It was an off-camera plot twist worthy of one of L.A. Law's last-minute courtroom flourishes: As litigator Grace Van Owen bade farewell to McKenzie, Brackman, actress Susan Dey was reconsidering her decision to leave. One day after shooting ended (the season finale airs May 16), Dey made it official: She'll be back next fall. ''The producers called and said, 'Will you come back for one more season?''' Dey told Entertainment Weekly. Besides a salary renegotiation, ''they were willing to give me the freedom to pursue projects outside and alongside L.A. Law, so I thought about it. Then, a few weeks later, they called frantically and said, 'You have to decide right now we're about to throw you and Harry (Hamlin) and Jimmy (Smits) a surprise farewell party!' And I said, 'Well, take my name off the cake.'''
Dey's turnabout capped a roller-coaster season for her on L.A. Law. ''When we did the scene where Brackman fired all of us, it was very emotional on the set. I said to Alan Rachins, 'Couldn't this all be Brackman's bad dream?' All year, there were those kinds of thoughts.'' And for one ''very brief'' moment, says Dey, Grace's name may have been on the elevator shaft that doomed Rosalind Shays (Diana Muldaur). ''It quickly became a joke. David Kelley (Law's departing producer) said that Grace would fall down the shaft. You'd hear her scream, cut to Victor's shocked face...and then she'd crawl out.'' After a season in which Dey's role was reduced in anticipation of her departure (''I was frustrated, but it was very understandable,'' she says), L.A. Law's writers will work hard to bring her back. In a few weeks, the actress will meet with Patricia Green, the show's new executive producer, to discuss her return. ''I'm delighted,'' she says. ''And I'll miss Jimmy and Harry, but the door is open for them, too.''