critically acclaimed ensemble drama was one of the hits of the 1986 season.
Created by Steven Bochco (creator of Hill Street Blues) and Terry Louise
Fisher (producer of Cagney and Lacey, and a former Deputy D.A. herself),
it looked like Hill Street in a fancy law office, with many characters
and stories intertwined in each episode.
high-powered Los Angeles law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak took
on cases of all types, criminal and civil, usually for high fees (though they
also did some “pro bono” work for the poor). Leland McKenzie was the esteemed
fatherly senior partner; Brackman, the vain, insufferable, balding partner
struggling to fill his late father’s formidable shoes; Kuzak, the savvy but
compassionate younger partner; Van Owen, the idealistic Deputy D.A. who was
Kuzak's lover and sometime courtroom opponent; Ann, another idealistic attorney;
Stuart, the firm's nebbishy little tax attorney, who had a heart of gold and
also had the hots for Ann; Arnie, the sleazy, womanizing divorce lawyer (whose
object was often to create discord in order to produce a more profitable case);
Victor, the uptight young Hispanic brought into the firm to meet racial quotas,
and knew it; Abby, the unsure-of-herself young intern; and Roxanne, the motherly
receptionist. Added in 1987 were Jonathan, a young black lawyer, and Benny, a
retarded office worker – one of the few continuing portrayals in TV series
history of a retarded person.
office politics and sexual adventures were mixed in with the cases (Markowitz
and Kelsey angling to become partners, Kuzak lusting after Van Owen, Markowitz
after Kelsey, Becker after everybody). Perhaps the series most publicized early
episode was the one in which a bigamist-client taught Stuart a secret sexual
maneuver guaranteed to melt down any woman – the “Venus Butterfly.” Viewers
never learned what it was, but Ann was his.
continuing stories unfolded soap-opera style. Abby left the firm to set up her
own shaky practice, but eventually returned. Van Owen was named a judge, then
resigned to join McKenzie, Brackman. Arnie produced a best-selling
do-it-yourself divorce video in partnership with Roxanne's incredibly boring
husband David, a direct-mail entrepreneur. He soon had use for it himself. After
years of seducing rich, beautiful women, Arnie finally “settled down” and
married Corrine, only to fall off the sexual wagon with, among others, of all
people, his loyal, plain-Jane secretary, Roxanne.
famous storyline began in 1989 with the arrival of hard-driving Rosalind Shays,
a super-successful but unlikable litigator who was brought in as a partner to
rejuvenate sagging revenues. Roz took over with a vengeance, wooing Leland in
the process, but was eventually forced out in a battle royal that almost
destroyed the firm. (Her subsequent lawsuit cost the remaining partners $2.1
million.) She met an abrupt end in March 1991 when she accidentally stepped into
an empty elevator shaft and plunged to her death.
soap-opera entanglements, L.A. Law emphasized outrageous situations and
trendy cases. Cases touched on such diverse subjects as the “outing” of
prominent homosexuals, dwarf tossing, anti-American discrimination in Japanese
firms, insurance companies that refused to cover AIDS medication, and a case
involving a businessman with Tourette’s Syndrome – causing him to involuntarily
blurt out obscenities at the most inopportune moments.
changes occurred in 1990. Kuzak angrily left to set up his own firm, causing yet
another change in the company’s name to McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney, and Becker.
(Chaney, by the way, had died at his desk in the premiere episode.) Arriving
were three very different attorneys: Tommy Mullaney, an anti-establishment
maverick who worked on commission because he couldn't stand “suit and tie shops”
like McKenzie, Brackman; Zoey, his ex-wife, an Assistant D.A.; and C.J., a
feisty, hot-shot litigator with an English accent, who happened to be bisexual.
turmoil, the practice of law did have its rewards. The opening titles showed the
words “LA LAW” on a California license plate – resting securely on a Jaguar XJ6.
brought brash entertainment lawyer Susan Bloom, charged with drumming up new
business for the troubled firm; her associate Frank; Grace’s departure for New
York; C.J.’s departure to join a golf tour; Rollins’ campaign for city council;
Markowitz’s slow emotional recovery from a beating; Benny’s marriage to Rosalie;
and the arrival in the last season of Eli and Denise from ABC’s canceled
Civil Wars – a rare instance of characters from one series moving to
another. By this time the firm called McKenzie, Brackman, Kelsey, Markowitz and
Morales. In the May 1994 final episode, father figure Leland McKenzie announced
his retirement, effectively closing the doors on L.A. Law.