The Defenders: A Legal Drama Classic

by Guy Belleranti
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More than two decades before L. A. Law and Law and Order there was the fine legal television drama The Defenders.

The program ran for 4 seasons from 1961 to 1965. 132 episodes were made, and all of them were black and white and an hour in length.

E.G. Marshall played defense attorney Lawrence Preston, and Robert Reed (star of the later sitcom The Brady Bunch) played his idealistic, just out of law school, son, Kenneth. Each week the father/son lawyer team would tackle a challenging case.

Unlike the concurrently running lawyer series Perry Mason, The Defenders was not a mystery/who done it type of program. Instead, The Defenders focused on the law and all its complexities and flaws.

The Defenders was ahead of its time for television, dealing with controversial moral and ethical issues. Such topics included mercy killing, abortion, Hollywood blacklisting, capital punishment and civil rights. Indeed, week after week it featured thought-provoking stories with a social conscious.

The Defenders had its origins in a Studio One program from the 1950's written by Reginald Rose. Rose was also the mind and screenwriter behind the classic 1957 motion picture 12 Angry Men. Rose authored a number of the episodes of The Defenders as did several other excellent writers.

The Defenders had strong ratings throughout its television run and won several Emmys and a Golden Globe. It was produced in New York City.

Many name actors appeared on the program. Examples include Martin Sheen, William Shatner, Ossie Davis, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, Sam Wanamaker, and Ed Asner. Such screen legends as Dustin Hoffman, Teresa Wright, Gene Hackman, Lillian Gish and Dennis Hopper also appeared on an episode or two.

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