Prime Time and the Law: America's Obsession with Litigiousness
Littleton, Mary Wood, National Forum
If prime-time television is a valid indicator of sociological trends in the United States, we are presently experiencing a litigation obsession of unprecedented proportions. Even though its levels are remarkable, America's fascination with litigation is nothing new. Since the "Golden Age" of television, shows that portray various aspects of the legal system - like "Perry Mason," "Mr. District Attorney," "The Defenders" - have been viewer favorites. Before the advent of television, courtroom dramas were performed on the radio, in film, and in the theatre. Indeed, "Law and Order" - a current series that combines two aspects of the legal system, police investigation and courtroom prosecution - was based on a 1963 Perry Mason two-part series, "Arrest and Trial."
Six years ago, NBC introduced the dramatic legal series "L.A. Law." The success of this program at capturing the attention of the country (even Alan Dershowitz admits to discussing the show in his Harvard Law School classes) has sparked a glut of prime-time shows with litigious themes. Clearly, the network programmers are aware of viewers' social and political interests. Just this fall, NBC alone introduced three new legal shows, while three from last year's lineup returned. …