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Ann Kelsey

L.A. Law
L.A. Law main title screen
Format Legal drama
Created by Steven Bochco &
Terry Louise Fisher
Starring (See entire cast list below)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 8
No. of episodes 172 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Steven Bochco (seasons 1–3)
David E. Kelley (seasons 4–5)
Rick Wallace
William M. Finklestein
John Tinker
John Masius
Running time 60 minutes (inc. commercials)
Production companies Steven Bochco Productions
20th Century Fox Television
Distributor 20th Television
Original channel NBC
Picture format 35 mm film (4:3)
Original run September 15, 1986 – May 19, 1994
Followed by L.A. Law: The Movie (2002)
Related shows Civil Wars

L.A. Law is an American television legal drama series that ran for eight seasons on NBC from September 15, 1986, to May 19, 1994.[1]

Created by Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher,[2] it contained many of Bochco's trademark features including a large number of parallel storylines, social drama and off-the-wall humor.[3] It reflected the social and cultural ideologies of the 1980s and early 1990s, and many of the cases featured on the show dealt with hot-topic issues such as abortion, racism, gay rights, homophobia, sexual harassment, AIDS, and domestic violence.[4][5][6] The series often also reflected social tensions between the wealthy senior lawyer protagonists and their less well-paid junior staff.

The show was popular with audiences and critics, and won 15 Emmy Awards throughout its run, four of which were for Outstanding Drama Series.


The series was set in and around the fictitious Los Angeles-based law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, and featured attorneys at the firm and various members of the support staff. The exteriors for the law firm were shot at the Citigroup Center in downtown Los Angeles, which was known as the 444 Flower Building at the time.


The show often combined humor and drama in the same episode. For example, in the opening of the first episode of the series, only the back and hand of partner Chaney, gripping the pages of a tax manual while seated at a desk, is seen after he has dropped dead of a heart attack. Later in that episode, in front of his partners, friends and his wife, a man at Chaney's eulogy details how he first met him at a gay bar, revealing Chaney had been bi-curious, in the closet, bisexual or a gay man while still married.

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 once caused problems when a client used 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 Michael Kuzak would have to be a monkey before she'd be interested in him, he woos her on the courthouse steps (where she is about to get married) in a gorilla suit. Douglas Brackman becomes involved with a sex therapist. Benny Stulwitz, a mentally retarded clerk at the office, has sex with the mentally retarded daughter of a client of the firm. Leland McKenzie and Rosalind Shays, antagonists, 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.[4] 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.[7]

In one scene later in the series, the writers enacted an inside joke: "The easiest way to get rid of a soap opera character is to just have them fall down an elevator shaft." In her final scene, the character of Rosalind Shays steps into the empty shaft (expecting an elevator car when the doors open) and falls to her death.

The show did not shy away from controversy, with a scene in the episode "He's a Crowd" where one of the female lawyers, Abby Perkins, has an on-screen romantic 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 moved 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 opening credits sequence of every episode began with a close-up of a car trunk being slammed shut, displaying a California "LA LAW" license plate. The car was originally a Jaguar XJ6, but was replaced with a Bentley in the final seasons; its registration sticker was updated at the start of every new season. 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." Two different openings for the show's theme were used: a saxophone riff, for episodes that were lighter in tone; and an ominous synthesizer chord, for more serious storylines.

Co-creator Terry Louise 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 (Richard Dysart) was shown in bed with his enemy Rosalind Shays (Diana Muldaur) was ranked as the 38th greatest moment in television (the list originally appeared in an issue of EGG Magazine). The episode "Good To The Last Drop" in which Rosalind met her demise—falling into an open elevator shaft—was ranked #91 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[8] It was referenced in The Star Trek Encyclopedia (prior to L.A. Law, Muldaur had played Dr. Katherine Pulaski during season 2 of Star Trek: The Next Generation) in which Pulaski's biography 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.".

After co-writing the feature film, From the Hip, Boston attorney David E. Kelley was hired by Bochco during the first season of L.A. Law.[9] 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.

Amid plummeting ratings 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 Angeles 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 went on hiatus 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). Reruns were shown on Lifetime and later A&E during the 1990s and 2000s.

TV Ratings

Series Finale: Finish Line drew 22 million viewers and a 15.9 rating on May 19, 1994. Its competition: PrimeTime Live (11.4 rating) & Eye to Eye with Connie Chung (7.8)

L.A. Law: The Movie drew 11.9 million viewers/7.6 ratings on May 12, 2002. Its competition, CBS Sunday Movie: Double Jeopardy drew 15.6 million viewers/10.2 rating.


Any lawyer who doesn't watch L.A. Law the night before he's going to trial is a fool.

