David E. Kelley ’79, right, makes a point Nov. 17 as Jordan Roth ’97 listens.
David E. Kelley ’79, right, makes a point Nov. 17 as Jordan Roth ’97 listens.
M. Teresa Simao/Courtesy Lewis Center for the Arts

As a writer and producer, David E. Kelley ’79 has developed a distinctive brand of television that often straddles the line between comedy and drama. He’s won the Emmys for best comedy series and best drama series in the same year (Ally McBeal and The Practice, in 1999), and his newest show, Harry’s Law, is set to debut in January. On Nov. 17, Kelley returned to campus to share his thoughts about writing and entertainment in a public conversation with Broadway producer Jordan Roth ’97 at the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater.

WHY LAW MAKES GOOD FICTION

“It’s probably our best, though imperfect, mechanism for legislating ethics and morality within our ­society. ... It’s a great stepping-off point to explore character, because really the center of character is our sense of self and ethics, morality, and values.”

GRABBING ATTENTION

“Characters who are eccentric – who are different, who are layered – are my favorite to write about, but they may take some time to get to know. You’ve got to be careful now with a series like that. ... If you don’t [connect with the audience] by the end of the first act, which is eight ­minutes into the show, you could be in trouble.”  

POLITICS AND THE TV WRITER

“You have this block of real estate, and it’s not yours. It belongs to your characters. It belongs to your audience as well. And for you to use it as your own political forum, I find, can be selfish. Also, I think it can be boring. ... But on ‘Boston Legal,’ we were ­certainly guilty of thumping the pulpit a little bit.”

GETTING LOST IN WRITING

“[Writing] is still the most fun part of the job for me. ... When you’re inside those characters or that story, the outside world doesn’t exist a whole lot. I stopped having lunch with people a long time ago because they just knew my head was somewhere else.”