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Much as the justices of the Supreme Court seek to protect the Court’s mystique as well as their privacy, television wants to humanize the institution that holds heavy sway over people’s lives. ABC and CBS are developing shows that promise a peek behind the high court’s red curtains — and into the lives of nine justices and their staffs. Not that the real justices relish that thought. Rob Scheidlinger, who is producing ABC’s “The Court,” discussed his plans with Chief Justice William Rehnquist more than a year ago. Scheidlinger said he assured Rehnquist the show would not be a “roman a clef,” with real justices only thinly disguised as fictional characters. “He was actually very direct with me. If it was up to him,” there would be no show, Scheidlinger said. “I don’t imagine anyone working on the Court is looking forward to a television series about them. This is something they don’t have control of.” Much of the Court’s life is pretty quiet — studious and bland — and likely unattractive as television material. Assuming that no one would watch an hour of people reading and discussing arcane legal issues, the plots will have to be a little spicier. “What they do is stunningly boring in real life,” said UCLA law school professor Michael Asimow, who has studied entertainment industry depictions of lawyers and courts. “Even though the institution deals with very big issues, nothing very exciting ever happens.” He predicts the shows will look like legal soap operas where the characters’ sex lives and personal problems get at least equal billing with constitutional law. Both “The Court,” in development for ABC, and a rival “First Monday” at CBS, are ensemble dramas modeled in part on NBC’s successful Washington-based show “West Wing.” “West Wing,” now in its second season, got a lot of access to the Clinton White House that the show resembles. The show’s cast and crew were allowed in the building and on the grounds at the White House, and allowed to film the real Air Force One. That kind of Hollywood-Washington cross-pollination will not take place at the Supreme Court. The Court bans commercial filming inside the building, but sometimes grants requests to use the columned exterior in projects dealing specifically with the Court. “I would just hope the Court would be treated with the respect and dignity that the institution deserves,” Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. “I would hope that of any project.” The real-life Court prides itself on decorum and tradition — coats and ties for men in the courtroom, please, and absolutely no cell phones. A few skeletons have escaped the Court closet over the years, such as the inconvenient fact that Justice Robert Jackson happened to be at his secretary’s apartment when he died in 1954, but the Court is unusual in Washington for keeping its secrets well. Accounts of petty rivalries and power plays in the 1979 book “The Brethren” horrified the justices and many of their admirers. The book said that as a new justice in 1975, John Paul Stevens regarded then-Chief Justice Warren Burger as inept and sneaky. Then-Justice Byron White was said to regard Stevens as erratic. More recently, there were disapproving clucks when a former law clerk wrote that two clerks got into a shoving match in a Court hallway. So far both shows are pilots, with hopes the networks will pick them up as full series. Networks announce their fall lineups in mid-May. “The Court,” produced by Touchstone Television, focuses on the heady Washington experiences and tangled personal lives of telegenic young law clerks. Sally Field stars as a left-leaning justice. “First Monday” stars James Garner as an aging lion of a chief justice. The show is named for the traditional start of the annual Court term on the first Monday in October. Some of the pilot is being shot in a mock courtroom built in a Los Angeles airplane hangar. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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