A curated list of the best legal series in the history of American TV.
Ally McBeal is an American legal comedy-drama television series, originally aired on Fox from September 8, 1997 to May 20, 2002. Created by David E. Kelley, the series stars Calista Flockhart in the title role as a young lawyer working in the fictional Boston law firm Cage and Fish, with other young lawyers whose lives and loves were eccentric, humorous and dramatic. The series received critical acclaim in its early seasons, winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy in 1997 and 1998, and also winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1999.
Law & Order is an American police procedural and legal drama television series, created by Dick Wolf and part of the Law & Order franchise. It originally aired on NBC and, in syndication, on various cable networks. Law & Order premiered on September 13, 1990, and completed its 20th and final season on May 24, 2010. At the time of its cancellation, Law & Order was the longest-running crime drama on American primetime television. Its record of 20 seasons is a tie with Gunsmoke (1955–75) for the longest-running live-action scripted American prime-time series with ongoing characters. Although it has fewer episodes than Gunsmoke, Law & Order ranks as the longest-running hour-long primetime TV series.
Set and filmed in New York City, the series follows a two-part approach: the first half-hour is the investigation of a crime (usually murder) and apprehension of a suspect by New York City Police Department detectives; the second half is the prosecution of the defendant by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. Plots are often based on real cases that recently made headlines, although the motivation for the crime and the perpetrator may be different.
Boston Legal is an American legal dramedy created by David E. Kelley and produced in association with 20th Century Fox Television for ABC. The series aired from October 3, 2004, to December 8, 2008. The series, starring James Spader, with Candice Bergen, and William Shatner, is a spin-off of the long-running Kelley series The Practice, following the exploits of former Practice character Alan Shore at the legal firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt.
The Practice is an American legal drama created by David E. Kelley centering on the partners and associates at a Boston law firm. Running for eight seasons on ABC from 1997 to 2004, the show won the Emmy in 1998 and 1999 for Best Drama Series, and spawned the spin-off series Boston Legal, which ran for five more seasons, from 2004 to 2008.
The Practice focused on the law firm of Robert Donnell and Associates (later becoming Donnell, Young, Dole, & Frutt, and ultimately Young, Frutt, & Berluti). Plots typically featured the firm's involvement in various high-profile criminal and civil cases that often mirror current events. Conflict between legal ethics and personal morality was a recurring theme. Some episodes contained light comedy.
The Good Wife is an American legal and political drama television series that aired on CBS from September 22, 2009, to May 8, 2016. The series focuses on Alicia Florrick, the wife of the Cook County State's Attorney, who returns to her career in law after the events of a public sex and political corruption scandal involving her husband. The series, created by Robert and Michelle King, stars Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles, Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry, Archie Panjabi, and Alan Cumming, and features Chris Noth in a recurring role. The executive producers are Ridley Scott, Charles McDougall, and David W. Zucker. The Good Wife is a heavily serialized show featuring several story arcs that carry over several episodes, as well as stand-alone procedural storylines that are concluded by the end of each episode. The serial plots have been especially showcased in its highly praised fifth season. This is a rarity among The Good Wife's broadcaster CBS, as most of its shows are procedural.
The Good Wife won numerous prestigious awards, including five Emmys and the 2014 Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Drama. The performances of the show's cast have been particularly recognized, with Julianna Margulies's role as Alicia Florrick receiving significant praise. The show has especially received wide acclaim for its insight on social media and the internet in society, politics and law. With the current climate of how television shows are written and produced, The Good Wife is considered by several critics to be network television's last great drama producing a full 22 episode season while other and future acclaimed shows are in favor of shorter 6–12 episode seasons. CBS announced in a promo aired during Super Bowl 50, on February 7, 2016, that the show was ending with its seventh season. The final episode aired on May 8, 2016.
How to Get Away with Murder (abbreviated as HTGAWM) is an American drama television series that premiered on ABC on September 25, 2014. The series was created by Peter Nowalk, and produced by Shonda Rhimes and ABC Studios.
Viola Davis stars as Annalise Keating, a law professor at a prestigious Philadelphia university who, with five of her students, becomes entwined in a murder plot. The show features an ensemble cast with Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Aja Naomi King, Matt McGorry, and Karla Souza as Keating's students, Charlie Weber and Liza Weil as her employees and Billy Brown as a detective with the Philadelphia Police Department, and Annalise's lover. From season three onward, Conrad Ricamora was added to the main cast after recurring heavily in the previous two seasons.
