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February 15, 2006



As a law student now and as a microbiology major as an undergrad, I have a lot of sophomoric opinions about the stuff on TV. At the end of the day I think it’s a mixed bag. Shows like CSI are awful because they create juries that believe that all crime labs operate in some kind of universe similar to the CSI lab (read: not so). I have heard from a criminalist-friend that juries now have ridiculous expectations when it comes to forensic evidence. (This is just what I’ve been told.) On the flipside, CSI gets people to think about science, even if it is in a wildly inaccurate and dramatized way.

I feel the similarly but less passionately about law shows, mostly because I find them annoying, partly because I don’t know much about the law. Though Boston Legal might be a travesty in more than one way, the show does have the same ripped from the headlines method as Law and Order and I know firsthand that it does provoke some meaningful conversation in American living rooms.

The way I see it, we live in a country where 1/5 Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind04/c7/fig07-06.htm). Though TV is often atrociously unrealistic and potentially harmful to science and the law, it has its virtues. I can’t complain too vehemently until I can come up with (1), a Law and Order way of explaining the Frye evidentiary test and (2) an exciting CSI way of teaching the central dogma of microbiology. And after all, it's entertainment.

Dean C. Rowan

"I think most people know the difference between television drama and real life drama...." But knowing and behaving as if one knows are different phenomena. If you ask us if CSI is "real," we're tipped off to the gist of the question and we answer accordingly. Nevertheless, we don't run around rigorously maintaining a reality/fiction distinction at front-and-center of our conscious lives. When LA Law first aired decades ago, I was working for an LA law firm. I was astonished that anybody would credit the show's verisimilitude. It was, like virtually all television "drama," patently artificial, almost Mannerist in its weirdness. But I suspect that expectations about how the legal system operates have been informed by these shows. Enamored of the stars, and the characters and plots they purvey, we tacitly assume the gestures they model. So the impact isn't on our abstract notions of the effectiveness and justice of the legal system, but on the more concrete apparatus of its conduct.


One of the shows you didn't mention is actually centrally concerned with due process, or at least with innocence. A new ABC show called "Injustice" and starring Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and more recently, Charlotte's first husband on Sex & the City). I'm not sure if the show is getting or has already been canceled, but the show centers on the Justice Project, a high-profile, non-profit organization made up of hungry young associates who fight to overturn wrongful convictions. It's a nice change to see a show about accused who are actually innocent. If it is ultimately canceled, I suppose it may lend more support to Rapping's thesis.


You are the second person to mention In Justice to me since I posted on the blog. I definitely have to catch it. I think it is on Friday nights, which is a low rating television night, I gather. Sign of the times or will it be moving up?


One show that wasn't mentioned that is pretty good is a show on CBS called "Criminal Minds". It has to do with a behavioral unit of the FBI. It isn't bad.

There is also a reality TV show about a Lawyer in Las Vegas named Bucky Buchannan (SP?). I believe the name of the show is "Las Vegas Law".

If I think of anymore I will post them for you.

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