewers watched the line-up “live.” One reason might be the communal nature of the films. People tend to watch holiday-oriented programming in groups, tuning in as they air. The result? For the fourth quarter of 2018, the Hallmark Channel was the most-watched cable network among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, even outpacing broadcast network programming on Saturday nights.

8. You can get paid to watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.

If you think you have the constitution to make it through 24 Hallmark Channel holiday films in 12 days, you might want to consider applying for the Hallmark Movie Dream Job contest, which is sponsored by Internet Service Partners and will pay $1000 to the winning entrant who seems most capable of binging the two dozen films and making wry comments about them on social media. You can enter though December 6 here.

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