Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 8
Theme music composer Mike Post
Original language(s) English
Theme song L.A. Law Theme Song
|Created by Steven Bochco
Terry Louise Fisher|
Starring (See entire cast list below)
Writers Steven Bochco, David E. Kelley, Terry Louise Fisher
Program creators Steven Bochco, Terry Louise Fisher
Cast Larry Drake, Corbin Bernsen, Harry Hamlin, Jimmy Smits, Richard A Dysart
L.A. Law is an American television legal drama series that ran for eight seasons on NBC, from September 15, 1986, to May 19, 1994.
Created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, it contained many of Bochco's trademark features including an ensemble cast, large number of parallel storylines, social drama, and off-the-wall humor. It reflected the social and cultural ideologies of the 1980s and early 1990s, and many of the cases featured on the show dealt with hot-topic issues such as capital punishment, abortion, racism, gay rights, homophobia, sexual harassment, AIDS, and domestic violence. The series often also reflected social tensions between the wealthy senior lawyer protagonists and their less well-paid junior staff.
In addition to its main cast, L.A. Law was also well known for featuring then relatively unknown actors and actresses in guest starring roles, who later went on to greater success in film and television including: Don Cheadle, Jeffrey Tambor, Kathy Bates, David Schwimmer, Jay O. Sanders, James Avery, Gates McFadden, Bryan Cranston, C.C.H. Pounder, Kevin Spacey, Richard Schiff, Carrie-Anne Moss, William H. Macy, Stephen Root, Christian Slater, and Lucy Liu. Several episodes of the show also included celebrities such as Vanna White, Buddy Hackett and Mamie Van Doren appearing as themselves in cameo roles.
The show was popular with audiences and critics, and won 15 Emmy Awards throughout its run, four of which were for Outstanding Drama Series.
The series was set in and around the fictitious Los Angeles-based law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, and featured attorneys at the firm and various members of the support staff. The exteriors for the law firm were shot at the Citigroup Center in downtown Los Angeles, which was known as the 444 Flower Building at the time.
The show often combined humor and drama in the same episode. In the pilot episode of the series, only the back and hand of law partner Chaney, gripping the pages of a tax manual while seated at his desk, are seen after he succumbed to a fatal heart attack. One of Chaney's final acts was to hire a new secretary, who began work on the morning Chaney's body is discovered. Later in that episode, in front of his partners, friends and his wife, the secretary at Chaney's eulogy reveals that she is transsexual, and details how she first met the gay Chaney at a gay bar. Chaney had been financially supporting her gender transition, and hired her as part of her real life test. She is then promptly fired from her job by Douglas Brackman, in an act of transphobia.
A running gag throughout the series was the overtly promiscuous lifestyle of divorce lawyer Arnie Becker, and his chronic and constant liaisons with women, up to and including bedding some of his own clients. This once caused problems when a client used him to set up her (estranged) husband to be murdered. Series producer Steven Bochco used a similar incident in Hill Street Blues when a woman bedded one of the police officers in the squad and tricked him into shooting her ex-husband when he (apparently) broke into her house.
A running gag during Harry Hamlin's tenure was to have his character, Michael Kuzak, always shown picking, scrutinizing, and eating pastries or fruit at the morning staff meetings. He was the only one who ate from the mountains of food provided.
To some extent, the sexual peccadilloes of almost the entire cast would become fodder for episodes of the series.
After Grace van Owen makes a comment that Michael Kuzak would have to be a monkey before she'd be interested in him, he woos her on the courthouse steps (where she is about to get married) in a gorilla suit. Douglas Brackman becomes involved with a sex therapist. Benny Stulwicz, an intellectually disabled clerk at the office, has sex with the intellectually disabled daughter of a client of the firm. Leland McKenzie and Rosalind Shays, antagonists, secretly become lovers.
The show tied itself into the events of the Los Angeles riots of 1992, which were prompted by the acquittal of four white police officers who were put on trial for the videotaped beating of African American motorist Rodney King. In a scene reminiscent of the Reginald Denny incident, tax attorney Stuart Markowitz is struck on the head by a rioter, and ends up having serious head injuries, causing a number of problems for him and his wife for several episodes as a result. Douglas Brackman, their boss, is also arrested in the mayhem of the riots as he is on his way to get remarried.
In one scene later in the series, the writers enacted an inside joke: "The easiest way to get rid of a soap opera character is to just have them fall down an elevator shaft." In her final scene, the character of Rosalind Shays steps into the empty shaft (expecting an elevator car when the doors open) and falls to her death.
