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.
With L.A. Law, this was more of a mix of the dramatic elements that made Hill Street Blues, Bochco’s previous show a massive success, and added the more quirkier comedic elements attributed to Doogie Howser M.D. and especially Ally McBeal, which that show’s creator’s David E. Kelley was one of the main writers on L.A. Law.
And L.A. Law proved to be a big success, not only having a lot of really solid drama to it but also have those quirky funnier moments that gave the show a personal hook to it that made it appeal to so many people. There was even an episode where they actually got Dan Castellenta to play a guy dressed up in a Homer Simpson costume for the majority of the episode:
One of the other reasons why the show was such a success was because it caught the zeitgeist of the late 80s and early 90s and living in Los Angeles. But also, did a good job of tackling the topical issues of the day and did it in a way where it can stay relevant for today’s audiences.
Another reason the show was such a massive success was because of its’ talented ensemble cast, you have Harry Hamlin, Susan Dey, Corbin Bernsen, Richard Dysart, Jill Eikenberry, Blair Underwood, Susan Ruttan, Michael Tucker, Jimmy Smits, and Larry Drake just to name a few but everybody in this cast brought their A game talent to the show and they made it work, they all know how to make the more comedic moments play well while also playing up to the more dramatic moments in there too.
Were a lot of the comedic moments a little too ridiculous? Yes, but the show was smart enough to satirize itself, heck, in that episode on top, it begins with Corbin Bernsen’s character gets into a sticky situation where he’s got a guy throwing switchblades at him and he’s consistently going to Susan Ruttan and literally screaming out “CLOSE THE TRUNK” to begin the L.A. Law theme song. Even when it got too ridiculous, the show was able to back it up with something pointing back at itself.
L.A. Law is one of those shows that was made for a specific generation but a lot of it still holds up to this very day. In fact, they’ve been talking about rebooting L.A. Law for a modern generation and you know what, I say do it, this is one of the few TV shows that could easily continue to do very well in this world we’re living in right now.
But for now, L.A. Law is still one of the definitive examples of great television, finding the right balance of comedy and drama boasted by a great cast and great writing. The first three seasons are out now on DVD and hopefully Shout Factory puts the rest of the series out sooner rather than later but you can definitely find episodes on Youtube until then, give it a watch and take a glimpse at one of TV’s best dramas.
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