The 6 Best Courtroom Dramas To Ever Grace TV Screens
Legal dramas have been a staple of network television lineups for decades. Television executives know that as trials unfold, great stories get told in a scintillating fashion. Fans can often stay with complicated plots and convoluted explanations, and viewers don't care if the story is told from the point of view of the prosecution or the defense. All they want to see is a compelling story with crisp writing and convincing actors. Using those criteria as our standards, here are the six best courtroom dramas to ever grace TV screens.
"L.A. Law" (1986-94). This classic show was written by Stephen Bochco, and it told the story of the partners in the law firm of McKenzie, Brachman, Chaney & Kuzak. The law firm was considered the top firm in Los Angeles, and the lawyers regularly drew the most interesting and controversial cases. However, the out-of-court drama involving Arnie Becker, Leland McKenzie, Douglas Brachman, Ann Kelsey and Victor Sifuentes was even more interesting, often involving twists and turns that would play out through the course of a full episode. "L.A. Law" was ranked the top legal drama by the American Bar Association Journal.
"Law & Order" (1990-present). "Law & Order" is the longest running television drama in the history of the medium, passing "Gunsmoke" in 2011 during its 21st year on the air. Producer Dick Wolf used a formula for each of the episodes to make it successful. The first half of the 60-minute show is about a crime and its investigation by police, and the second half of the show is the trial and the verdict. The interaction between the police and the prosecutors is always an important part of the legal system, and when it's mixed with explosive sexual chemistry, it makes the show that much more addictive.
"Perry Mason" (1957-66). This show is probably the grandfather of all legal dramas. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, millions of Americans would sit in front of their televisions in rapt anticipation of "Perry Mason" coming on the air. In this signature CBS show, Raymond Burr ("is it wrong?") played the title character and always had a case that looked unwinnable. Across the courtroom sat District Attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman), who wanted nothing more than to win the case and pin a loss on Mason. However, Mason would not only win the case, he would find the perpetrator of the crime.
"The Defenders" (1961-65). The focus of this show was often the top issues of the day. The scripts focused on abortion, censorship, race relations and un-American activities. Many of the shows dealt with complicated legal issues, showing viewers how competent courtroom lawyers think and prepare every aspect of their cases. Veteran actor Ralph Bellamy and young William Shatner were two of the prominent stars of the show.
"Boston Legal" (2004-2008). This quirky legal drama featured the ethically challenged Alan Shore (James Spader) and his friend and one-time mentor Denny Crane (William Shatner, again) handling some of the the most challenging civil cases for a prominent Boston law firm. Many of the the lawyers featured in the show had significant personal or professional issues. Shore had been fired from his previous position, Crane is dealing with the onset of Alzheimer's and lawyer Jerry Espenson (Christian Clemenson) has to battle Asperger's Syndrome.
"Judging Amy" (1999-2005). This is the story of a family court judge who tries to balance her life as a single mother while adjudicating some of the most complicated and heart-rending cases. Judge Amy Gray (Amy Brenneman) sometimes has to make decisions in her courtroom that she would not make in her family life and vice versa. In addition to her own second-guessing, Gray's mother (played by Tyne Daly) lives with her and is never hesitant to dish out advice.