Sunday, June 27, 2004

A Glut of Legal Dramas

I just recently saw an ad for a new fall show on ABC. It is called Fleet Street and stars James Spader and William Shatner. It is yet another legal drama from David E. Kelly, as if televison has not had enough legal dramas in the past decade. Indeed, television was glutted with legal dramas in the late Nineties and early Naughts. Between 1995 and 2003 I counted up 18 different series which had debuted in that time, each of which dealt with lawyers or courtrooms in some way. I am sure that there were probably more. I can only think of two other cycles in television history that may have been bigger than the whole trend towards legal dramas from 1995 to 2003. One was the whole cycle towards Westerns that took place from 1955 to 1960. The other is the current cycle towards so-called "reality shows." The sad thing is that for the most part the legal dramas are hard to distinguish from each other. At least with the Westerns and the reality shows (as much as I detest them--the reality shows, not the Westerns) there was and is a bit of variety. One legal drama is pretty much the same as the others.

Indeed, every single episode of most legal dramas seem to have the same plot. A client comes to the law firm with a unusual problem. There are some plot twists (some unexpected, some expected). And the whole shebang climaxes in court, where the lawyers make bombastic speeches and use the courtroom as a soapbox from which to moralise. Given how interchangeable most legal dramas are, it's no surprise most of them don't last. Who remembers Michael Hayes or Family Law? I am willing to bet with but few exceptions, nearly all of the legal dramas that aired in the late Nineties will be forgotten in ten years.

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