And for the defendants ...

August 23, 2002|By Knight-Ridder Tribune

It's a long road from Perry Mason, who won nearly every case of his career - often by extracting confessions on the witness stand - to The Practice's conflicted Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott), whose firm's innocent clients - and even its lawyers -seem more likely to go to jail than his guilty ones.

TV prosecutors may have the limelight now, but for decades, we've watched their opponents. Among them:

Lawrence (E.G. Marshall) and Kenneth Preston (Robert Reed), the father-son team from The Defenders (1961-1965), which "regularly dealt with such sensitive issues as euthanasia, abortion, blacklisting and civil disobedience," according to Alex McNeil's Total Television. Just as remarkable in the age of Perry Mason: The Defenders occasionally lost.

Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel), the public defender on Hill Street Blues (1981-1987). Sure, she was secretly sleeping with a police captain (Daniel J. Travanti), but in a show full of cops, she upheld the right of even the worst "hairball" to representation.

Michael Kuzak (Harry Hamlin), who for the first five seasons of L.A. Law (1986-1994) represented, as litigation partner, the conscience of McKenzie, Brackman (he was also in love with Susan Dey's assistant DA character, Grace Van Owen).

Benjamin L. Matlock (Andy Griffith) of Matlock (1986-1995), a modern-day Perry Mason in the guise of a folksy Southern lawyer who proved to have great staying power, particularly among older viewers.

Rosie O'Neill (Sharon Gless) of The Trials of Rosie O'Neill (1990-1992), who ditched a cushy L.A. law practice to become a public defender and whose courtroom trials were seldom as grueling as her personal ones.

Jack Shannon (Jamey Sheridan) of Shannon's Deal, a former big-shot Philadelphia lawyer who dropped out of corporate law to defend the little guy. The show's legal consultant? High-powered Harvard law prof - and O.J. Simpson defender - Alan Dershowitz.

Theodore Hoffman (Daniel Benzali), star of the first season of Murder One (1995-1997), whose spot-on portrayal of a defender who really earned his big bucks may have been too realistic for most viewers, who chose to stick with the less morally complicated ER on Thursdays.

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