August 3, 2022

What I've been watching: July, 2022

Shows I’ve Watched:
Shows Next on the List:
The Bold Ones: The Lawyers (abandoned)

Looking at the Masterpieces
Unknown hour-long drama

Xs you've by no doubt realized if you read this site on a regular basis, I've long had a thing for TV courtroom dramas. (See Perry Mason and Judd for the Defense as Exhibits 1 and 2, but not programs like L.A. Law and Boston Legal, because I'm not interested in soap operas—even though, as I'm sure someone out there will point out, the Perry Mason radio series eventually morphed to television as The Edge of Night.) 

If you're still with me after that tediously long digression, what I like the most about courtroom dramas, besides the whodunnit part of it, is the idea of the lawyer as Single Combat Warrior, prepared to go into battle on behalf of his client. If you think it would be hard to stake your life on the performance of one man, imagine what it's like for that man to know that your life is in his hands. So when we had an hour or so of prime time to kill the other night, a lawyer series sounded like a good idea.

Back in the late 1960's NBC introduced a series called The Bold Ones, comprised of three separate stories—The New Doctors, The Lawyers, and The Protectors. I watched the show when it was originally on, though the one I remember best is The New Doctors, with E.G. Marshall, David Hartman, and John Saxon. I also recall The Senator, the second-season replacement for The Protectors, with Hal Holbrook in the title role, and even then, I was irritated by its liberal politics. But since none of those shows feature courtroom theatrics on a regular basis, I must be here to talk about The Lawyers, and if it seems as if once again I'm having trouble getting to the point, there's probably a good reason for it.

The Lawyers
stars Burl Ives as Walter Nichols, a nationally renowned defense attorney from California, along with Joseph Campanella and James Farentino as Brian and Neil Darrell, a pair of lawyer-brothers whom Nichols has taken on as partners, and it has to be said that Ives doesn’t just lend his name to the show, as do so many big stars do when surrounded by younger, more virile co-stars. In the episode in question, "The Shattered Image," he fairly dominates the story, to the point that he doesn't even allow Neil to act as his co-council when Nichols is put on trial himself for jury tampering.

But we're getting ahead of the story at this point, which starts out as a fairly routine murder, with Nichols's client accused of having murdered a popular former jock who'd supposedly attempted to rape the client's wife at a party. There's some reason to think that not everything is the way it appears, and it probably would have been a better story had that been the subtext, but in fact Nichols gets his client off on temporary insanity by bringing to light the checkered past of the former jock, who apparently had a past history of sex crimes. 

This was a great blow to the jock's benefactor, Ralph Turner (Will Geer), a respected member of the community who had taken the young man under his wing at an early age and thought of him as a surrogate son. With his protegee’s image thus tarnished, he contrives with a woman member of the jury (Audrey Totter, in a great cameo) to make it look as if Ives bribed her to come in with a not-guilty verdict, setting up the trial in which Ives defends himself. (It’s only at the end, when he realizes that it was his vanity that caused him to rely on his own skills, that he realizes the truth that a lawyer who defends himself does indeed have a fool for a client.)

Now, every actor has his own method of trying a case. Whereas Perry Mason is stentorian and intimidating, and Clinton Judd forceful and righteous, Walter Nichols is folksy and reasonable, right up until you take the bait and he throws the trap on you. There is a thing, though, as we know there always is: when Ives is speaking in that calm, folksy voice, he sounds remarkably like Sam the Snowman, the character he voiced in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. At times the similarities were so distinct that I expected Nichols to call Rudolph as a surprise witness for the defense, an action that would have triggered great excitement in the courtroom except that the gallery isn't comprised of seven- and eight-year-olds. 

That wasn’t my problem with the episode, though, the thing that caused me to abandon the effort to go further with future episodes. (In fact, if Rudolph had turned up as a defense witness, I might have been encouraged to watch it every hour, waiting to see who else might show up—Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the jury, for instance.) No, it was how the story was resolved—or, rather, how it wasn’t resolved. 

In the first place, Nichols doesn't do a very good job of it; he’s obviously too close to the situation to be objective, and he dismisses Neil's suggestions that he try the case instead (the aforementioned “fool for a client” syndrome), but in the end Nichols realizes that it was all an act of vanity on his part. That becomes his defense; he offers himself as his only witness, a tactic which allows him to make a statement to the jury in lieu of direct examination, and during this statement he gives an impassioned argument for his innocence, coupled with a mea culpa that he’d done a lousy job of defending himself. The reasoning behind this, I suppose, is that the jurors, impressed by the brutal honesty with which he excoriates himself, will also believe he’s being honest when he says he did not tamper with the juror. They accept this, and he’s found not guilty. 


In the meantime, Neil has found a witness who will testify that Turner did, in fact, conspire with the juror, to frame Nichols. Furthermore, Nichols knows that Neil has this witness. Why Nichols doesn’t call this witness to clear his name, rather than depend on the kindness of strangers (in this case, the jurors), is a mystery to me. Your guess is as good as mine.

