Not many people in the population of the United States have ever actually consulted a lawyer, and there are fewer still who have been involved in a courtroom trial or even seen one take place. Despite the raw facts, courtroom dramas are everywhere on television. Anyone who has ever flipped through the channels on their T.V. has come across at least one show which featured courtroom work, lawyers, and investigators at doing their jobs.
The history of lawyers on TV actually dates back to the late 1940s at the very beginning of network television. The earliest works are mostly forgotten by now, but the characters and cases presented in them were once alive in the minds of those in that era. The first filmed courtroom shows were actually recorded in front of a live studio audience. The producers weren't yet certain of the genre that people wanted to see, so they rocked back and forth between real facts and fiction.
At one time the T.V. shows were actually pretty fascinating, albeit completely different from what anyone would see on their T.V. today. The Black Robe aired from 1949-1950, and it would use witnesses and defendants playing as themselves at times. The cases were reenactments from New York City's Night Court, and sometimes an actual criminal would confess. This mixture of fact and fiction lived on throughout the 1950s. In They Stand Accused members of the audience were selected to play jurors and determine the verdict.
As time went on the progression of lawyer shows evolved. Producers began to realize that the audience wanted the consistency which came with fiction. In a fictional setting the shows could be aired at the same time every week. The late 50s, 60s, and 70s brought with them fictional lawyers played by actors who would be much better remembered than their predecessors. The most noteworthy T.V. series of this type was the famous Perry Mason which was aired on CBS from 1957-1966 and starred Raymond Burr. While Perry Mason focused on proving the good guys and putting away the bad ones, other shows such as The Defenders were more complex and controversial. The Defenders was still on television around the same time as Perry Mason, airing on CBS from 1961-1965.
L.A. Law, which aired on NBC from 1986-1994, set a different precedence for lawyers on television. It introduced civil cases into the mix instead of only criminal, and although difficult moral issues were brought into the series L.A. Law also introduced the risque and sometimes materialistic side of lawyers. It also paved the way for women and those of racial diversity.
Law and Order, which is famous for being one of the longest-running lawyer dramas in television history, it is also one of the most popular. Law and Order took the Perry Mason approach in regards to the lawyer's private lives, leaving it under a sheet of some degree of mystery, unlike other series like L.A. Law. Law and Order focuses primarily on integrity being professional. Each T.V. show portrays lawyers and the law in different light and at different angles.