The Defenders is an American courtroom drama series that ran on CBS from 1961 to 1965. It was created by television writer Reginald Rose. Original music for the series was scored by Frank Lewin and Leonard Rosenman.
It starred E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed as father-and-son defense attorneys who specialized in legally complex cases, with defendants such as neo-Nazis, conscientious objectors, demonstrators of the Civil Rights Movement, a schoolteacher fired for being an atheist, an author accused of pornography, and a physician charged in a mercy killing.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||32||September 16, 1961||May 26, 1962|
|2||34||September 15, 1962||May 25, 1963|
|3||36||September 28, 1963||June 27, 1964|
|4||30||September 24, 1964||May 13, 1965|
The series was a slight reworking of Rose's 1957 two-part drama, The Defender, from the anthology series Studio One. In the original program, Ralph Bellamy played the father and William Shatner played his son. Shatner guest-starred in various roles in the later series, and the original drama later was incorporated into an episode of his series, Boston Legal.
According to creator Reginald Rose, "the law is the subject of our programs: not crime, not mystery, not the courtroom for its own sake. We were never interested in producing a 'who-done-it' which simply happened to be resolved each week in a flashy courtroom battle of wits." And unlike Perry Mason, which also ran on CBS, victory was "far from certain on The Defenders—as were morality and justice."
Topics featured in the series included abortion, capital punishment, "no-knock" searches, custody rights of adoptive parents, the insanity defense, the "poisoned fruit doctrine", immigration quotas, the Hollywood blacklist, jury nullification, and Cold War visa restrictions.
A 1962 episode entitled "The Benefactor"—in which the father-son legal team defended an abortionist—was the most controversial; all of the series' three regular advertisers (Brown & Williamson, Lever Brothers and Kimberly-Clark) refused to sponsor the episode, so it was only transmitted after a last-minute sponsor was found. In 2008, this incident was used as the basis for a second season episode of the 1960s-set drama Mad Men.
The December 7, 1963, episode, "Climate of Evil" was originally titled "The Gentle Assassin", but was changed two weeks earlier in the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assassination. In addition, the January 4, 1964, episode, "Clare Cheval Died in Boston", was originally scheduled for the weekend of the assassination, and subsequently had reference to "President Kennedy" deleted from the episode.
Note: The most frequent time slot for the series is in bold text.
The Defenders won 13 Emmy Awards (including three in a row for Outstanding Drama Series) and received an additional seven nominations.
|1962||Awarded||Outstanding Continued Performance by a Lead Actor in a Series||E. G. Marshall|
|Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama||Franklin J. Schaffner|
|Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama|
|Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama||Reginald Rose|
|1963||Awarded||Outstanding Continued Performance by a Lead Actor in a Series||E. G. Marshall|
|Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama||Stuart Rosenberg||"The Madman"|
|Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama|
|Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama||Robert Thom
|Nominated||Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role||Don Gordon
(for playing "Joey Tassili")
|Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in
a Leading Role
(for playing "Adela")
|Program of the Year||"The Madman"|
|1964||Awarded||Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama|
|Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role||Jack Klugman
(for playing "Joe Larch")
|Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama -
|Nominated||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama||Paul Bogart||"Moment of Truth"|
|Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama||Stuart Rosenberg||"Blacklist"|
|The Program of the Year||"Blacklist"|
|1965||Awarded||Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Directors||Paul Bogart||"The 700 Year Old Gang"|
|Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Writers||David Karp||"The 700 Year Old Gang"|
|Nominated||Outstanding Program Achievements in Entertainment||Bob Markell|
As a top 30 series, The Defenders has an average rating of 23.2.
A re-envisioned version of the series debuted on the Showtime network in 1997. Still called The Defenders, it featured E.G. Marshall in his original role as Lawrence Preston. However, the three Showtime films focused on Beau Bridges as Don Preston, a previously unmentioned second son of Lawrence, and Martha Plimpton as M.J., the daughter of Ken Preston, Robert Reed's character, who is said to have died (as had Reed in 1992). Don and M.J. worked as lawyers and carried on the family legacy. However, Marshall died after completion of the second episode ("Choice of Evils"). Production was halted and the remaining episode, "Taking the First", aired as a movie special in 1998.
The second season of Mad Men contains an episode named "The Benefactor" that featured a brief clip from The Defenders' episode of the same name. In the Mad Men episode, the Sterling Cooper advertising agency is trying to secure sponsors for The Defenders' episode, which contains a plot involving abortion (originally telecast on April 28, 1962), after the regular sponsors pulled out because they claimed the episode (and subject matter) was "too controversial". The episode also offers a fictional backstory for the episode; that it was written for the third season of the series but rejected by the network for the usage of abortion as a plotline. The following season, the writers produced a script which revolved around the theme of cannibalism but the episode was rejected by the director who was assigned to film the episode due to the content. The director's refusal led to the network being forced to film the abortion-centric script, which an executive assigned to find advertisers for the show proclaims was the plan all along.