The Law on Television, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Government and Law
Lawyers and Litigation

The Law on Television
Law is a popular subject on American television. Law television takes three basic forms.

  • Popular television series have long portrayed lawyers at work, in and out of the courtroom. Fictional American criminal defense lawyer Perry Mason, which ran between 1957 and 1966 and starred actor Raymond Burr, created the iconic image of the dedicated attorney who would defend his clients to the last ounce of his strength. Many similar television series have been popular over the years. More recently, a number of dramatic series have focused on law firms, often dealing with socially and morally sensitive subject matter, and not always keeping to courtrooms. L.A. Law and Boston Legal are two prime examples.

  • Another type of television law involves an artificial format in which individual litigants agree that they will follow the judgment of a judge in a strictly-for-television format. These are usually civil cases rather than criminal matters, and financial stakes are commonly small. These judges become television personalities in their own right, plying the law in front of large studio audiences, as well as millions of television viewers. Many of these programs appear as afternoon entertainment.

  • A third type of law on television involves reporting on and televising (when permitted) live trials, often of criminal and homicide cases, the more controversial the better. The former Court TV network, now truTV, made a specialty of this type of coverage, using ongoing commentary with analysis by experts.

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