15 Fascinating Facts About L.A. Law
Created by Steven Bochco, the mind behind one of the most innovative network shows ever in Hill Street Blues, and Terry Louise Fisher, a former entertainment lawyer, novelist, and Cagney & Lacey writer/producer, L.A. Law ran for eight seasons on NBC from 1986 to 1994, collecting 15 Emmy Awards during its run. The series—which premiered 30 years ago, on September 15, 1986—centered around the ambitious (and horny) lawyers and junior staff of the Los Angeles law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak. The attorneys tackled then-hot-button issues and made American television history while doing so.
1. COMPOSER MIKE POST WROTE THE THEME MUSIC AROUND A CAR TRUNK SLAMMING.
Steven Bochco told composer Mike Post that he wanted to start the opening sequence with a car trunk slamming shut. Post, who had worked with Bochco on Hill Street Blues (and also created the iconic theme music for Law & Order) wrote the L.A. Law theme based on that directive.
2. CORBIN BERNSEN HAD TROUBLE FIGURING OUT HIS CHARACTER.
Corbin Bernsen's first audition with Bochco in New York didn't go very well. He auditioned for the role of Michael Kuzak (which eventually went to Harry Hamlin) and was suffering from the flu. Bochco thought it was a "little disappointing" because he thought Bernsen was good-looking. The actor went to Los Angeles and caught a woman with blonde hair turning her head to watch him run down Mulholland Drive, which is when he locked into who the character of Arnie Becker was. Bernsen said it was smooth sailing after that. "I went in the next day and essentially the day after I got the job."
3. JILL EIKENBERRY WAS BATTLING BREAST CANCER DURING THE SHOW'S FIRST SEASON.
After shooting the pilot, Jill Eikenberry—who played Ann Kelsey—was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her husband, Michael Tucker (Stuart Markowitz on the show), called Bochco to say the two couldn't do the show because of it, but Bochco assured them that Eikenberry would be off the set by 5 p.m. every day to go to UCLA for radiation treatments. Going against their publicist's advice, Eikenberry revealed the ordeal in 1988. (They later fired the publicist.)
4. SUSAN DEY AUDITIONED IN AN ODD PLACE.
Susan Dey read for Grace Van Owen at a grammar school picnic. (Both Dey and Bochco's children were there).
5. THEY SPENT MORE THAN $1 MILLION ON THE SETS.
Three sets were built for L.A. Law—including an exact replica of a Los Angeles courtroom, complete with a removable jury box and a courtroom elevator—to the tune of more than $1 million. Keeping the cast in designer duds was no cheap affair either; the wardrobe budget was about $40,000 per episode.
6. HARRY HAMLIN IS EATING SOMETHING IN EVERY CONFERENCE ROOM SCENE.
"If you go back and watch the pilot as the very first conference room scene ends, I reach over and pull a sandwich toward me," Hamlin told the Los Angeles Times. "I picked it up as they were shooting my last bit. I had my mouth full of food. We shot another conference room scene, and there was a plate of croissants. I thought, 'I will make this a thing.' If you look go back and look, I will be eating in every conference room scene. It became a running gag with the prop department."
7. TERRY LOUISE FISHER MADE UP THE VENUS BUTTERFLY.
In the ninth episode of the series, titled "The Venus Butterfly," Stuart (Tucker) wins Ann (Eikenberry) over with his mysterious sex move, known as The Venus Butterfly. Bochco initially told Eikenberry about the idea late one night over the phone while she was visiting her mother in Wisconsin, but it was Fisher who wrote that part of the episode, which would later win the co-creators the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. Fisher insisted she had just made it up, but viewers wrote in and begged the writers to tell them what it was. A perfume company and erotic toy manufacturer asked Bochco to purchase the rights to the name "Venus Butterfly," but he turned them down.
8. BOSTON ATTORNEY DAVID E. KELLEY CAME ON AS A WRITER DURING THE FIRST SEASON.
While working as a lawyer in Boston, David E. Kelley wrote the movie From the Hip (1987) in his free time, which landed him an agent and caught the attention of Bochco, who hired him as a writer for L.A. Law after reading just the first 30 pages of that script. Kelley asked for a five-month leave of absence from his law firm, but L.A. Law quickly turned into a full-time job. After Bochco left the show at the end of the third season, Kelley was promoted to executive producer.
