22 July 2004 | vertigo_14
Terrific legal drama before Tony Danza's arrival.
Before CBS became quite successful with the legal drama of Judging Amy, there was a short-lived series called 'Family Law,' starring some of television's better stars (Kathleen Quinlin, Christopher MacDonald, and my favorite, Dixie Carter) as attorneys in a California law firm.
Likewise, the show followed a 1998 show called 'L.A. Doctors,' which seemed to be quite a similar, fast-paced drama, except involving doctors (and that's pretty much what any drama is these days if it isn't about cops: lawyers and doctors), which itself was not a bad show, starring Ken Olin and Matt Craven, but it, too being short-lived.
'Family Law' was both a funny drama and also addressed some pretty good policy issues, including unique legal issues. For example, there was one episode where Dixie Carter's character, Randi King, takes a case that she is sure is going to get thrown out of court--I think it had to do with social responsibility of bartenders or something--but the judge actually agrees to take the case, and it becomes this hilarious legal issue (not that the issue of drunks and the responsibility of bartenders is any laughing matter). Christopher MacDonald (as Rex Weller), too, was the witty cynic who seemed to enjoy screening cases based on the pay-off, was another element of comedy relief, whereas Kathleen Quinlin's character, Lynn Holt, and her usual partner often took the policy issues that dealt with all sorts of family law issues such as child abuse, divorce, etc. and in a way that often hit home for Lynn Holt, as (like Judging Amy's lead character, Amy Gray), her cases often paralelled with situations in her life as the single mother of two young children.
The show was pretty funny (mostly because of Christopher MacDonald and Dixie Carter-->who came in the show less and less over the years), and you got a pretty good mix of about three cases going on in each episode.
Then, everything changed and Tony Danza, an terribly eager idealist (and not too much realist) "fighting for the little guy" type of attorney, Joe Selano, was added to the cast for the remaining two years. The format of the show changed as well, and I suppose it was all because of the network scrambling to do what they could to boost ratings (instead of working with writers or other things, they went the easy route--a new look). Suddenly, the law firm changed. One of the main female characters left the show and much of her screentime then shifted to Tony Danza, who's character was sometimes very irritating. Dixie Carter all but disappeared entirely, and even Christopher MacDonald made rare appearances. By then, each episode seemed to only manifest importance on one case, one particular set of events that would amass the whole show.
They did this too, with an old CBS show, Early Edition in which the episode used to hinge on three or more stories and no real main plot (usually just a collage of subplots, but interesting ones nonetheless), until it became entirely focused on one plot in each episode. If the plot wasn't interesting, or was weak, then so was the episode. That show didn't last long either.
This is unfortunate considering the potential of the cast as well as the issues at hand that were offered in the first half of the seasons on air (the show ran till 2002). It was actually a pretty funny show, but once they reformated everything, it was all downhill from there. It may be lost to obscurity forever, but if you do every catch the reruns, I highly recommend the pre-Danza shows. They were funny and thought-provoking.