—A New York attorney, on the show's influence on juries[10]

Because of its popularity, L.A. Law had great influence on how Americans viewed the law and lawyers. The New York Times described it as "television's most serious attempt to date to portray American law and the people who practice it ... L.A. Law, perhaps more than any other force, has come to shape public perceptions about lawyers and the legal system". Attorneys reported that the show had affected how they dressed and spoke to juries (and, possibly, how those juries decided cases), and clients came to expect that cases could be tried and decided within a week. The number of applicants to law school rose because of how it glamorized the profession (including, as one law school dean stated, "the infinite possibilities for sex"), professors used L.A. Law as a teaching aid to discuss with their students legal issues episodes raised, and law journal articles analyzed the meaning of its plotlines. The show reportedly taught future lawyers things law school did not, such as time management and how to negotiate,[10][11] and an attorney stated that the show accurately depicted life at a small law firm.[12]

One law professor wrote in the Yale Law Journal that L.A. Law "has conveyed more 'bytes' of information (truthful or not), more images about lawyers, than all the Legal Studies programs, all the op-ed pieces, all the PBS shows put together." The show was "a massive distortion of reality ... the lawyers of L.A. Law are caricatures", he stated, but "caricatures are always caricatures of something, and that has to be real".[13] Another wrote in the issue that the show "subtracts eighty to ninety-nine percent of lawyers' real work lives" and overemphasized the glamor of the rest. Unlike other works of legal fiction such as Perry Mason and Presumed Innocent, however, which are essentially mysteries that lawyers solve, L.A. Law's plots taught its tens of millions of viewers torts, ethics, and other basic legal ideas and dilemmas that comprise the first year of a legal education.[14]

DVD releases

Revelation Films released the first season of LA Law on DVD in the UK (Region 2) in January 2012. This is the first time the show has been released on DVD anywhere in the world. Season 2 was released on June 4, 2012,[15] followed by season 3 on September 17, 2012.[16] Season 4 was released on February 11, 2013,[17] with season 5 released on August 19, 2013.[18] Season 6 is due to be released on November 25, 2013,[19] season 7 on February 17, 2014,[20] and season 8 on May 19, 2014.[21]

DVD name Ep# Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Season One 23 N/A January 23, 2012 N/A
Season Two 20 N/A June 4, 2012 N/A
Season Three 19 N/A September 17, 2012 N/A
Season Four 22 N/A February 11, 2013 N/A
Season Five 22 N/A August 19, 2013 N/A
Season Six 22 N/A November 25, 2013 N/A
Season Seven 22 N/A February 17, 2014 N/A
Season Eight 22 N/A May 19, 2014 N/A

Cast and characters

The show's original ensemble cast:

  • Harry Hamlin as Michael Kuzak (1986–91; seasons 1–5 plus Reunion film)
  • Susan Dey as Grace van Owen (1986–92; seasons 1–6 not including the pilot, plus Reunion film)[22]
  • Corbin Bernsen as Arnie Becker (1986–94; seasons 1–8 plus Reunion film)[23]
  • Jill Eikenberry as Ann Kelsey (1986–94; seasons 1–8 plus Reunion film)
  • Alan Rachins as Douglas Brackman, Jr. (1986–94; seasons 1–8 plus Reunion film)
  • Michele Greene as Abigail "Abby" Perkins (1986–91; seasons 1–5 plus Reunion film)
  • Jimmy Smits as Victor Sifuentes (1986–91; seasons 1–5)
  • Michael Tucker as Stuart Markowitz (1986–94; seasons 1–8 plus Reunion film)
  • Susan Ruttan as Roxanne Melman (1986–93; seasons 1–7 plus Reunion film)
  • Richard A. Dysart as Leland McKenzie (1986–94; seasons 1–8 plus Reunion film)
  • Blair Underwood as Jonathan Rollins (1987–94; seasons 2–8)
  • Larry Drake as Benny Stulwitz (1987–94; recurring season 2, regular seasons 3–8 plus Reunion film)[24]
  • Amanda Donohoe as Cara Jean "C.J." Lamb (1990–92; seasons 5–6)
  • John Spencer as Tommy Mullaney (1990–94; seasons 5–8)
  • Cecil Hoffman as Zoey Clemmons (1991–92; seasons 5–6)
  • Sheila Kelley as Gwen Taylor (1990–93; recurring seasons 4-5, regular seasons 6–7)
  • Michael Cumpsty as Frank Kittridge (1991–92; season 6)
  • Conchata Ferrell as Susan Bloom (1991–92; season 6)[25]
  • A Martinez as Daniel Morales (1992–94; seasons 7–8)
  • Lisa Zane as Melina Paros (1992–93; season 7)
  • Alan Rosenberg as Eli Levinson (1993–94; season 8 plus Reunion film (uncredited))
  • Debi Mazar as Denise Ianello (1993–94; season 8)
  • Alexandra Powers as Jane Halliday (1993–94; season 8)
  • Steven Eckholdt as Patrick Flanagan (1994; season 8)

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

  • Dana Sparks as Jennifer Kepler (1988–89; season 3; recurring)
  • Dann Florek as Dave Meyer (1988–90; seasons 3–4; recurring)
  • Diana Muldaur as Rosalind Shays (1989–91; seasons 4–5; recurring)
  • Evan R. Press as Dr. Samuel Voorhees (1992–93; season 7; recurring)


The show won numerous awards, including 15 Emmy Awards. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991.[26][27][28] It was also nominated for the award in 1988 and 1992. Some of the actors, such as Larry Drake and Jimmy Smits, 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 Donohoe, Susan Ruttan, Michele Greene and Conchata Ferrell (for Supporting Actress).

L.A. Law won a Latino Image Award.[29]

It was listed as #42 on Entertainment Weekly's list of The New Classics in the July 4, 2008 issue.[30]


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Currently this video may not be available in some countries outside the U.S.

Template:EmmyAward DramaSeries 1976-2000 Template:GoldenGlobeTVDrama 1969-1989 Template:Steven Bochco

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