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'Private Practice' Recast: Merrin Dungey out, Audra McDonald in, on the 'Grey's Anatomy' spinoff

June 29, 2007 |  4:16 pm

Laetmerrindungey450 “Private Practice” is getting a new fertility specialist, even though 21.2 million “Grey’s Anatomy” viewers already met her original incarnation.

ABC Studios, which produces “Grey’s” and its fall spin-off, confirmed Friday that four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald has been hired to play Dr. Naomi Bennett, Dr. Addison Montgomery’s best college pal.

Naomi, who was played by Merrin Dungey in the May episode that introduced the new characters, talks Addison (Kate Walsh) into moving to California to join a health cooperative where she works with her ex-husband (Taye Diggs) and colleagues played by Tim Daly, Amy Brenneman and Paul Adelstein. Dungey, who starred in "Alias" and “Summerland,” has also guest-starred on several television series, including “The King of Queens” and “Malcolm in the Middle.”

McDonald, known mostly as a Broadway actress, has guest-starred on several television series and was nominated for an Emmy in 2001 for her supporting role in the made-for-HBO movie, “Wit.”

No reason was given for the change in direction.

Audra200 But in a press conference at the network upfront presentations in May, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson said “Private Practice” would be fine-tuned before it premieres on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. in September.

"They were spending a lot of time on introducing the characters and not enough time on the stories," said McPherson of the two-hour “Grey’s” episode that served as the pilot. "We've really got to get the stories stronger."

Will the talking elevator also be recast?

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

For the Record: Thanks, vigilant posters, for pointing out an error. An earlier version of this story said that "Wit" was on USA Network. "Wit" was an HBO movie.

(Photo courtesy ABC / Getty Images)

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