Me, I don't watch the TV lawyer shows. I didn't watch "Perry Mason" back in the 60s, and aside from a couple of episodes of "L.A. Law" -- enough to see I didn't like it -- haven't watched any in the last 30 years. I accept that the shows exaggerate and overdramatize to entertain people, but it just doesn't work on me.
But there was once a TV show about lawyers that I loved: "The Defenders."
The series concerned the cases of a father-and-son team of defense attorneys, Lawrence Preston (E.G. Marshall), the sharp veteran litigator, and his green and idealistic son Kenneth (Robert Reed)....Can we get a show like that now?
As Rose pointed out a 1964 article, "the law is the subject of our programs: not crime, not mystery, not the courtroom for its own sake. We were never interested in producing a 'who-done-it' which simply happened to be resolved each week in a flashy courtroom battle of wits." Rose undoubtedly had in mind CBS's other celebrated defense attorney Perry Mason (1957-66) when he wrote these words. Although both were nominally "courtroom dramas" or "lawyer shows," Perry Mason was first and foremost a classical detective story whose climax played out in the courtroom, while The Defenders focused on the machinery of the law, the vagaries of the legal process, and system's capacity for justice. Although the Prestons took on their share of murder cases, their aim in such instances was to mount a sound defense or plead for mercy, not unmask the real killer on the witness stand.
Certainly The Defenders exploited the inherent drama of the courtroom, but it did so by mining the complexity of the law, its moral and ethical implications, and its human dimensions. Rose and his writers found much compelling drama in probing the psychology of juries, the motives of clients, the biases of opposing counsel, the flaws of the system itself, and the fallibility of their own lawyer-heroes. The series frequently took a topical perspective on the American justice system, honing in on timely or controversial legal questions: capital punishment, "no-knock" search laws, custody rights of adoptive parents, the insanity defense, the "poisoned fruit doctrine" (admissibility of illegally obtained evidence), as well as immigration quotas and Cold War visa restrictions. The Defenders avoided simple stances on such cases, instead illuminating ambiguities and opposing perspectives, and stressing the uncertain and fleeting nature of justice before the law.