L.A. Law is an American legal drama series that ran on NBC for eight seasons, from 1986 to 1994. The show centered on the tensions between the wealthy senior lawyers and the lesser-paid junior staff of the Los Angeles-based law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak. The attorneys tackled hot-topic issues like abortion, racism, capital punishment, domestic violence, sexual harassment, homophobia, gay rights and AIDS. While doing these, the show also made American TV history.
Created by Steven Bocho and Terry Louise Fisher, this show featured many of Boncho’s trademark features like including an ensemble cast, social drama, lots of parallel storylines and off-the-wall humor. The series blended current events, soap opera, stark drama and outrageous comedy all in one. It also featured the then relatively unknown actors and actresses in guest starring roles, who later went on to become more famous in the world of TV and film, including Kathy Bates, David Schwimmer, Gates McFadden, Bran Cranston, James Avery, Jay Sanders, Lucy Liu, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and more.
Throughout the show’s run, L.A. Law gained a lot of audiences and critics, and won 15 Emmy Awards, including winning Outstanding Drama Series for four times.
To learn more about the show’s behind-the-scenes info, here are some interesting facts that you probably didn’t know:
1. The show featured the first lesbian kiss on American network TV
Like mentioned earlier, the show made history, and one was showing the first lesbian kiss on TV. Amanda Donohoe (who played CJ Lamb) and Michele Greene (Abby Perkins) kissed on a scene and it was groundbreaking at the time. L.A. Law never intended to explore relationships between women, and Greene revealed that it was only a sweeps stunt. A lot were shocked, and some advertisers pulled out their commercials, but NBC replaced them so the show didn’t lose money.
2. They weren’t cheap when it comes to set design
Three sets were built for the series, including the exact replica of the Los Angeles courtroom, complete with an elevator and a removable jury box. On the office of the lawyers, there were plugged-in desktop computers, polished terrazzo floors and imported Italian furniture. They spent a whopping $1 million and more for these sets. The wardrobe wasn’t cheap either. They lend the actors designer clothes, so the wardrobe budget was around $40,000 per episode.
3. The theme music was written around a car trunk slamming
The opening credits sequence for every episode began with a close-up of a car trunk being slammed shut, revealing a personalized California license plate “LA LAW.” Steven Bochco hired composer Mike Post, and told him that he wanted this opening sequence, so Post wrote the L.A. Law theme music based on that directive.
4. Corbin Bernsen had trouble figuring out his character
Corbin Bernsen became an overnight sensation as the womanizing divorce attorney, Arnie Becker. But Bernsen first auditioned for the role of Michael Kuzak (which went to Harry Hamlin), and was suffering from the flue. Bochco thought his performance was a little disappointing, because he thought Bernsen was good-looking enough to be in the show. Bochco told him that, “If you ever come out to L.A., we’ll do something with you. So give us a call.” The actor got an insight about his Arnie Becker role while running down on Mulholland Drive one day. There was a woman with blonde hair turning her head in slow motion to look at him running along. He called in Steven Bochco and said, he can bring Arnie back in his own TV series. He went in the next day and the day after he got the job.
5. Harry Hamlin was always eating something every conference room scene
Harry Hamlin wasn’t supposed to touch food on the table during the conference scenes as the food were strictly for props. But on the very first conference room scene on the pilot, Hamlin reached over and pulled a sandwich toward him. It was an unexpected move, and he picked it up as they were shooting his last bit. He had his mouth full of food. In the next conference room scene, there was a plate of croissants, and that’s when he thought “I will make this a thing.” Since then, he was eating in every conference room scene, and this became a running gag with the prop department.
6. Jill Eikenberry was fighting breast cancer during the first season of the show
Jill Eikenberry (who played Ann Kelsey) was diagnosed with breast cancer after shooting the pilot episode. Her husband, Michael Tucker (who was Stuart Markowitz on the show) informed Bochco that they are planning to back out from the show because of it. However, Bochco assured them that Eikenberry would be off the set by 5 PM to go to UCLA for radiation treatments. They revealed this to the public in 1988.
7. Terry Louise Fisher made up the “Venus Butterfly.”
Speaking of the real-life couple Eikenberry and Tucker, both their characters turned a lot of heads in an episode wherein Stuart won Ann over with his mysterious sexual technique called “The Venus Butterfly.” The idea was initially talked about by Bochco and Eikenberry, but it was Terry Louise Fisher who wrote that part of the episode. This would later win the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. Viewers wrote in and begged the writers to reveal what the sex technique was, but Fisher insisted that she only made that up. It was so phenomenal that even a perfume company and erotic toy manufacturer asked Bochco to buy the rights for the “Venus Butterfly” name, but he turned them down.
8. Diana Muldaur was shocked at her elevator death
One of the executive producers, David E. Kelley, explained that the role of Rosalind Shays (played by Diana Muldaur) was a finite character because he didn’t want her to either lose her edge or become nicer over time. This made sense to the writers, the more they thought about having her fall down an empty elevator shaft. Kelley didn’t tell Muldaur that her character was going to die before sending her the script to an episode from season five, but he warned the actress in the past that her character won’t last long. In an interview, she claimed that she had no idea that her character would be cut off until reading the script. But her demise became one of the most famous scenes from the series, and was even referenced in The Star Trek Encyclopedia.
9. Steven Bochco liked to punish the character of his brother-in-law
Bochco’s sister Joanna Frank was married to Alan Rachins, who played Douglas Brackman Jr. on the show. He seemed to like making fun of his brother-in-law by bringing in mishaps that Douglas had to experience on the story. In L.A. Law, the boorish, balding Douglas “has had a Slinky caught in his braces, has engaged the services of a sex therapist because sex gives him gas and makes him faint, flipped his toupee in aerobics class while trying to impress the young instructor, discovered he has a pair of boorish, balding half-brothers, been arrested in a sushi bar and has voted himself out of the senior partnership at the firm that bears his father’s name.” Besides that, he was also hung upside down in a hospital room due to undergoing skin grafts on his posterior. The unfortunate, humiliating incidents on the character’s life was already too many that the third season was focused on bringing Douglas “back to normalcy.”
10. The show influenced law and court proceedings in real life
A Miami Beach lawyer in 1990 once argued to an unconvinced judge that the jury had acquitted the doctor’s in his client’s malpractice suit, because the case was very similar to the case in one storyline in an episode of L.A. Law, where the doctor defendant had also been found free of guilt. That lawyer asked the judge to question the jurors to check if they had been influenced by what they had seen. The lawyer’s motion was ridiculed by his opponents and was denied by the judge – who happens to be a fan of the show but missed the episode in question.
Not long after the episodes wherein Abby Perkins fought to regain custody of her little boy, the actress Michele Greene received a letter from a Texas attorney, stating that the show had affected the outcome of a child-abuse case in that state. The lawyer also said it was nice to know that the TV people are now getting people to think about something.
It was also reported that the popularity of L.A. Law caused a spike in applications to law schools, dominated classroom discussions, and was even blamed for disillusioning graduates once they discovered how different the real world is. Some lawyers said that the show changed their approach when it comes to attire and the way they talk to juries.