9. BOCHCO LIKED TO PUNISH HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW'S CHARACTER.
Douglas Brackman, Jr. was played by Alan Rachins, who is married to Joanna Frank, Bochco's sister (who played Brackman, Jr.'s wife, then ex-wife, Sheila on the series). In 1990, The New York Times listed some of the things poor Douglas went through on L.A. Law:
"During the five seasons that 'L.A. Law' has been broadcast, the boorish, balding Douglas—in addition to being hung upside down in a hospital room with skin grafts on his posterior—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."
It was enough that the third season was devoted to bringing Douglas "back to normalcy," to counteract his many humiliations from season two.
10. THE SHOW INFLUENCED ACTUAL LAW, FOR GOOD AND BAD.
In 1990, a lawyer in Miami Beach argued to an (unconvinced) judge that the jury had acquitted the doctors in his client's malpractice suit because a very similar case was a storyline in the previous night's episode of L.A. Law, where the doctor defendant had also been found free of guilt (the judge had not seen the episode). In that same New York Times article, it was reported that L.A. Law was responsible for increased applications to law schools, and that attorneys had changed their approach to their attire and the way they talked to juries.
After Abby Perkins fought to regain custody of her son on the show, an attorney sent a letter to Michele Greene (the actress who portrayed Perkins) telling her that the storyline had affected the outcome of a child-abuse case in Texas.
11. EVEN DIANA MULDAUR WAS SHOCKED AT HER ELEVATOR DEATH.
Kelley explained that Diana Muldaur's character, Rosalind Shays, was a "finite" character, because he never wanted her to become nicer over time or lose her edge. The more the writers thought about having her fall down an empty elevator shaft, the more it made sense to them. Kelley said that while he didn't tell the actress she was going to perish before sending her the script to season five's "Good to the Last Drop," he had warned Muldaur in the past that her character wasn't long for this world. In an interview, Muldaur claimed she had no idea Shays was going to die until reading the script. She refused to do the stunt herself; her stunt double needed 10 takes to get it right.
12. HOMER SIMPSON MADE AN APPEARANCE.
Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, played a man fired from playing Homer Simpson at a theme park in the season seven premiere "L.A. Lawless." He was hidden underneath a crude Homer costume. "Usually I don't want to associate myself on camera as the voice of Homer Simpson," Castellaneta said. "But this was so cool that I had to do it."
13. IT FEATURED THE FIRST LESBIAN KISS ON AMERICAN NETWORK TELEVISION.
While Amanda Donohoe (who played C.J. Lamb) and Michele Greene's kiss was groundbreaking, Greene revealed it was a sweeps stunt. "I think it was a positive step, especially at that time," she said. "Now we have gay and lesbian characters having relationships on mainstream TV shows like Will & Grace and that is a big step from the days of Abby and C.J. Lamb. On L.A. Law they never intended to explore the issue of a relationship between two women; it was about ratings during sweeps so I always found it a bit cynical." Some advertisers pulled their commercials for the episode, "He's a Crowd," but NBC simply replaced them and no money was lost.
14. TWO CHARACTERS TRANSFERRED FROM ANOTHER SHOW ON ANOTHER NETWORK, MAKING A DIFFERENT KIND OF TV HISTORY.
Civil Wars, an ABC series, was canceled, allowing lawyer Eli Levinson (Alan Rosenberg) and legal secretary Denise Iannello (Debi Mazar) to pop up on L.A. Law and join the cast in its final season. It was the first time primetime characters moved from one drama series to another network's non-spinoff series. On L.A. Law, it was explained that Levinson was Stuart Markowitz's cousin.
15. THERE'S A REBOOT IN THE WORKS FROM BOCHCO.
Original writer Bill Finkelstein told Bochco of an idea he had for a potential new version of the series. “I called my friends at Fox, because they own the show, and they were very interested in having a conversation, and so Billy and I sat down and we sort of reconceptualized what L.A. Law would look like and be about over 30 years later,” Bochco told Variety earlier this year. Bochco reported that Fox is "very enthusiastic" about doing it.