David Edward Kelley majored in politics at Princeton University, where he also served as captain of the ice hockey team. His father coached the NHL's Hartford Whalers and later served as the president of the Pittsburgh Penguins. After graduating from Princeton in 1979, Kelley attended Boston University Law School, where he earned his J.D. in 1983. He worked at the Boston law firm of Fine & Ambrogne, mostly dealing with real estate and minor criminal cases.
The energetic Kelley found practicing law somewhat boring, and in late 1983, he began writing a screenplay for a movie. He optioned the screenplay in 1986 and obtained an agent, who sent Kelley's script to Steven Bochco, a TV producer who was looking for legal-minded writers to work on his new drama series. Bochco met with Kelley and was so impressed that he hired the young lawyer as story editor of the new show, L.A. Law. Kelley took a leave of absence from his job at Fine & Ambrogne and moved to Los Angeles, California.Through a family friend, he got the script optioned and acquired an agent in 1986. It was produced in 1987, as a film titled From the Hip (1987), starring Judd Nelson, Elizabeth Perkins, and John Hurt. At the same time, producers Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher (creators of the successful police drama Блюз Хилл-стрит (1981)) were planning a new series set in a law firm, and looking for writers with legal backgrounds. They saw Mr. Kelley's script and invited him to Los Angeles to discuss writing a single script for L.A. Law (1986). The meeting was so successful that Mr. Kelley joined the show's staff as a story editor. The next year, he became executive story editor, and after Terry Fisher left the show, he became the supervising producer. Steven Bochco left L.A. Law (1986) after the third season, and Mr. Kelley took over as executive producer, while continuing to write many of the scripts himself. Mr. Kelley has since produced more critically acclaimed and successful shows. He served as creative consultant on Доктор Дуги Хаузер (1989), which was produced by Steven Bochco, and as executive producer and writer for Picket Fences (1992). He is the executive producer of Chicago Hope (1994). He is part of the television production division of Twentieth Century Fox, which has been owned by Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate, The News Corporation Ltd., since 1985.
Kelley has incorporated religious subject matter from the beginning, including issues involving Protestantism, Judaism, Scientology and Catholicism among others. With the widespread media coverage of child sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church during the mid-to-late 1990s, Kelley began to introduce this controversy into his scripts. For instance, the character Bobby Donnell on The Practice, a Catholic, became personally estranged from the Church over the issue of sexually abusive priests. While the conservative Catholic League didn't have an issue with this episode, they frequently complained of anti-Catholic bias in Kelley's shows because of his references to this subject.
David Kelley's father Jack Kelley was the former head coach for the Boston University Terriers hockey team and the first head coach for the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association formed in 1972.
Has a son, John Henry, with his wife Michelle Pfeiffer. The son, born in 1994, is named after David's father. Has an adopted daughter named Claudia Rose (born in 1993) with Michelle Pfeiffer. Brother-in-law of Dedee Pfeiffer and Lori Pfeiffer. Brother-in-law of Kevin Ryan.