Prime-Time Justice
California Lawyer

Prime-Time Justice

April 2011

Kathy Bates (top) plays gun-toting patent attorney Harriet “Harry” Korn in Harry’s Law on NBC, and Sarah Shahi (above center, shown with Virginia Williams) is Kate Reed, a lawyer-turned-mediator on USA Network’s Fairly Legal.

From a floating home-office aboard a double-hulled boat docked at Marina del Rey, attorney-turned-TV scribe Roger Wolfson spent five months penning the pilot for a dramatic series called Mind Games. The show-to-be chronicles the adventures of a psychologist who evaluates the memories of witnesses in criminal cases. Wolfson describes it as a "lighthearted drama with deep emotional undertones." At press time, the program was on track to be shot for Paramount/CBS this spring.

The show's protagonist is based on Elizabeth Loftus, the renowned psychologist and UC Irvine professor whose work on memory was featured in a 60 Minutes segment in 2009. Loftus has testified in several criminal cases, often discrediting witnesses who claim to have suddenly gained access to "repressed" or "recovered" memories.

After production, Mind Games will join a spate of legal dramas currently crowding the airwaves. Building on the success of Law & Order and other long-standing programs that dramatize the lives of lawyers, USA Network in January premiered Fairly Legal. The series follows the work of ex-attorney Kate Reed, who resolves her abhorrence for legal practice by becoming a top mediator in San Francisco. USA also plans to introduce A Legal Mind, a drama about a corporate lawyer in Manhattan who teams up with a street-smart college dropout. And NBC's Harry's Law stars Academy Award – winner Kathy Bates as a gun-toting patent attorney who hangs up her own criminal defense shingle after getting fired from a law firm.

"Legal dramas have a huge engine for story because you can draw on so many different kinds of cases," says Jennifer Grisanti, a television consultant based in Los Angeles. "The challenge ... is coming up with a different angle that has a different twist on a genre that's been done many times."

Wolfson, for one, says he finds new angles by drawing on his background in law and politics--first as a labor lawyer focused on workplace equity issues, and then as a political consultant in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on Mind Games, he is helping Sony Studios develop a drama called Zoo Law, about the D.C. lawyers who work for the president.

"There's something in the national character that makes legal dramas so appealing," Wolfson says. "America has, at its core, a sense of justice and fairness. We don't always get to achieve that in the real world, but we get to achieve it on TV."

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