The show did not shy away from controversy, with a scene in the episode "He's a Crowd" where one of the female lawyers, Abby Perkins, has an on-screen romantic kiss with C.J. Lamb, another female lawyer who is openly bisexual.
The name Chaney remains in the name of the law firm, despite numerous changes in personnel and the death of Chaney in episode 1. When Michael Kuzak leaves, it is announced that new stationery will arrive without Kuzak's name on the letterhead. In a line heard off-screen and in the background, Arnold Becker states: "I think we should drop Chaney's name."
L.A. Law took over NBC's prized Thursday 10PM (9PM Central) time slot from another Bochco-produced show, Hill Street Blues, and was itself eventually replaced by another hit ensemble drama, ER. Bochco had been fired from Hill Street Blues in 1985. L.A. Law's original time period was Friday 10PM following Miami Vice, but after struggling there, NBC moved it to Thursdays as Hill Street Blues was winding down. The original two-hour pilot movie aired on Monday, September 15, 1986. The series was a critical favorite even before it had premiered. An encore of the movie aired in place of Saturday Night Live on September 27, 1986, being a rare scripted rerun in that late-night slot.
The opening credits sequence of every episode began with a close-up of a car trunk being slammed shut, displaying a California "LA LAW" license plate. The car was originally a Jaguar XJ6, but was replaced with a Bentley in the final season; its registration sticker was updated at the start of every new season. One episode's cold open scene depicts an angry circus performer withdrawing knives from a trunk and throwing them at divorce attorney Arnold Becker, who shouts to his secretary: "Roxanne, close the trunk! Close the trunk!" The credits immediately begin with their signature closing of the car trunk lid. Another one off trunk closing occurs when Becker pulls up next to a lady at a traffic light. While Becker is flirting with the lady, Becker's car is rear ended by a delivery truck. The trunk closing has a loud squeak, the trunk slamming closed with a bent "LA LAW" licence plate swinging by one screw, and the area around the licence plate dented and scratched. Two different musical openings for the show's theme were used: a saxophone riff (as performed by David Sanborn), for episodes that were lighter in tone; and an ominous synthesizer chord, for more serious storylines. There was also another downbeat synthesizer tone in Season 5 Ep. 18 (As God Is My Co-Defendant), the one where Kuzak brings four of his own security guards to try to enter his office after he was expelled from the firm. There was a sort of melancholy tone in Season 4, Ep. 9 (Noah's Bark), where Arnie and Roxanne are taking their stuff out in boxes after Arnie decided to leave the firm and join with another lawyer.
Co-creator Terry Louise Fisher was fired from the series in season 2 and filed a well-publicized lawsuit with Bochco and the studio. Bochco and Fisher had also co-created the 1987 John Ritter series Hooperman for ABC.
The scene in season 5 where Leland McKenzie (Richard Dysart) was shown in bed with his enemy Rosalind Shays (Diana Muldaur) was ranked as the 38th greatest moment in television (the list originally appeared in an issue of EGG Magazine). The episode "Good To The Last Drop" in which Rosalind met her demise—falling into an open elevator shaft—was ranked #91 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. It was referenced in The Star Trek Encyclopedia (prior to L.A. Law, Muldaur had played Dr. Katherine Pulaski during season 2 of Star Trek: The Next Generation) in which Pulaski's biography says: "There is no truth to the rumor that an ancestor of Dr. Pulaski was killed falling down the elevator shaft at a prestigious Los Angeles law firm."
After co-writing the feature film, From the Hip, Boston attorney David E. Kelley was hired by Bochco during the first season of L.A. Law. Kelley went on to critical and commercial success as show-runner of the series before leaving to create Picket Fences. While on L.A. Law, Kelley and Bochco co-created Doogie Howser, M.D. as the first Steven Bochco Productions series for a major, ten-series deal with ABC. Shortly thereafter, Bochco was offered the job as President of ABC Entertainment, but he turned it down.
At the height of the show's popularity in the late-1980s, attention was focused upon a fictitious sexual technique named the "Venus Butterfly" in season 1. The only clue describing the technique was a vague reference to "ordering room service". Fans and interested persons flooded the show's producers with letters asking for more details about this mysterious technique.
