• Post category:Television
  • Post last modified:October 11, 2020

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

lalawAfter 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. On Hill Street Blues, criminals were arrested and thrown in jail. On L.A. Law, they had the financial means to hire the best lawyers in town.

Lawyers who had it all
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 open each episode, which was written as a day in the lives of these characters, a familiar Bochco concept.

There were plenty of unorthodox, fun and interesting attorneys at MacKenzie-Brackman; Kuzak (Harry Hamlin) and Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) were the male heartthrobs, Grace (Susan Dey) was the tough prosecutor who eventually joined the firm, Ann (Jill Eikenberry) and Stuart (Michael Tucker) were a physically speaking odd couple who fell in love (married in real life as well), and Benny (Larry Drake) was the very friendly, mentally challenged assistant who helped around the office.

Dramatic changes
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. A riveting turn of events that 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 interesting, giving Tucker an actor’s challenge as his character suffered severe consequences (the best performance on the show though belonged to Drake who made sure Benny never turned into a cliché). The show certainly had a lighthearted side as well. The now-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 falling down an empty elevator shaft. They knew how to do black comedy.

This appealing depiction of lawyers working on the sunny side of the street attracted students to law schools all over America like never before. Even if the show was far from a documentary when it came to the legal details, it was still an improvement on most previous courtroom dramas on TV. Too bad though that L.A. Law just fizzled out in the final season.

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), Conchata Ferrell (88-92), 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.

Last word: “Steven Bochco was smart; he knew that viewers were smart. He assumed that intelligence. And he instilled a mindset within all his writers to do the same. He was extremely collaborative: You got to pick his brain and you got to watch him. So just through observation and osmosis, you learned a great deal about writing and production. It was probably the best experience any young writer could possibly hope for. And it probably helped that he and I clicked. We just got along right from the beginning. When I came out to Los Angeles, I walked into that writers’ room and I knew within fifteen minutes I was home, and that there was a strong likelihood that I would never be practicing law again. I chalk much of that up to the connection that I made with Steven.” (Writer David E. Kelley, Vulture)

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