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In keeping with his job description, my son Sam brought home the stomach flu from some 9-year-old-centric activity last week, and, true to form, I caught it as quickly as a parent can. In between trips to the WC to deal with my malady, I seized the remote control to catch up on the state of lawyer television. Admittedly, my attention may have been colored by my need to address certain other issues, but, I am saddened to report, the state of lawyer TV is one of rapid, nay, cataclysmic decline. Gone are the days when television lawyers had unisex restrooms, nicknames like “the Biscuit” and whistling noses. Gone even are the sainted old, old days when the L.A. County district attorney’s office had one poor soul, ADA Hamilton Berger, who felt that the best way to make his pre-401K vest was by being pummeled once a week by a solo whose secretary was played by the first actress to kiss Frank Sinatra in a movie and whose private investigator had a DA haircut and a convertible. Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about “Perry Mason,” who, to my knowledge, never once got in a flap with a client over a retainer and who never, ever, ever, ever was accused of ineffective assistance of counsel. Instead, we poor denizens of 21st-century TV land have the thin gruel of two basic recurring, redundant plot lines to satisfy our cravings for TV lawyers. Line No. 1 is the “Law and Order” (fill in the blank) franchise and Line No. 2 is the “CSI” [fill in the blank] franchise. “Franchise,” for those of you who pay more attention to the CNN/CNNHN/CNNFN franchise or to the “60 Minutes,” “60 Minutes 2,” “48 Hours” franchise, is TV talk for a cloneable plot line/screenplay pretty much like my mother’s Christmas cookies: the same dough with different sprinkles on top. (Sorry, mom. I still like them. I just caught on to what you were doing.) When you think about it, both franchises have pretty much the same array of characters. Each has the “Grizzled Cynic.” If it pleases the court, see, as exhibit No. 1, Jerry Orbach on “Law & Order.” Exhibit No. 2, David Caruso on “CSI Miami.” Exhibit No. 3, L&O’s Sam Waterston, whose character could have taught Sam Clemens a thing or two about directed cynicism. (You get extra points if you know what his character name is.) Each has the “Earnest Youngster.” For exhibit No. 4, I offer Emily Procter, who went from earnest, if famished, Republican foil for “The West Wing” gang to earnest, if famished, “CSI: Miami” tech Calleigh Duquesne. If you don’t believe me, go to the “CSI: Miami” Web site for a full rundown on Duquesne’s biography. Another “earnest youngster” is Angie Harmon, formerly of L&O, whom I offer as exhibit No. 5. Other exhibits � No. 6 through infinity � include an array of foils ranging from former rapper Ice-T, playing Det. Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on L&O, to former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. Apparently he left the real Senate to run for the fake Manhattan DA, presumably on the ground that the campaign finance laws are easier to meet on NBC than they are in the U.S. Senate. As I write this, I keep hearing fractured Stephen Sondheim, “Send in the clones.” I rest my case, your honor. THE FRANCHISE Well, campers, any bias imparted by the stomach flu notwithstanding, it’s time for us lawyers to rise up before we all are measured against the “earnest” or “cynical” metric and come up wanting. We, the lawyer-viewers � well, at least the people who flip by constant reruns of the law franchises looking for the “Sports Center” franchise or the infomercial franchise � need to speak out now to demand television shows that realistically portray what it’s like to be a lawyer in today’s legal world. So herewith are a few suggestions to the networks, cable channels and others involved in returning the noble legal profession to its rightful place on TV. For those who feel that tradition (read existing franchises) are the way to go, I propose the logical next step from “Law & Order: SVU” � “Law & Order: SUV,” a realistic hard-hitting quasi-documentary programming the crimes of sport utility vehicle owners and those who love, oops, abet them. What really happened in that upscale suburban soccer mom’s Escalade? Where did Junior get the money he needed to fill-up for the Navigator? This is, like, so obvious I’m surprised the producers of L&O haven’t thought of it already, but since they haven’t, let me further foment the copyright infringement suit by suggesting that when Ralph Nader loses his latest bid for the White House, he plays the Fred Thompson card and goes for top billing here. Next, we take back the game shows. I’m sick of hearing about some computer geek who has racked up untold gazillions of dollars on a game show just because he happens to know that Suva is the capital of Fiji and has retained sufficient reflexes to push his answer button before anyone else. “Jeopardy” is about the Fifth Amendment and when someone can be punished again for the same offense. I ask you, which is more exciting? Watching the aforesaid computer geek go game after game beating unsuspecting patsies or having Alex Trebek help us determine whether New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer can try Martha Stewart on state securities charges when the feds are done with her? If you picked computer geek, turn in your bar card. These are just a couple of the many possibilities to take back prime time. But if we’re going to keep Waterston from being America’s poster child for cynicism, we have to act now. So let’s buy some Escalades and start working out plot lines. See you in the gas line. We’ll compare notes. Tom Alleman, a shareholder in the environmental and insurance practice groups at Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Dallas, believes lawyer television reached its peak with “Trials of O’Brien.” This article was originally published in Texas Lawyer, a Recorder affiliate.

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