After the fifth season, Kelley left the show. Patricia Green and Rick Wallace were his replacements as executive producer. Green was the main creative force. Her character additions amid cast turnover were met with mixed reaction. She left the show in January 1992. Kelley and Bochco returned to write episodes and Bochco moved back to executive producer from consultant while Kelley stayed consultant. Bochco left the executive producer position after the sixth season and John Tinker and John Masius were brought in to run the seventh season. Kelley exited as consultant. Amid plummeting ratings during the seventh season, co-executive producers John Tinker & John Masius were fired midseason, and while the show went on hiatus, William M. Finkelstein was brought in to fix it. Tinker and Masius had brought a whimsical, soap-operatic tone to the series for which they had been known on St. Elsewhere. Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) appeared in a Homer costume and hired the attorneys in the seventh-season premiere. That episode also reflected on the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Finkelstein reined in the series, returning to the serious legal cases that made the series famous.
In the eighth and final season, the characters of Eli Levinson (Alan Rosenberg) and Denise Iannello (Debi Mazar) were transplanted from the canceled Bochco legal series Civil Wars, which had run on ABC from 1991–1993. Eli Levinson was revealed to be Stuart Markowitz's cousin. During the final season, the series went on hiatus in January 1994 to launch the second season of Homicide: Life on the Street. When that series succeeded wildly with a guest appearance by Robin Williams, it was expected that L.A. Law would conclude that May and Homicide: Life on the Street would succeed it on Thursdays in the fall. However, ER tested so well that Warner Bros. executives campaigned network president Warren Littlefield to give that series the prized Thursday slot.
The series ended in 1994, although a one-off reunion show, L.A. Law: The Movie, aired in 2002, and featured most of the main cast from the series (except Smits, Underwood, Donohoe, and Spencer). Reruns were shown on Lifetime and later A&E during the 1990s and 2000s.
In 2017 there have been talks for a reboot of LA Law.
Because of its popularity, L.A. Law had great influence on how Americans viewed the law and lawyers. The New York Times described it as "television's most serious attempt to date to portray American law and the people who practice it ... L.A. Law, perhaps more than any other force, has come to shape public perceptions about lawyers and the legal system". Attorneys reported that the show had affected how they dressed and spoke to juries (and, possibly, how those juries decided cases), and clients came to expect that cases could be tried and decided within a week. The number of applicants to law school rose because of how it glamorized the profession (including, as one law school dean stated, "the infinite possibilities for sex"), professors used L.A. Law as a teaching aid to discuss with their students legal issues episodes raised, and law journal articles analyzed the meaning of its plotlines. The show reportedly taught future lawyers things law school did not, such as time management and how to negotiate, and an attorney stated that the show accurately depicted life at a small law firm.
One law professor wrote in the Yale Law Journal that L.A. Law "has conveyed more 'bytes' of information (truthful or not), more images about lawyers, than all the Legal Studies programs, all the op-ed pieces, all the PBS shows put together." The show was "a massive distortion of reality ... the lawyers of L.A. Law are caricatures", he stated, but "caricatures are always caricatures of something, and that has to be real". Another wrote in the issue that the show "subtracts eighty to ninety-nine percent of lawyers' real work lives" and overemphasized the glamor of the rest. Unlike other works of legal fiction such as Perry Mason and Presumed Innocent, however, which are essentially mysteries that lawyers solve, L.A. Law's plots taught its tens of millions of viewers torts, ethics, and other basic legal ideas and dilemmas that comprise the first year of a legal education.
Revelation Films has released all eight seasons of LA Law on DVD in the UK (Region 2). This is the first time the show has been released on DVD anywhere in the world.
On April 18, 2016, Revelation Films released L.A. Law – The Complete Collection on DVD in the UK. The 46-disc box set features all 171 episodes of the series in special collectors packaging.
In Region 1, Shout! Factory has released the first three seasons on DVD.
Cast and characters
The show's original ensemble cast:
Over the run of the show, guest cast members included:
The show won numerous awards, including 15 Emmy Awards. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991. It was also nominated for the award in 1988 and 1992. Some of the actors, such as Larry Drake and Jimmy Smits, also received Emmys for their performances. The series shares the Emmy Award record for most acting nominations by regular cast members (excluding the guest performer category) for a single series in one year with Hill Street Blues and The West Wing.
For the 1988–1989 season, nine cast members were nominated for Emmys. Larry Drake, Jimmy Smits, and Richard Dysart were the only one to win (for Supporting Actor). The others nominated were: Michael Tucker (for Lead Actor); Jill Eikenberry and Susan Dey (both for Lead Actress); and Amanda Donohoe, Susan Ruttan, Michele Greene, and Conchata Ferrell (all for Supporting Actress).
L.A. Law won a Latino Image Award.
It was listed as #42 on Entertainment Weekly's list of The New Classics in the July 4, 2008 issue.