<EM>Just Legal</EM> Just Legal

When Jonathan Shapiro started to create the new WB series, Just Legal (airing Mondays at 9 pm/ET, beginning Sept. 19), he drew on a subject close to home: his own brother, who finished law school at the top of his class while still in his teens. (Undeclared's Jay Baruchel plays the role on screen, as apprentice to Don Johnson's veteran lawyer.) Adding to the show's pedigree are Shapiro's stints as a federal prosecutor and assistant U.S attorney in Los Angeles, where he worked such high-profile cases as Rodney King's and the Waco siege before writing for Boston Legal and The Practice. In other words, Just Legal isn't just any legal series.

"My goal here is to try to tell as many absolutely real stories as we can," says Shapiro, noting that the pilot features a case based on one he once prosecuted. "This show is different than other procedurals and other law shows because my intent here is to make it absolutely authentic as possible. This, to me, is what being a lawyer is like. This is an opportunity to tell that story through a young, idealistic man who wants to be Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and his partner who is a burn-out case, sort of [like] Paul Newman in The Verdict."

Playing that burnout is Mr. Miami Vice-Nash Bridges himself — although unlike his experience with the latter series, which he also exec-produced, Johnson is just in front of the camera on Just Legal. "[It's better] just getting a call sheet and showing up," says the actor. "I've learned never to say never, but [doing both] is just too much work. It damn near killed me last time!"

Assessing his new TV alter ego, jaded attorney Grant Cooper, Johnson says, "I like how he is different from characters I have played before. he's interesting. He's funny. He's smart. He's got a real history. I wasn't really thinking about doing another television series, but Jonathan [Shapiro] wrote an amazing script."

Plus, he notes with a laugh, "My wife reminded me we have five children, so [retiring] was out of the question."

One final and none-too-small detail dictating his comeback was the presence of hit-machine Jerry Bruckheimer's involvement as another executive producer (along with Shapiro and Jonathan Littman). "I've known Jerry for longer than I care to reveal," says Johnson. "We both sort of started off together and over the years we have been friends — his sister-in-law was an extra on Nash Bridges — so we have always stayed in touch. It of course wasn't lost on me that he has the Midas touch when it comes to producing, and we have talked about doing something together, but these things happen when they're supposed to happen."