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From Azcentral.com

Familiar Faces Leaving (angel mention)

By Bill Goodykoontz

Thursday 29 April 2004, by cally


Bill Goodykoontz

The Arizona Republic

Apr. 28, 2004 12:00 AM

The May sweeps rating period, which starts Thursday, is chock full of the usual gimmicks - miniseries, specials and whatnot - but let’s face it, this time the big news isn’t what’s going to be on. It’s what’s going off.

That would be (big flashing letters, monstrous hype) Friends, as well as (regular letters, considerably less hype) Frasier, Angel and The Practice, all of which sign off for good in May. With the exception of the sadly overlooked Angel, that’s a boatload of Emmys sailing off into the TV horizon, so it’s understandable that the exits would overshadow everything else.

Friends’ May 6 farewell is the big-ticket item, of course - it’s still TV’s highest-rated comedy, as well as something of a cultural touchstone (despite the aging cast), so how could it not be? An example of the show’s reach: Instead of regular programming, during the one-hour finale TV Land will show its staffers sitting around, supposedly watching Friends; occasionally one of them will remind viewers that the finale is on.

If you can’t beat ’em, apparently, join ’em. Or at least promote ’em.

It’s been a strange farewell season for Friends. The show’s cast agreed to make only 18 episodes this season; until last Thursday, a new one hadn’t aired in nearly two months. That didn’t diminish the audience, however, as 22.6 million people tuned in.

Estimates for the finale range as high as 50 million viewers. But what will they see? A Ross and Rachel wedding, maybe?

"We don’t want to give away any specifics of the finale, but I don’t know that that is specifically something I’d be looking for," said David Crane, who along with Marta Kauffman created Friends. "I think it’s very important to both of us that we leave all these characters in a really good place, but I don’t know that that necessarily means that people have to be walking down an aisle."

Hold off on the rice, sounds like. And frankly, I don’t really care, as long as there’s no outrageous "cheat" - it’s all been a dream Joey had after eating some bad bratwurst or something. But it doesn’t sound like that’s a danger.

"We were very clear that, from the beginning, we wanted to do a finale that felt like it was of the show," Crane said, "that didn’t feel like it was some sort of aberration. It wasn’t set in the future. It didn’t take us away from our world. It was very much the Friends to the end."

Tough sledding, though, sounds like.

"The hardest thing to write, honestly, was the last scene," Kauffman said. "There was the initial conception in our outline. There was a scene that is not going to be on television."

"It was too hard to write," Crane said. "So we found a way around it."

If there’s any ink left over from all of the stories written about Friends, the other three departing shows deserve some. Frasier and The Practice have stuck around too long, which diminishes their considerable legacy. Angel isn’t getting to stick around long enough.

Frasier was, at its peak, one of the funniest sitcoms ever. Also one of the smartest. When the show ends May 13, Kelsey Grammer will have played the title character for 20 years (starting on Cheers). That’s Marshal Dillon territory. And although the last couple of seasons before the current one just limped along, this season has been a pleasant surprise. The trick now is to go out on another high note.

"That’s our hope, is to really go out, have people say, ’Boy, what a great show, great last season,’ " Christopher Lloyd, one of the writers brought back for the final season, said last year. "Leave them wanting more, the old Hollywood edict."

The outlook isn’t quite as good for The Practice, which ends May 16. It enjoyed a bit of a creative uptick with the addition of a deliciously slimy James Spader (and the subtraction of Dylan McDermott, who had become Mr. Gloom-and-Doom; he reprises his role in the series’ last two episodes). But the show has since turned into a test run for its sort-of sequel, in which Spader will star.

Too bad. There was a time when The Practice was as compelling as any drama on TV; in 1999, creator David E. Kelley scored an unheard-of coup by winning Emmys for best drama (The Practice) and comedy (Ally McBeal). But like most of Kelley’s shows, the sublime descended into the ridiculous. Where once it depicted compelling, surprising courtroom fare, it wasn’t long until the going got silly. Case in point: Bobby’s wife has a baby - where else? - in the courtroom.

Some people just won’t leave work for anything.

Unlike Frasier and The Practice, Angel won’t get a chance to overstay its welcome. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff has always, like its vampire protagonist, existed in the shadows. Last season, the WB network’s dawdling over whether to renew the show led to the producers retooling it, having Angel and his pals take over the evil company they once fought (that’s the short version), which gave the show a creative boost. And unlike Frasier and The Practice, it wasn’t in dire need of one. It made a good show even better.

But low ratings drove a stake through Angel’s heart; it bows out May 19. Despite a rabid fan base’s efforts to resurrect it, there’s almost no chance it’ll show up on another network (though movies on WB are a possibility).

As outraged as its fans are, maybe it’s best to let Angel go out at the top of its game. It wouldn’t have hurt the other three shows to. We haven’t been able to miss them because they wouldn’t go away.

Now they are. Let the missing begin.