The history of television is thick with lawyer and cop programs. This, no doubt, is due to the infinite story possibilities and potential for realistic drama. Over the years many memorable attorney characters have graced the small screen. Here are my favorites:
Perry Mason: TV lawyers begin and end with Perry Mason. Played by Raymond Burr, this guy had an astounding ability to save his client’s bacon by coaxing improbable confessions from the real perpetrators on the stand. That it always required Mason to employ a series of inadmissible courtroom tricks is immaterial. He always won, and his clients always walked. Brilliant.
Hamilton Burger: Burger was the legal profession’s answer to the Washington Generals. Perry Mason’s primary legal adversary is included on my list of favorites on the strength of is name alone. The unbeatable Mason, chewed up this unfortunate guy on a weekly basis, and his name is Ham Burger? How priceless is that? From a professional standpoint, Burger may have been the most incompetent prosecutor in the history of law. He was forever bringing innocent people to trial, who were defended by Mason. Mason then inevitably revealed the true wrongdoer, forcing Burger to ask the judge to drop the charges against Mason’s client, so that the real criminal could be charged.
Jackie Chiles: Played by actor Phil Morris, Jackie Chiles was Cosmo Kramer’s lawyer on the Seinfeld. Chiles was a parody of famous attorney Johnnie Cochran. Chiles was a mustachioed, glasses-wearing, African-American lawyer given to grandiose statements and gestures. Chiles also mimicked Cochran’s speech patterns, enunciation and courtroom gestures. The long-suffering Chiles forever had his legal efforts undermined by the bumbling Kramer. It is said that the real Johnnie Cochran asked Morris to stop parodying him. Though he was a minor character, he was, like many others in the long run of Seinfeld, memorable.
Joyce Davenport: Veronica Hamel played this public defender on the ground-breaking cop show Hill Street Blues. Her intimate relationship with Capt. Frank Furillo, her “pizza man”, was a monumental conflict of interest, but somehow she managed to keep the professional and personal on separate levels. Joyce was a competent advocate for her underfunded clients, and more importantly provided a nice dose of eye-candy on a show that reveled in urban grit.
Arnie Becker: The affable rogue of LA Law, Becker had a rather tenuous grip on the concept of legal ethics. A divorce lawyer who bedded his female clients, led a promiscuous lifestyle that often caused problems for him and the rest of the firm. He may not have been the best lawyer ever on TV, but he sure was entertaining.
Professor Charles Kingsfield: As Kingsfield on the Paper Chase, John Houseman was an intimidating presence. The show only lasted two seasons (1978-1979), but Kingsfield made an indelible impression on me. He scared me out of any thoughts of going to law school. So maybe he was not a classic TV lawyer…but a Harvard Law School professor with his gravitassurely belongs on a list like this.
Matlock: Come on, admit it, you liked Matlock. It is Un-American to not like Andy Griffith. Matlock was a Harvard Law graduate, who in spite of his folksy manner was a cantankerous and formidable trial attorney. In the spirit of Perry Mason, he almost always exonerated his client (charged with murder) in the courtroom, and identified the real culprit in the process. Unbeatable in the courtroom, Matlock was a TV classic, and not just because of the seersucker suit.
Jack McCoy: Law and Order may be the best lawyer show ever. Or is it a cop show? I guess it is both. I had trouble choosing between Sam Waterston’s Jack McCoy, and Fred Thompson’s DA character Arthur Branch. I chose McCoy. A tough, honest, and fair defender of the public trust, McCoy was a realistic character, a brilliant legal mind that fought his own personal demons and internal conflicts. He ran into trouble more than once, but somehow managed to succeed Branch as DA. McCoy was the second longest-tenured character on the continually evolving Law and Order cast, and was nominated several Emmy awards, winning once.
Dan Fielding: John Larroquette played the lecherous Fielding to the hilt. The sex-obsessed, narcissistic prosecutor of Night Court would do anything, or tell any lie to get a woman into bed. Despite his flaws, he was a likeable character. Often the foil for other cast members’ witty and cruel jokes, Larroquette created a comic character that still endures.
Denny Crane: William Shatner will always be Captain Kirk to me, but Denny Crane comes in a close second. Pompous, officious, self-centered and eminently likeable, Crane is a close friend of Alan Shore, his partner. Almost every episode of Boston Legal ends with the two of them sitting on the law-firm’s balcony discussing the events of the day, sharing a cigar and glass of Scotch.
There are certainly other lawyer characters that are worthy of note. These are the ones that stick out in my mind. Who are your favorites?