Kelley, Responsibility, and Reverence
At a November 9 banquet, Broadcasting & Cable magazine inducted eight men and three women into its Hall of Fame. Television producer David Kelley, who's won best-dramatic-series Emmys for "Picket Fences" and "The Practice," was the only inductee whose acceptance speech was excerpted at length in the next issue of B&C because, according to the magazine's introduction to his remarks, his "theme...seemed to resonate with the crowd." That theme was "responsibility."
Kelley told of taking part in boyhood horse-trotting races; how his competitors several times won illegally by making their horses gallop; how he finally won a race by using the same tactic; and how he had disappointed his father by cheating. Linking those long-ago events to the present, Kelley concluded that in the television industry, which is "dominated by a lot of people who want to get to [the] finish line first, no matter how... it makes it particularly gratifying for me to be here tonight with people who are not only being honored but who achieved their success with rather a distinguished trot."
Nice words. Too bad the Kelley-written-and-produced episode of "Ally McBeal" that aired on Fox exactly one week prior to the B&C dinner belied them. The show wasn't an angry blast at Catholicism a la "Nothing Sacred." It was in a very real sense worse, repeatedly flippant, irreverent, to the extent of suggesting that Catholic doctrine - and Catholic clergy - are to be ridiculed.
The episode centers on a nun suing to retain her job even after breaking her vow of celibacy. She consults with two lawyers, one of whom is the title character. During that first meeting, Ally says to the sister, "Making love is wonderful, but...nuns are not supposed to have sex, you know, except with other nuns."
It gets worse. In court, a lawyer for the Church says to the nun, "You had sex with a man." The nun responds, "A priest has sex with a boy, he gets transferred. At least my lover was of legal age, for God's sake." As long as you're insulting nuns and priests, why not the Body of Christ? And so this comment from a secretary at the firm: "Maybe I can talk them into rehiring her. I'm very good at flirting with clergy. At Communion, I always got the extra wafer."
The high point of salaciousness is reached when Ally drops by a church and enters the confessional, where she tells the priest, "I covet all over. You have no idea. Anything with decent glutes...The premarital sex thing, we don't need to go there. Last year...I went to bed with a guy partly because he had a - it was big, big, big. God, I slept with it - him." The priest asks, "I often hear that size doesn't matter. How was it?" to which Ally answers, "It was great. Unbelievable. You have no idea. I assume you don't. It was amazing, amazing."
It turns out, as another nun tells Ally, that the priest "has all these little video cameras in the confessional...He's been taping all the [confessions]. He's trying to sell, uh, 'World's Naughtiest Confessions.' He's making a documentary. He plans to leave the priesthood and become a television producer. Fox has already offered him a slot between 'Deadliest Car Crashes' and 'The Oral Office.'"
This is not Kelley's first Catholic-bashing effort. There was anti-religion bias in the early years of "Picket Fences." One episode dealt with a priest who had a shoe fetish, and another featured a demented Christian gynecologist who artificially inseminated a virgin without her knowledge, then killed her after she found out what he did. In a later season, however, Kelley changed his tune. A mother - perhaps the series' most admirable character - convinced her family to attend church, and a policeman, using explicitly religious language, successfully appealed to a murder suspect's conscience in persuading him to reveal where he buried his victim.
In a 1994 Washington Post interview, Kelley said he "believ[ed] in God but not necessarily the rigidity of religion," adding that he'd "never doubted" God's existence. "Picket Fences," he added, "recognized religion as a legitimate entity that enters people's lives. We've suggested it's not just the zealots, the nuts, that believe in God, but everyday people." Unfortunately, what Kelley is saying with "Ally McBeal" is that it is perfectly acceptable to insult the Catholic Church and all its zealots, and all its nuts.
That's "responsibility," Hollywood-style.