In 1961, CBS debuted a courtroom drama series like no other.
Miles ahead of its time in both subject matter and execution, “The Defenders” starred E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as a father-and-son duo of defense attorneys who laid down the law in weekly tales of ethics and responsibility.
While most present-day viewers would recognize Reed as the father on the 1970s sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” Marshall was no stranger to the courthouse, having previously appeared in a number of trial-centric films such as “12 Angry Men,” “Compulsion” and “Town Without Pity.”
The two actors portray Lawrence and Kenneth Preston, who operate their own firm, “Preston & Preston.” Marshall is excellent as Lawrence Preston, a seasoned lawyer who values justice, and Reed shines as his passionate yet occasionally naive son. The show’s brassy and confident opening theme song is an anthem for honor — which the pair of lawyers care deeply about.
“The Defenders” took risks that were otherwise unheard of for television at the time, occasionally touching on topics such as civil rights, atheism and even abortion. The show’s storylines tackled tough moral dilemmas, with each trial often seeing the accused at risk of the death penalty. Sometimes, the technicalities involved in each case are so intricate that audiences may find themselves pondering the workings of law as a whole.
The series is a sharp contrast to “Perry Mason,” the popular courtroom drama that ran from 1957-1966. In it, the show’s namesake lawyer won practically every case, which often involved murder-mysteries, glamourous subjects and dramatic reveals. Conversely, “The Defenders” honed in on real-life law procedures with a focus on everyday people in high-stakes predicaments.
The next time you’re looking for gritty courtroom tales that blend realism, poignance and humanity, give “The Defenders” a try.