There’s only one logical reason for it, and there’s one logical problem with that reason. Perhaps Nichols has a kind of compassion for Turner, an old man who sees himself tarnished as his protege was tarnished, and thus he decides to spare him the humiliation of being exposed in court as a perjurer. If that’s as far as it went, I might be able to buy it. It’s not a good reason, but it’s a reason. But here’s the problem: Turner is guilty of jury tampering himself, and in the zero-sum game that is often the law, both he and the juror are going to stand trial anyway. So Nichols isn’t sparing Turner anything. If that’s the case, why even introduce the witness who Nichols doesn’t use, unless it’s to reassure the viewers that Nichols really is innocent. And if your viewers need that kind of reassurance, then maybe you don’t have a very good hero.

I spent the better part of a half-hour following the episode trying to figure all this out, but in the end I had to give up, partly so I could watch another program, but also because I couldn’t come up with any explanation. Perhaps one of you can, in which case I’d be indebted. Maybe, like Nichols, I’m just too close to it to make sense of it. And maybe I’ll return to The Lawyers someday, but for now I think I’ll let Mason and Judd do my defending for me. 

l  l  l

Whatever your preference in attorneys-at-law, it's a fact that there would be no courtroom drama without criminals and policemen, both of which television has an endless supply. One of the more unique police dramas is Tightrope, which ran for one season on CBS in 1959-60 and stars a pre-Mannix Mike Connors as "Nick," an undercover agent who assumes a different name and identity each week as he infiltrates various criminal gangs, and unless I've missed something along the way, this may be the first case of a television show featuring a lead character who's never referred to at any point by name.  

is yet another of the half-hour dramas so prevalent at the time, and while this makes a nice fit with The Felony Squad on Thursdays, I'm not sure that it always works plot-wise. Nick provides a voiceover during each episode, which helps tie the ends together and keep the story moving; even so, though, things seem to happen a little too fast or a little too superficially. On the other hand, since Nick has no personal life of his own, you don't have that angle to encumber things, so maybe you do only need 30 minutes.

Connors is very good in a role that is not unlike playing in an anthology series each week. He has to present himself as a real tough (and occasionally a heel) in order to ingratiate himself with the bad guys; once he's in the inside, he has to figure out ways to avoid getting caught up in things like murder, which can be tough in the instances where he's playing the head crook's enforcer. And since even the local police don't know his identity, only that there's an undercover man working from the inside, he risks getting captured, or worse, by the cops. Walking the tightrope, indeed.

Connors, who always showed an unusual degree of warmth and understanding in Mannix, displays a similar humanity here. He feels empathy for the victims of crime, but isn't allowed to let them in on the secret. He's often ruthless with women, even when they show feelings for him. On occasion, such as when one of his fellow crooks saves his life, he forms a genuine bond with them, but there's no room for softness here.

Speaking of which, frequently he has to rely on a fellow undercover agent to deliver his information to the police, and often it's a race to the finish to see if they'll show up in time, before the bad guys spring their plan. (Spoiler alert: they do show up in time. Every week.) One of the treats in these episodes is to try and pick out the bit character, a barfly or hussy, who at the end is revealed to have been Nick's contact to the law. 

Each episode ends with Nick, wandering the streets of the city at night, destined to be alone for as long as he works both sides of the tightrope, and Connors does a good job of conveying the ambivalence of a man who has to disappear each week into another identity, working both sides of the law, doing a dirty job that he nonetheless realizes has to be done. There's really something noble about that kind of self-sacrifice—and, as Ken Wahl would show many years later in Wiseguy, it's not easy to stay on the tightrope without falling.

Was there more on the TV menu this month? Of course, but I don't always form a conclusion about a show as quickly as I did with The Lawyers. That was a bold move, indeed. TV  


  1. I hope you will return to "The Bold Ones" one day. It had a horrible pilot and a couple of the episodes are annoying liberal screeds, but there were also episodes like "The Invasion of Kevin Ireland," "The Rockford Riddle," "Point of Honor" and "The People Against Dr. Chapman" that were among the finest legal dramas I've ever seen.

  2. Right that's it. I'm off to find The Bold Ones! 😂💪🌹

  3. I should say, for both David and John, that I'll be trying "The Lawyers" again; as I said, I'm a sucker for courtroom dramas, and I should add something that I don't think I really discussed, that Burl Ives, Joseph Campanella, and James Farentino are all very, very good actors. Campanella has always been a favorite of mine, and Burl Ives--well, he's Sam the Snowman, and won an Oscar. What more do you need to say?

    And regardless of the political content of "The Senator," Hal Holbrook is, as we all know, an exceptional actor, someone who elevates everything he's in. I'll have to watch the other two elements again; it's been a long, long time. I mean, I hadn't even moved to the World's Worst Town™ yet.

    1. Actually re-reading this with a view to finding the show, I realize I meant The Senator. I sometimes think TV should be run by librarians then we'd have some hope of finding stuff again and not having so many shows with the same name.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!