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Top 10 Law-Related TV Shows

Top 10 Law-Related TV Shows

Top 10 Law-Related TV Shows

Top 10 American Attorney TV Shows

The combination of competition, teamwork, and conflict that is inherent to the legal field makes it a great subject for television and cinema. Here is a list of the top ten American attorney shows of all time.

L.A. Law

L.A. Law ran for eight season from 1986 to 1994 on NBC. It focused on the lives of attorneys working in a big Los Angeles law firm.

The show utilized the different types of lawsuits to explore many social issues facing America in the 90s, including abortion, gay rights, racism, AIDS, and domestic violence. The storylines were provocative and the actors were good-looking, which made for great TV. Plus, the show had enough humor to lighten to the mood when it was needed.

Murder One

This unconventional show is on the list because it tried to break the mold of the typical legal TV show – and it did so in an unique way. Instead of focusing on a new case for every episode, it instead focused on the ups and downs of a single case over the course of the entire season.

It aired from 1995 to 1997 on ABC and only lasted a few years because of various casting issues. The first season featured a group of attorneys who defended a drug-addicted actor who was on trial for murder. Unfortunately, the show decided to leave the main character, Theodore “Teddy” Hoffman, off the second season. The trial in the first season caused his character too much strain on his personal life. The show suffered as a result and it was canceled after its second season.

Murder One would have probably fared better in today’s DVR and streaming age, where past episodes can be viewed easily. As it was in the 90s, viewers who missed an episode or did not own a VCR were at a loss as to what was going on.

Perry Mason

One of the first law-related television shows, Perry Mason showed viewers what life was like as an attorney. It was Hollywood’s first weekly one-hour series filmed for TV.

The show portrayed Perry Mason, a fictional Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, who was a character in Erle Stanley Gardner’s detective fiction. Running from 1957 to 1966, it is one of the most successful legal shows of all time. It spawned a 1973 revival, which was critically panned. Then, beginning in 1985, NBC aired 30 made-for-television movies based on the show.

The first half of the episode would generally introduce a murder victim and a person who hires Mason to represent them as a criminal defense lawyer. Mason would generally find a body and clues would usually point to Mason’s client. Mason would then battle his adversary, prosecutor Hamilton Burger, in the courtroom. He would demonstrate the guilt of another character, often coaxing a confession in the courtroom.


In 1995, viewers were introduced to the world of Judge Advocate Generals (JAG), attorneys serving in the military who are sworn to uphold the ethics of God, duty, honor, and country, while applying the Uniform Code of Military Justice to cases arising in the line of military duty.

The show featured plots from episodes that were often ripped from the headlines, with plots resembling the USS Cole bombing, the rescue of downed pilot Scott O’Grady, and the USS Iowa turret explosion.

The show originally aired on NBC and performed poorly, leading to the cancellation of JAG in 1996. CBS saw potential in the series and picked it up as a midseason replacement in 1997. The show then climbed in the ratings, entering syndication in 1999. The show finally ended in 2005, concluding a run that lasted 10 seasons.

The Defenders

In stark contrast to Perry Mason, The Defenders shied away from “who-done-it” plotlines which were resolved each week in an unrealistic manner. Instead, viewers who tuned in to see the father-son criminal defense team were never quite sure how each particular case would be resolved. The show touched on complex and morally ambiguous issues, including conscientious objectors, civil rights demonstrators, a schoolteacher fired for being an atheist, and a doctor charged with mercy killing. The show pushed the boundaries and challenged its viewers’ beliefs on various issues.

One episode – featuring the defense of an abortionist – was particularly controversial and the show’s regular advertisers refused to sponsor the episode. The episode was aired, but only after a last-minute sponsor was found. This real-life incident became the basis for an episode of Mad Men in 2008.

Ally McBeal

This quintessential 90s TV show was one of writer David E. Kelley’s biggest hits. It featured quirky humor in a law firm setting, and followed the love life of the the titular character, Ally McBeal. Of course it featured the tried and true love triangle angle and it’s surreal nature really resonated with viewers.

The show ran from 1997 until 2002 and made Calista Flockhart a household name for a period of time. Ally McBeal had high ratings until the third season when they began to dip. The introduction of Robert Downey, Jr. in the fourth season temporarily boosted ratings, but he was removed from the show at the end of the season due to his trouble with drug addiction.

The Practice

A show conceived as a rebuttal of the romanticized treatment of the American legal system in L.A. Law, The Practice was a comedy-drama that portrayed the darker side of a law firm. The show’s main character opens his practice with the dream of protecting the innocent, but it soon becomes clear that guilty clients are the ones who are the most lucrative.

The show depicted the ethical struggles lawyers face when defending clients who are probably guilty. It also showed the ins and outs of what it really takes to keep a relatively small legal practice up and running. The show ran on ABC from 1997 to 2004, winning an Emmy for Best Drama series in 1998 and 1999.

Law and Order: SVU

The first Law and Order spinoff show is certainly the best. Focusing exclusively on sexual offenders, the show was created in 1999 and is still running. Its 16th season concluded in May 2015.

Originally, the show departed from the Law and Order formula of portraying both the detectives and prosecutors, instead focusing exclusively on the detectives investigating the crime. As the show progressed, the creators included the prosecutors as an integral part of the show. Mariska Hargitay won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2006, making her the first Law and Order regular to receive an Emmy.

Oh, and the show also features Ice-T.

Boston Legal

A spinoff of The Practice, Boston Legal is one spinoff that was (according to many) better than the original show. The show portrayed former Practice character Alan Shore at the legal firm of Crane, Poole, & Schmidt. The addition of William Shatner to the cast really set it apart from The Practice, and his repeated instances of breaking the fourth wall really brought viewers a unique perspective on the law.

However, it was noted for its unrealistic nature, but really, that wasn’t what the show was about. The show was just fun to watch and much of that was because Shatner absolutely stole the show.

Law and Order

The one that started it all. It originated the “ripped from the headlines” formula for legal dramas, where the storylines were developed from real-life events. The show spawned numerous spin-offs and rip-offs and it probably inspired lots of lawyers and police officers.

It perfectly developed the investigation-to-courtroom formula, focusing the first half of the show on the police investigation of a crime and the second half on the prosecution of the crime. The revolving cast featured future stars like Chris Noth, Steven Hill, Paul Sorvino, Benjamin Bratt, Sam Waterston, Dennis Farina, Michael Imperioli, and Anthony Anderson.

The show ran for 20 years, tying Gunsmoke for the longest running live-action scripted American primetime series. Law and Order had fewer episodes than Gunsmoke though, and the animated series The Simpsons has run longer than both shows.

The numerous spin-offs, video games, and international adaptations spawned by the series make Law and Order one of the most influential television shows of all time.

Brought to you by Rasansky Law Firm.

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