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'PRACTICE' PULLS POTENT CROSSOVER WITH 'PUBLIC'

He's had practice at writing crossovers -- having the cast members of two separate shows appear in both series. So it should be no surprise that writer-producer David E. Kelley pulls it off so well.

It helps that Kelley has set his three series -- ABC's "The Practice" and Fox's "Boston Public" and "Ally McBeal" -- in Boston.

Characters can run into each other without the crossover being too contrived. Two years ago, Kelley wrote a crossover for "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice," which have two very different sensibilities.

Kelley's latest crossover of "The Practice" (10 p.m. Sunday, Channel 7) and "Boston Public" (8 p.m. Monday, Channel 29) works much better because it makes perfect sense for characters in crises in both shows to search out each other.

Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott) loves crises as much as he loves his very pregnant wife, Lindsay Dole (Kelli Williams). After being acquitted of murder last Sunday in an implausible story line, Bobby deals with the wreckage of the bomb posthumously planted by the serial killer he was accused of conspiring to murder.

The bomb blew up in Bobby's office last week, seriously injuring someone in his firm. Entering this mess is teacher Kevin Riley (Thomas McCarthy) of "Boston Public," who is in a job crisis. Riley was fired by vice principal Scott Guber (Anthony Heald) for concealing his knowledge of a teacher having an affair with a student.

Kevin hires an old friend, Ellenor Frutt (Camryn Manheim), to try to convince the school principal, Steven Harper (Chi McBride), that the punishment was a little harsh.

Riley's story line doesn't intrude on the more complex life-and-death ethical and legal issues on "The Practice" involving the treatment of the injured employee.

Donnell and Kelley are both getting a bit predictable. Donnell clearly hasn't learned any lessons about stretching legal ethics. Meanwhile, Kelley repeats his practice of using story lines of several previous episodes in an attempt to illustrate the insanity of the law. With passions running high and a few lives on the line, "The Practice" once again delivers thoughtful drama.

Monday's "Boston Public" episode resolving the life of Riley is a strong one, too. It is worth watching just to see two heavyweights, Frutt and Harper, try to intimidate each other.

Once again, Kelley uses the device of putting things in context by parading past story lines into the mix. But the thing that Kelley does best is make a viewer unsure of the outcome. Kelley's shows constantly deal with the question of whether a good friend is one who is blindly supportive or painfully honest. He teaches us the lesson that the truth is often preferable even if it hurts.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 4

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