The winner of the comedy for television category in America’s
high-profile Golden Globe awards this year was not Seinfeld or Frasier
or even Third Rock from the Sun. Instead, it was a pioneering mix of
seriousness and laughs called Ally McBeal. Ally, a thirtysomething
female lawyer, has stormed up the ratings in the US since her debut last
September, and is due to hit the small screen this side of the Atlantic
on Channel 4 this spring.
The show is a kind of Friends meets LA Law. Essentially a snapshot of
the life of the main character, Calista Flockhart, it tackles just about
every female issue, from whether you ought to let a man ’smell you’ on a
first date to bad hair days, not to mention sexism, ageism, racism - the
list goes on. What sets it apart from other women-led US comedies is the
innovative use of post-production special effects to reveal the inner
woman and all her hopes and fears.
Ally doesn’t just blush, for example, her face literally sizzles, and
steam spurts violently out from her ears. If she wishes for something to
happen (her breasts getting bigger, for instance), it sometimes does and
she also makes frequent use of asides and voiceovers to express her
insecurities and worries.
It’s a technique that has helped propel Ally up the ratings and has
proved useful for its network, Fox, in cracking the sought-after 9pm
prime-time slot on Monday evenings. The programme is consistently most
popular with a female audience in the 18-34 age range, a fact that is
reflected in the kind of advertising it attracts. Commercial breaks in
the September-November period were dominated by products targeted at
women, particularly pharmaceutical goods, followed by household products
and cosmetics, with most of the big names present, including
Warner-Lambert, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal and Unilever.
But in a recent ratings week (commencing 26 January), Ally McBeal was
second only to the American Music Awards (ABC) among adults in the 18-49
age bracket, and the show actually took the number one spot with men in
the 18-34 age range for the same period. This also shows in the
commercial breaks, with Levi’s in the line-up, advertising its jeans for
men, as well Gap promoting its men’s clothing ranges.
Ally McBeal’s creator/writer/producer is David E. Kelley, who previously
made his name with the US dramas, Chicago Hope and the Practice.
Owned by Twentieth Century Fox
Production Co David E. Kelley Productions
US launch date 8 September 1997
Viewing figures (2.2.98) 9,991,000.00*
Cost of 30-second spot USdollars 65-70,000**
*Source: David E. Kelley Productions. * *ad industry est.