It's not easy to make case for `Law Firm'


July 28, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

The network's prime-time schedule is in free fall. The producer has created more flops than hits in recent years. And the genre appears to be on the verge of exhaustion.

That is the recipe for failure out of which NBC's new reality-legal series The Law Firm was created by David E. Kelley. While he has written such innovative prime-time series as Ally McBeal and Picket Fences, when Kelley is bad, he is truly awful.

His first foray into reality programming, which premieres at 9 tonight on the reeling NBC, promises to rank with such Kelley bombs as Snoops (female private eyes using "nipple cams" - canceled by CBS after 10 episodes in 1999), Girl's Club (a trio of twentysomething lawyers in mini-skirts - canceled after two episodes by Fox in 2002) and The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire (three overweight brothers in various stages of sexual dysfunction - canceled by CBS after five episodes in 2003). NBC has ordered only eight episodes of The Law Firm, but even by the standards of summer doldrums network programming, that seems optimistic.

The template for the series is that of NBC's The Apprentice, which showcases Donald Trump and a group of contestants trying to backstab their way into a $250,000-a-year job with the Manhattan real estate mogul. The Law Firm features Miami attorney Roy Black, who will award one of 12 young lawyers a prize of $250,000.

Black, who is also a legal analyst for NBC and MSNBC, is not exactly in the same celebrity league as Trump or Martha Stewart, who will be featured in an Apprentice spinoff this fall on the network.

"Roy Black has made history in some of the nation's biggest cases - from William Kennedy Smith to Rush Limbaugh," the narrator's voice intones as Black appears on screen for the first time. Black is also known for representing the likes of convicted Colombian drug lord Fabio Ochoa, but the narration fails to mention such clients.

While NBC characterizes the 12 young lawyers on the show as "smart, strong-willed and fiercely competitive," there is not much intelligence - legal or otherwise - on display in tonight's pilot.

The 12 lawyers are divided into four teams prosecuting and defending two cases.

One case involves the mauling of a three-legged dog by two mastiffs, and the other involves a county coroner in Idaho impersonating a police officer as he stops a woman for driving over the speed limit. The cases are screwy, but who this side of Judge Judy's court would agree to have their cases heard on reality TV and then be bound by the verdict?

Kelly (no last name given), an attorney from California who delivers the opening argument for the prosecution of the Idaho coroner, is totally flummoxed when the judge interrupts with a question. She rambles so hopelessly in her remarks that one wonders whether she graduated from high school, let alone law school.

She is quoted on NBC's Web site saying that she believes, "A reality legal TV show is the perfect remedy for America's hatred of lawyers."

Whatever, Kelly. But it's not this one.

The Law Firm

When: Tonight at 9

Where: WBAL (Channel 11)

In brief: If Ally McBeal was really stupid and boring, she might be on this reality TV show.

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