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The Emmys, the Golden Globes, People’s Choice, Humanitas, MTV, ALMA — everyone else has television awards. We figure lawyers and law students deserve some, too. As the 2000-2001 TV season fades to black, JD Jungle presents the first annual Golden Monkeys. What’s a Golden Monkey? It’s the most contrived award in legal television. Who are the judges? You, the television-consuming J.D. public (specifically, six UCLA Law School students — second-year Jason Fisher and third-years Claudia Castillo, Danielle Klausner, Star Bobatoon, Jason Kaplan, and Jesse Rothwell. What first-year has time to watch TV?) Deliberating in the UCLA law lounge, just a latte’s throw from Hollywood, the group vetted the 30-plus law-related programs currently on the air — from “Law & Order” to “Judge Mills Lane” — and reached a consensus on the 10 best and the five worst shows. Among the surprise verdicts: Reality shows took five of the top 10 spots, and the seemingly humble “Power of Attorney” was dubbed “the worst legal show of all time.” And now, JD Jungle’s first annual Golden Monkeys. TOP TEN #1: “LAW & ORDER” Students cheer the NBC program’s authentic depiction of the criminal justice system. “It’s definitely the most realistic,” says UCLA 3L Jesse Rothwell. “It actually talks about problems that lawyers really face, especially in the area of rules of evidence.” The students also like the show’s use of genuine “ripped-from-the-headlines” cases. “But they throw in an original twist,” says 3L Jason Kaplan, “so it’s not just what you’re expecting.” #2: “THE PRACTICE“ Though less true to life than “Law & Order ,” ABC’s “ The Practice” wins points for its “gripping” explorations of the ethical and moral dilemmas faced by lawyers. “In my professional-responsibility class, “The Practice” came up almost every day,” says 3L Claudia Castillo. “We’d say, ‘Last night, Bobby did this. Is that appropriate?’ and we’d look at the rule to see.” Students also love the weirdly wicked plots. One holdout: Kaplan, who thinks the 1999-2000 twist about severed-head-toting podiatrist George Vogelman “stunk. It stressed me out. And I just don’t need any more stress.” #3: “ALLY MCBEAL” On the one hand, Castillo confesses to attending “Ally” viewing parties and even dressing like Ms. McBeal. “I love ‘Ally’!” she gushes. “I love Robert Downey Jr.!” On the other hand, Fox’s “Ally” makes others, well … “It’s not about the law,” Rothwell sniffs. “It’s about outrageous people who happen to work at a law firm.” The bottom line: The group voted the show number three. (Shocking secret: People who say they hate this show often actually … like it.) #4: COURT TV TRIAL COVERAGE For law students itching to get at the real thing themselves, it’s tough to beat live televised trials. “When I have free time, I’ll watch for four hours straight,” says 2L Jason Fisher. The panel splits when it comes to the play-by-play commentary. Rothwell thinks the chatter breaks up the dull moments, but other students feel it ruins the purity of the events. Castillo, a fan, says she feels guilty about tuning in. “I don’t like to see people go to jail. It makes me sad.” But, she adds, “I watch anyway.” #5: “JUSTICE FILES” The panel is all for this program’s straightforward documentaries. Whether it focuses on DNA testing or the insanity defense, the show (aired on the Discovery Channel) presents the often tedious work of lawyers in all its slow-moving glory. Fictional shows “give an unrealistic perception that the legal system works fast,” says Rothwell. “When you watch ‘Justice Files ,‘ you get a better sense of the reality.” #6: “ARREST & TRIAL“ Another real-case program, “Arrest & Trial,” wins points for its use of documentary news footage and its balanced approach to trials. The show also scores with the panel for being the only syndicated legal show that doesn’t involve a cheesy judge. “At least [Judge] Wapner had a mind-set of ‘I’m an officer of the court,’ ” says Kaplan. “ Now people are tuning in to see judges act like fools.” #7: “AMERICAN JUSTICE” The fourth of the four real-case shows to crack the top ten, A&E’s “American Justice” was singled out for its depth and authority. Students love the thorough examinations of such choice bits of infamy as the Manson family murders (the two-part special on Charlie and Co. was one of the program’s highest-rated shows). They also like the flinty, eerie voice of host Bill Kurtis. #8: “BURDEN OF PROOF” The live half-hour program — in which CNN attorney-pundits Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack grill news making lawyers, judges and politicians — wins an eighth-place finish for its brainpower. “They’re intelligent,” says Kaplan of Van Susteren and Cossack. “It’s less entertainment and more credible journalism,” says 3L Danielle Klausner. Levelheaded Van Susteren is especially appealing. “She’s the anti-Judge Judy,” says Fisher. #9: “LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT“ The students consider “Law & Order: SVU” to be less a spin-off than an extra weekly episode of their number one show. “I watch it every bit as much as the original,” says Fisher. Rothwell, however, thinks the sequel’s cast lacks the sizzle of Angie Harmon, Sam Waterston, et al. “They don’t have the same aura,” he says. The exception is deadpan Detective John Munch (comedian Richard Belzer), a group favorite. #10: “THE DISTRICT” So what if it’s not strictly about lawyers. It’s about cops, and that’s close enough. Fisher, who calls himself “a huge fan,” finds the CBS drama about the Washington, D.C., police commissioner “extremely multifaceted. It shows all the ways a commissioner gets pulled — by politicians, by cops, by constituents.” THE BOMBS “JAG” Students see this CBS drama about lawyers in an elite military legal wing as a poor imitation of the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” The focus on the soap-opera-like love lives of the principals is a huge turnoff. “Hate it,” says 3L Star Bobatoon. “Ridiculous,” says Danielee Klausner. “POWER OF ATTORNEY” How bad can a reality-based daytime court show — with real lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants — be? Apparently, very bad. “It’s the worst legal show of all time,” says Kaplan of the syndicated program. “It’s like someone said, ‘Let’s have lawyers be the most outrageous, obnoxious jerks they can be.’ “ JUDGES JUDY, JOE BROWN, MILLS LANE, HATCHETT AND MATHIS If our panel had its way, the whole daytime-judges-show genre would be deep-sixed. “It’s not about the law at all,” says Bobatoon. “It’s about one person having an opportunity to call another person an idiot. It’s like street fighting, really. And the people watching are thinking that this is what law is actually like.” “ED” The very premise of a former big-city attorney opening a small-town bowling alley/law practice sickens most of our judges. The fact that a recent episode included the most tired and old of tired old lawyer jokes (“Why don’t sharks eat lawyers? Professional courtesy.”) was full-on nauseating. The new NBC “dramedy” was considered neither dramatic nor funny by the panel (though a few students did like Tom Cavanagh in the lead role). What the show was considered was “sappy.” “JUDGING AMY” Although the show’s star and executive producer, Amy Brenneman, based her character on her mother — semi-retired Connecticut juvenile court judge Frederica Brenneman — the panel does not find the CBS series at all authentic. “There are no discussions of the law or cases or anything,” says Rothwell. “There are just different parties who make all kinds of emotional arguments, and Amy just does whatever she thinks is right.” This article originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of JD Jungle.

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