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L.A. Law is an Americanmarker television legal drama that ran from 1986 to 1994. L.A. Law reflected the social and cultural ideologies of the 1980s and early 1990s and many of the cases on the show dealt with hot topic issues such as abortion, racism, gay rights, homophobia, sexual harassment, AIDS, and domestic violence.


The series was set in and around the fictitious Los Angelesmarker law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, located in the 444 Flower Building, and featured attorneys at the firm and various members of the support staff.


The show often combined humor and drama, sometimes in the same episode. The show's quirky sort of humor can be seen in the opening of the first episode of the series, where we see only the back and hand of partner Chaney, seated at a desk, suddenly gripping the pages of a tax manual, drop dead of a heart attack. Later in that episode, in front of his partners, friends and his wife, a man appears to speak at Chaney's eulogy, to announce how "I first met him at a gay bar," and thus Chaney had been in the closet as either bisexual or a gay man with a wife.

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 would end up causing problems when a client would use 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.

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 he'd have to be a monkey before she'd be interested in Michael Kuzak, he woos her on the courthouse steps in a monkey suit. Douglas Brackman becomes involved with a sex therapist. Benny Stulwitz, a developmentally disabled clerk at the office, has sex with the developmentally disabled daughter of a client of the firm. Leland McKenzie and Rosalynd Shays, supposedly enemies, 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.

In one scene later in the series, Rosalynd Shays and Leland McKenzie are standing together, talking and waiting for an elevator in the corridor outside the firm's offices. When the elevator bell rings to signal its arrival, Rosalynd turns and steps into the elevator, only to have us hear her screams as we discover she had stepped into the elevator shaft, when the elevator doors had opened without the elevator car present (a malfunction that is not possible with modern elevator systems).

The show did not shy away from controversy, with a scene in one episode where one of the female lawyers, Abby Perkins, has an on-screen kiss with C.J. Lamb, another female lawyer who is openly bisexual.

Series history

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 decided to move it to Thursdays as Hill Street Blues was winding down. The original two-hour movie aired on Monday, September 15, 1986. The series was a critical favorite before it had premiered. An encore of the movie aired in place of Saturday Night Live on September 27 being a rare scripted rerun in that late-night slot.

The car with the Californiamarker "L A LAW" rear registration plate was originally a Jaguar XJ, but was replaced with a Bentley in the final seasons. 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's "trunk."

Co-creator 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 where Leland McKenzie, played by Richard Dysart, was shown in bed with his enemy Rosalind Shays, played by Diana Muldaur, was ranked as the 38th greatest moment in television (the list originally appeared in an issue of EGG Magazine). Rosalind Shays' demise, falling into an open elevator shaft, has also been a famous scene from the series. In fact, it was referenced in The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Diana Muldaur, the actress who played Rosalind in the series, also played the role of Dr. Katherine Pulaski during season 2 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. At the end of the biography of the Pulaski character, it 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. None at all."

Boston attorney David E. Kelley was hired by Bochco in the series' first season after having written the feature film, From the Hip. 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 after, Bochco was offered the job as President of ABC Entertainment but 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". 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.

During the seventh season, the executive producers John Tinker and John Masius were fired midseason, and while the show went on hiatus, William Finkelstein was brought in to fix it. Bochco and Kelley each returned to pen episodes until Finkelstein took over. Tinker and Masius had brought a whimsical, soapy tone to the series which they were known for on St. Elsewhere. Dan Castellaneta (who does 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 Angelesmarker 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 Denise Ianello (Debi Mazar) and Eli Levinson (Alan Rosenberg) were transplanted from the canceled Bochco legal series Civil Wars, which had run on ABC from 1991-93. Eli Levinson was revealed to be Stuart Markowitz's cousin. During the final season, the series was rested 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, though 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).

On May 24, 2007, the AmericanLife TV Network announced that it would begin rebroadcasting L.A. Law starting June 3, 2007, Sundays at 10 pm.[61570] From 2000 until 2004, A&E had been rebroadcasting the show. [61571]Lifetime Television also reran the show until the late 1990s. The series is currently being shown Monday through Thursday nights at 7PM and 10PM on the AmericanLife TV Network.

Nielsen Ratings

Top 30 or better
  • Season 1 (1986-87): #21 (15.2 million viewers)
  • Season 2 (1987-88): #13 (16.2 million viewers)
  • Season 3 (1988-89): #13 (15.9 million viewers)
  • Season 4 (1989-90): #16 (16.0 million viewers)
  • Season 5 (1990-91): #23 (13.7 million viewers)
  • Season 6 (1991-92): #28 (12.2 million viewers)
  • Season 7 (1992-93): Not in top 30
  • Season 8 (1993-94): Not in top 30

Cast and characters

The show's original ensemble cast:

Over the run of the show, additional cast members included:


The show won numerous awards, including the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 1987, 1989, 1990, and 1991. Some of the actors, such as Larry Drake, 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 was the only one to win (for Supporting Actor). The others nominated were Michael Tucker (Lead Actor), Jill Eikenberry and Susan Dey (for Lead Actress), Richard Dysart and Jimmy Smits (Supporting Actor), Amanda Plummer, Susan Ruttan and Michele Greene (for Supporting Actress).

It was listed as #42 on Entertainment Weekly's list of The New Classics in the July 4, 2008 issue.



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