Can Steven Bochco Raise the Bar for Legal Dramas?
Mark Paul Gosselaar and Jay August Richards by Karen Neal/TNT, Steven Bochco by Jordan Strauss/WireImage.com
The man who gave TV such memorable dramas as
Hill Street Blues
has a new story to tell. It involves a group of stalwart public defenders - led by
Saved By the Bell
) - and the other legal types (including
as a judge to be reckoned with) who inhabit their world. Does TNT's
Raising the Bar
, premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET, fill a need that TV viewers may not realize they have? TVGuide.com invited
to preview his new drama. -
TVGuide.com: Whenever the idea for a new legal drama pops into your head and I have to imagine that happens every now and again do you ever think, "Does TV really need another one? Is there anything new we can do here still?"
Absolutely. First of all, I don't think that there
a lot of legal dramas on television. A lot of what passes these days for "legal drama" - and historically what has passed for legal drama - are really murder mysteries, set in a courtroom. I can't really think of many legal dramas that are genuinely about the legal system and the fundamental flaws in the system, the inequities of the system. I can't recall seeing a show that's essentially grounded in the urban criminal justice system at the low end, where people don't have the resources to reach out to high-priced legal advice. Instead, they're in the hands of public defenders.
TVGuide.com: And one has to wonder what motivates a public defender. It's certainly not the paycheck.
It's passion and idealism. David Feige, who I created this show with, was a public defender in the Bronx for almost 15 years and he never made a dime. He lived, and still does, in a tiny cramped apartment on the West Side of Manhattan. These guys don't care about money. They're motivated by a love of the law and a real sense of indignation about the way people at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum are treated by the system.
TVGuide.com: Mark-Paul's character serves as a good mouthpiece for that message.
Yeah, it's interest - [public defenders] sort of get radicalized. What I hope we've been able to accomplish with this show what I
we've been able to accomplish with this show is to not just make it about an idealistic young public defender. I wanted to do a show about the entire flawed criminal justice system and represent, legitimately and dimensionally, all the points of view that it entails. Public defenders, prosecutors, judges, court officers, etcetera.
TVGuide.com: Which Raising the Bar role was the hardest to cast?
Well, we really got lucky. We got Mark-Paul right away I always had him in mind for this thing, but I had to twist his arm a bit because he has never played anything quite like this. He wasn't sure, but my feeling was that's
why he should do it. Then we got really lucky with Jane [Kaczmarek], and we really got lucky with Gloria [Reuben]. People were attracted to the potential of the material. On cable, we work on pretty tight budgets, so everybody took a pay cut to do this thing.
TVGuide.com: But there's a certain cachet these days in working for TNT. They're putting out some excellent dramas.
We certainly found that to be true, because everybody committed pretty quickly to this thing. There has been just real delight at doing substantive work. Coming to work every day on a show that's about something, that's interesting, and has vivid characters was really fun.
TVGuide.com: Will there be an array of other "colorful" judges outside of Jane's Trudy Kessler?
A couple, each one of them played by really wonderful character actors.
TVGuide.com: But Jane's is the one that always gives the defenders pause when they head into the courtroom.
Yes. She's the essential judicial voice of the series.
TVGuide.com: One of the most interesting characters, I think, is Charlie, Judge Kessler's law clerk (played by Jonathan Scarfe). He seems to be toeing all sorts of lines....
That's right. He really is an interesting guy in that there's a duality to his character. Not to mention that he works for a judge who has tremendous animus for one of his friends. That sets up some interesting lines of conflict.
TVGuide.com: What is your own favorite procedural or legal drama, current or recent?
Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of those kinds of shows. They leave me sort of cold. I'm much more attracted to real character-driven kinds of stuff, and there's not much of that out there these days.
TVGuide.com: What might people be surprised to know that you do like?
Larry David kills me. He's twisted, but in a wonderful, skillful way. When you look at his episodes and this is true of
as well as
Curb Your Enthusiasm
all of his stories are brilliantly structured. Most folks probably don't pay too much attention to it nor should they, but as somebody who pays his rent being a writer, I think he's a master at setting up stories.
TVGuide.com: Do you wish your Commander in Chief experience had panned out differently, that the show had fulfilled its promise? [Bochco, who himself took over for series creator Rod Lurie, was replaced as show runner after four months on the job.]
I do wish it had worked out differently. That was a show that wanted to be a hit, but you know what they say: a camel is a horse designed by committee. Unfortunately, the thing turned into a camel.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar video Q&A