11 June 2006 | Cheyenne-Bodie
William Shatner and Jessica Walter dazzle in "For the People", a precursor of "Law and Order"
Herbert Brodkin was one of the great television producers ("The Defenders", "The Missiles of October", "Pueblo", "Holocaust", "Skokie"). The only producer who rivaled him for quality was David Susskind.
"For the People" (1965) was Brodkin's effort to look at the other side of the case from "The Defenders".
"The Defenders" had grown out of a "Studio One" episode called "The Defender". Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner played father and son lawyers defending young Steve McQueen on a murder charge. E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed played the father and son lawyers in the series.
William Shatner had guest starred on five episodes of "The Defenders" and was signed to play the hero assistant DA in "For the People." This was Shatner's first TV series, although he was an ubiquitous guest star on other peoples shows.
"For the People" was first rate. It was filmed in New York in black and white, and this gave the show a cool, gritty look. Skillfully used sound effects increased the sense of reality. The show was always beautifully cast from the fine pool of actors working out of New York. The best writers and directors worked on the show, as always was the case with Brodkin's shows. Writers included Ernest Kinoy and Harold Gast ("Judd for the Defense").
William Shatner gave a very charismatic, appealing performance as ADA David Koster. Cleveland Amory, in his review in TV Guide, gave the show a rave saying it was even more compelling and probing than "The Defenders". Amory said Shatner was in the "big leagues" with David Janssen, Robert Lansing, Vic Morrow and Richard Crenna.
Jessica Walter played Shatner's lovely, leggy musician wife. Some of the scenes with the two in bed really gave you an eyeful of Walter's impressive figure.
Bald Howard Da Silva (the psychiatrist in "David and Lisa", the bartender in "The Lost Weekend") played Shatner's politically sensitive boss Anthony Celanese. Howard Da Silva had been blacklisted for many years. Da Silva directed at least one episode of the series. Acting teacher Lonny Chapman played Shatner's tough police investigator.
The stories themselves rarely got into the courtroom. They were more concerned with the pre-trial investigation and negotiations.
Brodkin might have packaged his show more imaginatively to try to make it more palatable "for the people". "The Prosecutor" might have been a sexier title than "For the People". The opening credits showed the masses walking about in New York City instead of focusing on the youth and glamor of Shatner and Walter. The episode titles were direct quotes from the New York state law, which could have been a little off-putting. But if producer Brodkin wasn't great at selling the sizzle, he definitely knew how to make a great steak.
The series was on Sunday nights on CBS opposite "Bonanza" in 1965. It was canceled after 13 episodes. "For the People" may have been a business failure, but the quality was so high it made everyone involved look great. The cancellation left William Shatner free to accept the lead in the second pilot of "Star Trek" (after Lloyd Bridges and Jack Lord had turned it down).
"Law and Order" is a reworking of a 1963-64 show called "Arrest and Trial" with Ben Gazzara and Roger Perry as cops, John Kerr and John Larch as DA's, and Chuck Connors and Don Galloway as defense lawyers. But I'm sure Dick Wolfe was also influenced by David Susskind's "N.Y.P.D." and the great "For the People" when he developed his superb series.