Television shows that involve courtrooms have intrigued me long before I became interested in applying theater to the law. I vividly remember The Defenders and Perry Mason from my childhood. When I grew up and acted on the small screen I appeared in L.A. Law – a popular show back in the day. The tight writing was by none other than Steven Bochco, well-known and respected television writer and producer. Some of his shows have been wildly popular, others not so much, but I have consistently enjoyed whatever has intrigued him, especially when it comes to the courtroom.
His latest offering, Murder In The First, had me at “hello”. Brilliant casting, tight writing, interesting premise – follow one murder case from beginning to end in a handful of episodes. This isn’t the first time that Mr. Bochco has tried this concept – one case in a season. He also did it with Murder One. But that was a whole season per murder – twenty-two episodes to tell one story. And that didn’t go nearly as well as Murder In The First is going. How can that be?
Here’s where lawyers need to pay attention. Just as the landscape of television has changed – fewer episodes, many channels – so has the practice of trying a case. Today, you are expected to try a case in a shorter period of time. You no longer have the luxury of weeks and even months. “Try it in three days!” the judge barks. There seem to be a lot more “channels” competing for the attention of the whole system – and which one are you going to get on? Is being on the “cable channel” of courtrooms in your jurisdiction really worse that being on “network channel”? Doesn’t it really depend on the judge? And the audience has changed for you, just as it has for Mr. Bochco. How do you find a show and follow it for six weeks when you don’t even know where it is? How do you grab a group of jurors and get them focused on your case when the world is bombarding them with so many messages?
Just as Steven Bochco is discovering, telling a story in fewer rather than more episodes can be better. Putting on a case in less rather than more time can be better. Why? You are forced to hone in on the essence of the story that you need to tell. The result of honing in on the essential story means that your jurors can find you. They tune into you in the courtroom rather than spacing out into the myriad of other messages floating through their brains.
And for the Alan Blumenfeld fans – you can see him play a judge in episode four. Although it plays on Monday nights, the beauty of cable vs. network is you have several opportunities to catch the episodes during the week. Some day I may find a correlation between television and trying a case for multiple showings and On Demand. Stay tuned.
TIP: How much time do you really need to tell the story?