Ever since the dawn of television, we’ve seen a million-and-one legal dramas come and go and some are clearly better than others. That said, we’ve made a distinct list of the best-of-the-best legal shows of all time – the top 10 law and legal series in the history of television. Enjoy. From the Minnesota domestic violence lawyers at Keyser Law Firm.
1. Law & Order , Law & Order SVU … L.A. … U.K. … Criminal Intent, no matter what you call it, when you’ve spawned as many spin-offs and sub-shows as the Law & Order series has, you’re no doubt deserving of the number one spot on this list. Now on its 20th season and counting, Law & Order is the longest running law series and the second longest running drama series in the history of TV!
2. Perry Mason
Aired on CBS for the entirety of its programming life (1957-1966), Perry Mason was a black and white legal drama that was a pioneer for the genre. Starring Raymond Burr as the crafty defense attorney for the wrongly accused, Mason made a formula out of cracking cases and getting the real culprit to dramatically confess their crimes in court.
Starring the one-and-only Andy Griffith and airing for nearly a decade in total (1986 to 1995), Matlock is color TV’s answer to Perry Mason. Although it bounced around a few networks in its lifespan, this crime drama is truly one of the most instantly recognizable TV series of its kind.
4. Night Court
On the lighter side of the genre, rather than a legal drama, Night Court is a most popular legal situation comedy that ran for nine seasons from 1984 to 1992. Starring Harry Anderson as a judge presiding over a night-shift court in Manhattan and John Larroquette who won four consecutive Emmys for best supporting actor in a comedy series, the show was nominated for thirty-one Emmys in total.
5. The Practice
Winning an Emmy in 1999 for “Best Drama Series,” The Practice was a Boston-based legal drama starring Dylan McDermott that ran for eight seasons (1997 to 2004). In addition to being its own TV powerhouse, it was successful enough to spawn the spin-off series Boston Legal, a lighter series that ran from 2004 to 2008.
While the other series on this list showcase the more “civilian” matters of law, the blockbuster hit movie A Few Good Men inspired NBC productions to produce the TV series known as JAG, a popular legal drama that functioned within the military courts. Running for a full decade (1995-2005), JAG (a military acronym for Judge Advocate General) really only ended because disgruntled star David James Elliott left the show because he was unhappy with the terms of a contract extension.
7. L.A. Law
Best known for being a sign of the times, L.A. Law was a legal drama that based most of its scripted cases on the controversial issues of the era; abortion, gay rights, AIDS, sexual harassment and domestic violence. Airing from 1986 to 1994, the show won many Emmy Awards across the years and ultimately tied the record for most acting nominations by regular cast members for a single season (tied with Hill Street Blues and The West Wing).
8. The Defenders
Based on a father and son defense attorney duo, The Defenders is one of the more vintage TV series on the list (1961-1965), but every bit as notable as its modern competition. Starring EG Marshall and Robert Reed (aka Mike Brady), The Defenders won thirteen Emmy Awards in total and received an additional 7 nominations, making it one of the most celebrated legal dramas in its day … or any other.
9. Ally McBeal
Although the show received some criticism from feminists that claimed the main character (Calista Flockhart) was annoying and demeaning toward women, the legal comedy-drama Ally McBeal was still a major success in its day (1997 to 2002). While the critics will say what they will, the more important powers-that-be nominated the series for countless Golden Globes, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards, actually winning eight in total.
10. Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law
This may not rank amongst the Law & Orders and Perry Masons of the past, but for sake of variety and argument, Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law has made its own mark in a most unique way. While it’s a contemporary animated comedy, it’s worth inclusion on this list because it lasted 7 seasons (2000-2007), spawned a video game for all of the most popular videogame consoles and was named the 91st Best Animated Series of all time by IGN. Say what you will, the TV series has a loyal, albeit cult, following.
11. HONORABLE MENTIONS
Rumpole of the Bailey (1978-1992)
Boston Legal (2004-2008)
Judging Amy (1999-2005)
Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law (1971-1974)