For her portrayal, Davis has received universal acclaim; she became the first black woman to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, also winning two SAG Awards for Outstanding Performance in a Drama Series, and the Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series. Davis has received nominations from the Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress in a Television Series, the Critics' Choice Awards for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and the Television Critics Association at the TCA Awards for Individual Achievement in Drama. Other cast members have also received recognition for their performances, with Enoch and Naomi King being nominated by the NAACP as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series at the GLAAD Awards.
On February 10, 2017, ABC renewed the series for a fourth season.
JAG (U.S. military acronym for Judge Advocate General) is an American legal drama television show with a distinct U.S. Navy theme, created by Donald P. Bellisario, and produced by Belisarius Productions in association with Paramount Network Television (now CBS Television Studios). The first season was co-produced with NBC Productions.
Originally perceived as a Top Gun meets A Few Good Men hybrid series, the pilot episode of JAG first aired on NBC on September 23, 1995, but the series was later canceled on May 22, 1996, after finishing 79th in the ratings, leaving one episode unaired. Rival network CBS picked up the series for a midseason replacement, beginning on January 3, 1997. For several seasons, JAG climbed in the ratings and was on the air for nine additional seasons. JAG furthermore spawned the hit series NCIS, which in turn spun off NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans.
In total, 227 episodes were produced over 10 seasons. At the time of the original airing of its fifth season in the United States, JAG was seen in over 90 countries worldwide. JAG entered syndication early in 1999.
Ray Donovan is an American television crime drama series created by Ann Biderman for Showtime. The twelve-episode first season premiered on June 30, 2013. The pilot episode broke records of viewership, becoming the biggest premiere of all time on Showtime. Showtime renewed the show for a fourth season, which premiered on June 26, 2016. On August 11, 2016, Showtime renewed the show for a fifth season, set to premiere on August 6, 2017.
The drama is set in Los Angeles, California, where Irish-American Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber), originally from South Boston, works for the powerful law firm Goldman & Drexler, representing the rich and famous. Donovan is a "fixer": a person who arranges bribes, payoffs, threats, and other shady activities, to ensure the outcome desired by the client. Good at his job, and no common hood, Ray is normally a devoted family man as well. He experiences his own problems when his menacing father, Mickey Donovan (Jon Voight), is unexpectedly released from prison, and the FBI attempts to bring down Ray and his associates.
Suits is an American legal drama television series created and written by Aaron Korsh. The series premiered on June 23, 2011, on the cable network USA, and is produced by Universal Cable. Suits is set at a fictional law firm in New York City. The focal point of the show follows talented college dropout Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), who initially works as a law associate for Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), despite never actually attending law school. The show focuses on Harvey and Mike managing to close cases while maintaining Mike's secret.
Suits has been nominated for several awards since 2012, with Gina Torres and Patrick J. Adams receiving individual praise for their roles as Jessica Pearson and Mike Ross respectively. On top of two nominations recognizing her role as a supporting actress, Torres was awarded Outstanding Performance in a Television Series at the 2013 NHMC Impact Awards. Adams was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series at the 2012 Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the show itself has been nominated for two People's Choice Awards.
In August 2016, the series was renewed for a 16-episode seventh season,which is set to premiere on July 12, 2017.
The Good Fight is an American legal and political drama television series produced for CBS's streaming service CBS All Access. The series is the sequel to The Good Wife which was created by Robert King and Michelle King. The first season contains 10 episodes and it premiered on February 19, 2017.
The series follows Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, as she is forced out of Lockhart, Deckler, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert-Lurie, Kagan, Tannebaum, & Associates after an enormous financial scam destroys the reputation of her goddaughter Maia (Rose Leslie) and Diane's savings, leading them to join Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) at one of Chicago's pre-eminent law firms. The series stars Baranski, Leslie, Jumbo, Erica Tazel, Sarah Steele, Justin Bartha and Delroy Lindo, and features Paul Guilfoyle and Bernadette Peters in recurring roles.
On March 15, 2017, CBS All Access renewed the show for a second season with an increased run of 13 episodes.
