27 December 2016 | GMJames
TV movie and series showed promise, failed for numerous reasons. (2016 DVD)
In October 1969, one of the first "Movie of the Week" programs aired on ABC was "The Young Lawyers". Written by Michael Zagor, whose credits include co-writing the two-part finale of "The Fugitive" and several episodes of "Ben Casey," "I Spy," and co-creator of "The Bill Cosby Show" (1969), the movie starred Jason Evers as attorney Michael Cannon, who leaves his Boston law practice to become the director of the Neighborhood Law Office, which serves people who can't afford to hire an attorney. Three law students, Aaron Silverman (Zalman King), Ann Walters (Judy Pace) and David Harrison (Tom Holland, a.k.a. Tom Fielding), assist in helping people who need legal services. In the pilot, the group helps two musicians (Richard Pryor and Dick Bass) who are accused of robbing and beating up a cab driver (Keenan Wynn). Looking closer into the driver's background, the students found some proof suggesting a cover-up involving the driver's unstable son (Michael Parks).
The TV movie rated very well in its premiere broadcast that ABC commissioned a total of 24 episodes for the 1970-71 television season. However, the network and Paramount Television decided to recast the lead character and remove one of the three young lawyers. Jason Evers was replaced by Lee J. Cobb, who plays David Barrett on the series. King and Pace were re-hired for the series, while Tom Holland was not hired.
The series premiered the same night as the first ABC Monday Night Football game, which meant that in the fall of 1970, "The Young Lawyers" would air at 7:30 PM Eastern/6:30 PM Central but air after the football game in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Unlike MNF, which aired on ABC for 35 seasons, not many shows in the time slot before the game lasted very long and "The Young Lawyers" was no exception. I believe "The Rookies" and the original "MacGyver" were the only shows lasting longer than 2 seasons.
It also didn't help that the show was scheduled against several highly-rated TV series. On Mondays, it aired opposite "Gunsmoke" and "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." When the series was moved to Wednesdays in January 1971, it aired against "Hawaii Five-O."
In addition to poor scheduling, the series struggled to find its voice. For every 3-4 good to very good episodes, there were 4-5 segments that were not well-written. There were numerous writers-for-hire for the program, which may explain why the series was extremely uneven. I also thought that it was not fair that Zalman King was given more material throughout the season and the characters played by Cobb and Pace were not properly fleshed out. In a 1970 interview with the Seattle Times promoting the series, King agreed with that assessment.
A new character played by Philip Clark appeared in mid-season suggests that the decision to remove the 3rd young lawyer character introduced in the pilot was a mistake. A few more characters may have helped to balance the story lines and not have King's character carry the brunt of the story lines.
As of this posting, I'm viewing the made-to-order DVD of the series, which includes the 1969 pilot. Although the DVD has a disclaimer indicating that some segments may have been edited from the original network version, it looks like most, if not all, of the hour-long episodes averaged a 50+ minute running time. The prints have some dust and scratches but view-able. As with many made-to-order releases, there was no closed captioning and no extras.
Because of studio interference, network tinkering and poor scheduling; "The Young Lawyers" was never given a chance to grow and creatively thrive. Although I'm not as impressed with the series now that when I watched it as an impressionable 8 year old, I would recommend watching some of the episodes including "The Glass Cage," "False Witness," "The Outspoken Silence," and "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" to show what the series could have been if the show was given a chance.
One more thing. The theme song composed by Lalo Schifrin has been in the back of my mind any time a Volkswagen Bus drives by.