The Hollywood trades and websites carried a news report that caught my eye: TV show producer Steven Bochco is working on a reboot of a show that I used to like to watch, but over time grew to have problems with. That show was “L.A. Law.”
It debuted a long time ago — 1986 — and was on the air on NBC until it ran out of steam at 171 episodes in 1994 (there was also a 2002 telefilm), to be replaced by another show that would claim an even larger hold on the zeitgeist: “ER.”
A nighttime soap opera, “L.A. Law” was set in the fictional downtown law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak. The show’s co-creator was Terry Louise Fisher (who would have an acrimonious departure from the show), but Bochco, now 72, seemed to get the lion’s share of publicity in his and the show’s heyday. Maybe that’s because his list of credits, which go back to the 1960s, include “NYPD Blue,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “Hill Street Blues,” and, of course, the interesting experiment known as “Cop Rock.”
The show’s ensemble cast included Richard Dysart as law firm patriarch Leland McKenzie, Alan Rachins as Doug Brackman Jr., Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker — a real-life married couple — playing Ann Kelsey and Stuart Markowitz, who are having an in-office romance, Corbin Bernsen as office Lothario Arnie Becker, and former “Partridge Family” heartthrob Susan Dey as Grace Van Owen and Harry Hamlin as Michael Kuzak, with those two also as a couple. There was also Michele Green and Susan Ruttan in the ensemble. While others would come and go, those were the main characters, introduced in the first season.
“L.A. Law” is also notable for launching the career of David E. Kelley, who would go on to become an uber-TV show producer and creator in his own right.
I haven’t seen an episode in years and don’t really know how well it holds up. But, like many shows that live on in our memories, the most memorable thing is the show’s intro: the snazzy theme song, kicking off with the thunk of a closing car trunk, revealing the vanity plate LA LAW, followed by shots of the ensemble cast members doing lawyerly things like walking through the halls of the law firm or the courthouse, chatting, gesturing and so on. (Seasons of “L.A. Law” have been released on DVD by Shout! Factory beginning a couple of years ago; visit http://tinyurl.com/ja6r6xf to see the show’s opening. Some episodes are also available on YouTube, like nearly everything these days.)
So, not having seen a show in decades now, I wish I had the time to catch up with “L.A. Law” and see what made it so compelling at that time. I do remember it as at least having a sense of humor. But just like the Downtown Los Angeles skyline has since changed (along with that now-defunct but great setting-sun California license plate), the shows have not, meaning it’s now a period piece where CRT computer displays stick out like antiques in this day of flatscreen monitors and laptops.
The other thing that sticks in my craw about “L.A. Law” was how the show — set in one of the nation’s most diverse cities — was so consciously Caucasian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I suppose — if the show was set in Montana and titled “Butte Law.” And, to be fair, the show did introduce us to Jimmy Smits as Victor Sifuentes, a Latino attorney, and later, Blair Underwood as Jonathan Rollins, an African American attorney. There was also the late Larry Drake as Benny Stulwicz, a mentally challenged office assistant.
I guess what really annoyed me was how “L.A. Law” didn’t even have a regularly appearing Sifuentes or Rollins type side character who was Asian American. Clyde Kusatsu played a judge in one episode, while Emily Kuroda was in six episodes and Catherine Dao appeared in two episodes.
Contrast that to the real-life L.A. law drama involving O.J. Simpson. Both the criminal and the civil trials had Japanese American judges in Lance Ito and Hiroshi Fujisaki, respectively. It was just odd that “L.A. Law” failed in such an obvious way. Why Bochco never thought to include an Asian American lawyer is one of those things that I hope he now realizes was an oversight.
It’s too early to tell whether a rebooted “L.A. Law” will even make the cut. It if does, I would imagine there’d be room for at least one of the original cast members to perhaps play a patriarchal figure like Dysart’s Leland McKenzie. If “L.A. Law” should be resurrected in, say, 2017 as a prime-time TV show, I know there will be main characters who are black or Latino. There may even be a Muslim.
But there will also need to be at least one Asian American attorney among the cast; maybe someone like Daniel Henney taking the part of the office stud originally played by Bernsen, with maybe an acerbic Ali Wong as his foil, also working for McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak. That’s an “L.A. Law” I’d watch.
Rafu Subscription Drive Dept.: Gotta say “thank you” to the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple for allowing The Rafu Shimpo to have a table last weekend at its Obon fest! I was there Saturday and Sunday (no, I didn’t dance — that would not have been pretty) manning the table with help from Vince Matsudaira and Mary Uyematsu Kao. Saw many people I hadn’t seen in years, met some new folks and actually sold some subscriptions! It was fun.
On that topic, by now you’ve probably seen the Tuesday, Aug. 2 Rafu Shimpo and the front-page story about the turnaround team composed of Ellen Endo and Mark Nakakihara. This is good news on many levels. Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed that this paper in moving in the right direction and will turn the corner to a brighter future.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2016 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.