Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

10 Best Legal Shows in TV History

Law has always intrigued us, especially when it’s depicted on the TV screen. We love to see sharp-tongued lawyers, heated arguments and cases where justice is finally served. Not only do legal shows entertain us, but they also teach us about the legal system and the hard work of a trial lawyer. Here are the 10 best legal shows in TV history:

    1. Law & Order: Law & Order is the longest-running crime drama on American television since it premiered on NBC in 1990 and finished its 20th season on May 24, 2010. Law & Order is also tied with Gunsmoke as the longest-running American drama series of all time. The wildly popular criminal-legal series was set and filmed in New York City and many of the story lines were based on real cases that made headlines. Every episode begins with a criminal investigation and suspect arrest by NYPDs and the last half hour focuses on the prosecution of the defendant by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The show was praised and awarded for its talented cast, including Sam Waterston, Chris Noth, S. Epatha Merkerson and the late Jerry Orbach.

    1. Boston Legal: Boston Legal was a popular legal drama-comedy that premiered in 2004 and came to an end in 2008. The show was a spinoff of the creator David E. Kelley’s other legal television series, The Practice, in which it followed former cast character Alan Shore, as he joins the firm Crane, Poole & Schmidt. Boston Legal had a star-studded cast, including Candice Bergen and funny guys William Shatner and James Spader. This award-winning show brought a great deal of humor and fun to the courtroom, while handling many serious cases.

    1. The Practice: The Practice was a popular legal drama that ran for eight seasons from 1997 to 2004 on ABC. The show focused on the partners and associates of a Boston law firm, led by senior defense attorney and founder of the firm, Bobby Donnell, played by Dylan McDermott. The Practice generally focused on high-profile criminal and civil cases that provided a constant struggle between legal ethics and personal ethics. The show had a way of combining realistic applications of law, while romanticizing the legal system through its well-developed characters.

    1. Matlock: Matlock is a popular legal drama series starring the lovable Andy Griffith that ran from 1986 to 1992 on NBC. The show depicts the life of Ben Matlock, an expensive defense attorney in Atlanta, who solves and litigates high-profile cases. Like Perry Mason, Matlock finds the real killer and exposes him or her in dramatic courtroom scenes at the end of each episode.

    1. JAG: JAG was a successful legal drama that ran for 10 seasons from 1995 to 2005 on CBS and one year on NBC. The show was different from other legal series because it was about lawyers from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). The show focuses on Cmdr. Harmon Rabb, Jr., a former Navy fighter pilot turned lawyer, and his fellow attorneys as they investigate and litigate crimes committed by members of the Navy and Marine Corps.

    1. Ally McBeal: The comedy-drama series, Ally McBeal, was quite the hit from 1997 to 2002. People loved tuning in to watch Ally McBeal, played by Calista Flockhart, a young, lovable attorney who worked at a Boston law firm, called Cage Fish with other young and eccentric lawyers like herself. Much of the show focused on romance, relationships and the personal lives of Ally and her fellow attorneys, but always maintained its lightheartedness with slapstick humor and surreal images like the dancing baby.

    1. L.A. Law: L.A. Law was an incredibly popular legal drama that ran for eight seasons from 1986 to 1994 on NBC. The show depicted the personal and professional lives of attorneys working at a large Los Angeles law firm. It focused on legal cases involving abortion, gay rights, racism, AIDS, domestic violence and other hot topics during that time. Not only were viewers entertained by the good looking cast and their scandalous storylines, but L.A. Law had plenty of bizarre humor and social drama to keep you coming back for more.

    1. Murder One: Murder One was an interesting legal drama that ran for two seasons from 1995 to 1997 on ABC. Although short lived, Murder One took a different approach to legal drama series by focusing on the ups and downs of one trial for the entire first season. The show focuses on Defense Attorney Theodore “Teddy” Hoffman and his associates as they defend a junkie actor who is being accused and tried for murder. Hoffman does not return in the second season because the trial cause too much strain on his personal life and he is replaced by Jimmy Wyler. The firm defends more than one client in the second season, but the cast changes and thematic issues cause the show to be dropped at the end of the season.

    1. Perry Mason: Perry Mason was a legal series starring Raymond Burr that ran from 1957 to 1966 on CBS. The show was an adaptation of the fictional character, Perry Mason, from the mystery fiction novels written by Erle Stanley Gardner. Perry Mason was originally a 15-minute radio series before it became one of the most successful and longest-running legal shows. The show gave Americans their first real look at the work of lawyers.

    1. The Defenders: The Defenders was a successful courtroom drama series that told the story of father-and-son defense attorneys who handles high-profile and very controversial cases involving racism, civil rights, religion, abortion and other major issues of the time. The series ran from 1961 to 1965 on CBS and received a great deal of praise for its social context and outstanding performances.