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Must See Court TV

November 16, 2007

There was a time and place when I thoroughly enjoyed watching television shows about lawyers.  Growing up as a teenager in the 1980s, my favorite drama show was probably Matlock, a terrific show starring Andy Griffith as a criminal defense attorney who somehow represented every innocent person accused of murder in the Atlanta area.  Among comedies, I was a huge fan of Night Court, a zany sitcom about Manhattan night court sessions.  I did not watch L.A. Law as much, but I think that was partly due to the late time slot.

In the late 1990s, during my formative law school years, there were some quality lawyer television show options.  Former Boston attorney David E. Kelley became a television producer and created two defining lawyer shows: The Practice, which garnered several Emmys for both the show and the critically-acclaimed performances of its actors, and Ally McBeal, featuring a more lighthearted look at an almost fantasy law firm environment, with unisex restrooms, huge associate offices and, of course, no billable hours. 

Nowadays, I just don’t find myself watching many of the lawyer television shows.  Of course, there’s not as much time for television viewing (even with the aid of DVR), but when I do watch television, it tends to be other types of shows, such as reality shows and other sitcoms.  I have never gotten into the Law and Order franchise, and Boston Legal just is not the same as the peak years of The Practice.  A lot of other “young” lawyer shows like First Years and Conviction have long since come and gone.  The only recent exception I have been hooked on is Damages, a show that just finished its first 13 episode season on the F/X network.  For those who have not seen it, Damages is much more than a typical lawyer show.  The debut season, which starred Glen Close, Ted Danson, Tate Donovan and Rose Byrne among others, proceeded as a serial drama, but one in which we immediately see the main character, a first year lawyer at a high-powered plaintiff’s firm, being suspected of murder and then flashback to several months before the “present day.”  Eventually the flashbacks catch up to the present and slowly reveal the truth.  The season finale also nicely set up the theme of the second season, so I recommend watching it even without the benefit of the first season. 

Otherwise, the current crop of lawyer shows does not excite me – well, not until someone produces a reality show where young lawyers have to compete in contests to draft the most effective interrogatories, argue discovery motions and effectively fill out time sheets.   

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