Better Call Saul is an American television crime drama series created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. It is a spin-off prequel of Gilligan's prior series Breaking Bad. Set in 2002, Better Call Saul follows the story of small-time lawyer James Morgan "Jimmy" McGill (Bob Odenkirk), six years before his appearance on Breaking Bad as Saul Goodman; events after the original series are briefly explored as well.
The first season, which premiered on AMC on February 8, 2015, consists of 10 episodes. The show's 10-episode second season premiered on February 15, 2016. The series was renewed for a 10-episode third season, which premiered April 10, 2017.
Like its predecessor, Better Call Saul has received critical acclaim. It has garnered several nominations, including fourteen Primetime Emmy Awards, seven Writers Guild of America Awards, five Critics' Choice Television Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award and two Golden Globe Awards. The series premiere held the record for the highest-rated scripted series premiere in basic cable history at the time of its airing.
Damages is an American legal thriller television series created by the writing and production trio Daniel Zelman and brothers Glenn and Todd A. Kessler. It premiered on July 24, 2007, on FX, and aired for three seasons before moving to the DirecTV channel Audience Network in 2010, airing for two further seasons and concluding in 2012.
The plot revolves around the brilliant, ruthless lawyer Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her newest protégée, recent law school graduate Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). Each season features a major case that Hewes and her firm take on while also examining a chapter of the complex relationship between Ellen and Patty. The first two seasons center on the law firm Hewes & Associates (located in New York City). Later seasons center more on Patty and Ellen's relationship as Ellen attempts to distance herself from Hewes & Associates professionally and personally.
Known for its depiction of season-long cases from the point of view of both a law firm and an opponent, the series is also noted for the technical merit of its writing, including its effective use of plot twists and nonlinear narrative. The series has received critical acclaim and various award nominations, with Close and Željko Ivanek winning Primetime Emmy Awards for their performances. Other established actors in the cast include Ted Danson, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Martin Short, Lily Tomlin, John Goodman, Ryan Phillippe, Dylan Baker, Janet McTeer and John Hannah.
American Crime Story is an American true crime anthology television series developed by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who are executive producers with Brad Falchuk, Nina Jacobson, Ryan Murphy, and Brad Simpson. It is a spin-off of the television series American Horror Story, also by Falchuk and Murphy. It premiered on the cable network FX in the United States on February 2, 2016.
Similar to American Horror Story, each season is presented as a self-contained miniseries, following separate unrelated true events. Season 1, subtitled The People v. O. J. Simpson, presents the murder trial of O. J. Simpson, based on Jeffrey Toobin's book The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson. Season 2 is in development, exploring the murder of designer Gianni Versace by serial killer Andrew Cunanan, based on Maureen Orth's book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History.
The People v. O.J. Simpson was acclaimed, receiving praise for most of the performances, directing and writing. For the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards, the season received 22 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, in 13 categories, winning nine, more than any other show, including Outstanding Limited Series. It also won the Golden Globe Awards for Best Miniseries or Television Film and Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film for Sarah Paulson.
Daredevil, is an American web television series created for Netflix by Drew Goddard, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name.
The first season sees lawyer-by-day Matt Murdock use his heightened senses from being blinded as a young boy to fight crime at night on the streets of New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood as Daredevil, while uncovering a conspiracy of the criminal underworld being led by Wilson Fisk.In the second season, Murdock continues to balance life as a lawyer and Daredevil, while crossing paths with Frank Castle / Punisher, a vigilante with far deadlier methods, as well as the return of his old girlfriend—Elektra Natchios.
All episodes of the first season were released on Netflix on April 10, 2015, while the second season was released in its entirety on March 18, 2016. In July 2016, the series was renewed for a third season.
Franklin & Bash is an American comedy-drama television series created by Kevin Falls and Bill Chais. The series starred Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar as unconventional lawyers and longtime friends. A Turner Broadcasting executive referred to the series as a "funny legal procedural"
The characters Franklin and Bash, for whom the show is named, are an unlikely duo of streetwise attorneys. After defeating Damien Karp of the prestigious law firm Infeld & Daniels, LLC (colloquially "Infeld Daniels"), they are recruited by co-founder and managing partner Stanton Infeld to breathe new life into the ailing firm with the duo reminding Stanton of his early days with his partner the late Daniels. Assisting Franklin and Bash is Carmen Phillips, an ex-convict out on parole who assists with background investigations on cases, and Pindar Singh, a brilliant, agoraphobic attorney and classmate of theirs.