LAW & ORDER: Special Victims Unit
This first spin-off of L&O is more police procedural than lawyer-driven drama, but was still a favorite of our judges. The sex-crime plotting is explained in the opening narration, and the serialization is keyed to the show’s two principals—Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay).
TRIVIA: Richard Belzer’s character (John Munch) is the most prolific crossover character in television history, having appeared in nine different series, including Sesame Street.
MURDER ONE (1995-1997)
This electric legal serial featured Daniel Benzali as Teddy Hoffman, a zealous no-nonsense defense attorney who was never quite sure whether his client was guilty or not. Benzali was replaced in the second season by Anthony LaPaglia, and the show suffered from a lack of continuity.
TRIVIA: The single-case first season motif, which required lengthy explanations of previous action, was dropped in the second season.
Sebastian Stark (James Woods) was a heavy-duty criminal defense lawyer with a reputation for sleazy tactics and ridiculous success. After he helps free one too many bad guys, he’s recruited to take his tactics to the district attorney’s office, where he heads a special team that prosecutes hard-to-win cases.
TRIVIA: Woods reported to the FBI that he was a passenger on one of the flights apparently used by several of the 9/11 terrorists to plan their attack.
JUDGING AMY (1999-2005)
Those troubled by the notion of judicial empathy would have a real problem with Judge Amy Gray. She struggles as a single mother with the same verve she brings to complicated cases that come her way in family court. Created and produced by its star, Amy Brenneman, the show featured a first-ensemble cast and gritty social problems that were sometimes immune to court-ordered remedy.
TRIVIA: One of the show’s technical advisers was Brenneman’s mother, Frederica Brenneman, who was among the first women to graduate from Harvard Law School and later served as a superior court judge in Connecticut.
NIGHT COURT (1984-1992)
Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) presided over the late-night antics of a misdemeanor court in New York City, which featured a lecherous prosecutor, a no-nonsense court clerk, a droll set of bailiffs and a string of cover-girl public defenders. Full of pratfalls and seriously good intentions, the show managed to humanize the one place where most people meet up with the law.
TRIVIA: John Larroquette (prosecutor Dan Fielding) narrated the original version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Ellen Parsons is a brilliant law school grad who goes to work for the famous and powerful trial lawyer Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). She’s mentored in the reality that power corrupts, even in the hands of women.
TRIVIA: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. played an important, though uncredited, role in shaping the first season’s plotline about a case against a large corporation over an environmental issue.
THE PRACTICE (1997-2004)
Bobby Donnell was a handsome, driven defense attorney who surrounded himself at the self-named firm of Robert Donnell & Associates with talented lawyers who lacked the pedigree necessary to cut it in BigLaw. They made up the difference with street smarts and sheer tenacity. Lawyer David E. Kelley created and produced the show just after he developed Ally McBeal. Unlike AMcB, The Practice appreciated the cognitive dissonance between applications of the law and real life.
TRIVIA: Kelley created the role of Helen Gamble for Lara Flynn Boyle after auditioning her for the role of Ally McBeal.
THE DEFENDERS (1961-1965)
Lawrence Preston (E.G. Marshall) and his son, Kenneth (Robert Reed), took the cases nobody else seemed to want. They usually involved some of the most divisive issues of the time (abortion, un-American activities, censorship, race). The show was based on a two-part drama called The Defender, which had featured veteran actor Ralph Bellamy and a young William Shatner. It offered some of the most sophisticated discussions about the nuances of the legal system that television had yet seen.
TRIVIA: Shatner later appeared in The Defenders as an assistant district attorney.
L.A. LAW (1986-1994)
This groundbreaking series about a boutique law firm, McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney & Kuzak, did for lawyers what Hill Street Blues did for cops. Created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher (Cagney & Lacey), L.A. Law depicted them as smart, driven, fallible, sexy and as varied as the rest of humankind. For lawyers of a certain age, Leland McKenzie is the managing partner they are still looking for. Douglas Brackman Jr. is the manager they seem to end up with.
TRIVIA: Norman Chaney, a firm name partner, is found dead of a heart attack in the very first episode and is never actually seen on camera.
Suits is an American legal drama television series filmed in Toronto, Canada, created and written by Aaron Korsh. The series premiered on June 23, 2011, on the cable network USA, and is produced by Universal Cable. Suits is set at a fictional law firm in New York City. The focal point of the show follows talented college dropout Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), who initially works as a law associate for Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), despite never actually having attended law school. The show focuses on Harvey and Mike managing to close cases while maintaining Mike’s secret.
Suits has been nominated for several awards since 2012, with Gina Torres and Patrick J. Adams receiving individual praise for their roles as Jessica Pearson and Mike Ross, respectively. On top of two nominations recognizing her role as a supporting actress, Torres was awarded Outstanding Performance in a Television Series at the 2013 NHMC Impact Awards. Adams was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series at the 2012 Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the show itself has been nominated for two People’s Choice Awards.