L.A. Law: The Sunny Side of the Street

After years of portraying the seediest police precinct ever seen on American TV, Hill Street Blues writer Steven Bochco decided it was time to show the opposite. He teamed up with Hollywood attorney Terry Louise Fisher and created L.A. Law. Low-lifes on Hill Street Blues were arrested and thrown in jail, but on L.A. Law they had the financial means to hire the best lawyers in town.

MacKenzie-Brackman was the real deal, the pride of the Los Angeles legal community. These lawyers had it all – money, a fancy firm and a reputation that wasn’t too sordid. They did however find that their private lives were a lot harder to sort out than their cases. That was particularly true for one of the firm’s most successful moneymakers, divorce attorney Arnold Becker (Corbin Bernsen). He was rich, attractive and extremely shallow; later seasons would reveal him as a sex addict and his job gave him ample opportunities to make the problem worse. Leland MacKenzie (Richard Dysart) was the friendly patriarch who provided the attorneys with advice and support. Douglas Brackman (Alan Rachins) was the son of Leland’s late partner whom he once had started the firm with, and his job was to make sure everything at the office ran as smoothly as possible. He always led the morning meetings that would take place in the beginning of every episode, which was written as a day in the lives of these characters, a familiar Bochco concept. There were plenty of colorful, fun and interesting attorneys at MacKenzie-Brackman; Kuzak (Harry Hamlin) and Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) were the male heartthrobs, Grace (Susan Dey) was the prosecutor who eventually joined the firm, Ann (Jill Eikenberry) and Stuart (Michael Tucker) were an odd couple who fell in love (married in real life as well) and Benny (Larry Drake) was the mentally handicapped assistant who helped around the office.

There were changes in the cast, but none as dramatic as the ones that took place in 1990-1991. That’s when the firm began to face economic woes, which led to a change in leadership and a series of bitter disputes at the office. This was absolutely riveting stuff, but it also resulted in the departure of several characters, including those played by Hamlin, Smits, Greene and, a year later, Dey. The show never caught fire like that again, but remained watchable throughout its run. L.A. Law wasn’t afraid to address provocative issues; the show featured prime time’s first lesbian kiss. The way the writers handled the 1992 riots in Los Angeles was also reasonably interesting, giving Tucker an actor’s challenge (although the best performance on the show was doubtlessly given by Drake who made sure Benny didn’t turn into a cliché). There was also plenty of humor on the show. The classic pilot episode opened with the bizarre death of one of the senior partners; he was found in his office chair Monday morning, stiff as a board, and had to be wheeled out of the building in his chair. A few years later another character bit the dust by shockingly enough falling down an empty elevator shaft. They knew how to do black comedy.

This appealing portrayal of lawyers working on the sunny side of the street attracted students to law schools all over America like never before. The show wasn’t completely believable in its depiction of trials, but it was still an improvement on most previous legal dramas. Too bad though that L.A. Law just fizzled out in the final season.

The YouTube clip shows the opening credits.

L.A. Law 1986-1994:U.S. Made for TV. 171 episodes. Color. Created by Steven Bochco, Terry Louise Fisher. Theme: Mike Post. Cast: Richard Dysart (Leland MacKenzie), Alan Rachins (Douglas Brackman, Jr.), Corbin Bernsen (Arnold Becker), Harry Hamlin (86-91), Susan Dey (86-92), Jimmy Smits (86-91), Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker, Susan Ruttan (86-93), Blair Underwood (87-94), Michele Greene (86-91), Larry Drake (87-94), John Spencer (90-94), Amanda Donohoe (90-92), Cecil Hoffmann (90-92), A Martinez (92-94), Alan Rosenberg (93-94), Debi Mazar (93-94).

Trivia: Rosenberg and Mazar’s characters were transferred from a short-lived series called Civil Wars (1991-1993). The cast reunited for a TV movie, L.A. Law: The Movie (2002).

Emmys: Outstanding Drama Series 86-87, 88-89, 89-90, 90-91; Directing 86-87; Writing 86-87, 89-90, 90-91; Supporting Actor (Dysart) 91-92, (Smits) 89-90, (Drake) 87-88, 88-89; Guest Actress (Alfre Woodard) 86-87. Golden Globes: Best Drama Series 87, 88; Actress (Dey) 88, (Eikenberry) 89, (Donohoe) 92.

Above Average

Published by Stefan Hedmark 2006-03-20 15:21

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