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Herbert Brodkin was one of the great television producers ("The
Defenders", "The Missiles of October", "Pueblo", "Holocaust",
"Skokie"). The only producer who rivaled him for quality was David
"For the People" (1965) was Brodkin's effort to look at the other side of the case from "The Defenders".
"The Defenders" had grown out of a "Studio One" episode called "The Defender". Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner played father and son lawyers defending young Steve McQueen on a murder charge. E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed played the father and son lawyers in the series.
William Shatner had guest starred on five episodes of "The Defenders" and was signed to play the hero assistant DA in "For the People." This was Shatner's first TV series, although he was an ubiquitous guest star on other peoples shows.
"For the People" was first rate. It was filmed in New York in black and white, and this gave the show a cool, gritty look. Skillfully used sound effects increased the sense of reality. The show was always beautifully cast from the fine pool of actors working out of New York. The best writers and directors worked on the show, as always was the case with Brodkin's shows. Writers included Ernest Kinoy and Harold Gast ("Judd for the Defense").
William Shatner gave a very charismatic, appealing performance as ADA David Koster. Cleveland Amory, in his review in TV Guide, gave the show a rave saying it was even more compelling and probing than "The Defenders". Amory said Shatner was in the "big leagues" with David Janssen, Robert Lansing, Vic Morrow and Richard Crenna.
Jessica Walter played Shatner's lovely, leggy musician wife. Some of the scenes with the two in bed really gave you an eyeful of Walter's impressive figure.
Bald Howard Da Silva (the psychiatrist in "David and Lisa", the bartender in "The Lost Weekend") played Shatner's politically sensitive boss Anthony Celanese. Howard Da Silva had been blacklisted for many years. Da Silva directed at least one episode of the series. Acting teacher Lonny Chapman played Shatner's tough police investigator.
The stories themselves rarely got into the courtroom. They were more concerned with the pre-trial investigation and negotiations.
Brodkin might have packaged his show more imaginatively to try to make it more palatable "for the people". "The Prosecutor" might have been a sexier title than "For the People". The opening credits showed the masses walking about in New York City instead of focusing on the youth and glamor of Shatner and Walter. The episode titles were direct quotes from the New York state law, which could have been a little off-putting. But if producer Brodkin wasn't great at selling the sizzle, he definitely knew how to make a great steak.
The series was on Sunday nights on CBS opposite "Bonanza" in 1965. It was canceled after 13 episodes. "For the People" may have been a business failure, but the quality was so high it made everyone involved look great. The cancellation left William Shatner free to accept the lead in the second pilot of "Star Trek" (after Lloyd Bridges and Jack Lord had turned it down).
"Law and Order" is a reworking of a 1963-64 show called "Arrest and Trial" with Ben Gazzara and Roger Perry as cops, John Kerr and John Larch as DA's, and Chuck Connors and Don Galloway as defense lawyers. But I'm sure Dick Wolfe was also influenced by David Susskind's "N.Y.P.D." and the great "For the People" when he developed his superb series.
I'm afraid the previous reviewer leaves something of a wrong impression
when he says "For The People" is a precursor of sorts to "Law And
Order." Yes, that's true to the extent that "For The People" was a show
that had central characters in the D.A.'s office, and yes, it was
filmed on location in New York, but if you ever come across any of the
episodes of "For The People" that circulate among collectors (you can
forget about ever seeing it repeated on cable or released commercially
on DVD) and expect to see an interesting procedural look at how the
criminals get prosecuted.....I'm afraid you're going to be in for a
giant letdown. The six episodes of this show I had a chance to see
recently were mostly shows that didn't so much focus on letting us see
how the central characters get their job done, but rather spent more
time serving up some giant failures on the part of DA Dave Koster's
pursuit of justice, and rather than focus on the procedural points that
could allow a story to develop, each episode I saw was mostly a giant
exercise in characters making soapbox speeches that were designed to
cater to a politically liberal view of criminal law. In one episode, DA
Koster incredibly tanks his own case regarding a Puerto Rican's brutal
murder of an old woman, because he's become convinced that a racist cop
coerced the confession and has decided that rather than do the business
of the people to prosecute and let a judge and jury decide after making
his best case (If defense attorneys are supposed to give the best
possible defense for clients they know are guilty, isn't it also
supposed to be the obligation of a prosecutor to do the same even if he
has only *personal* doubts, *especially* since the episode also makes
it clear that Koster believes the Puerto Rican is guilty despite the
possibly coerced confession?), he should instead shirk his own duty to
be "for the people" in the name of a dubious constitutional concept
(dubious at least to many legal scholars who wouldn't subscribe to the
points the noble characters make speeches about, but who find that in
the literary realm of leftist writers, their views only get expressed
by obvious racists and bigots to cast an air of illegitimacy over their
basic arguments. This to gloss over the fact that Koster is prepared to
turn loose a brutal killer that he KNOWS is a brutal killer who could
kill again just to humiliate a cop who may or may not have crossed a
I found it sad in a way that I couldn't come away liking this show because the acting is solid (it may in fact be some of the best acting of Shatner's career), the theme music has a nice stately air, and the New York location photography carries on the tradition of "Naked City." But "Naked City" was a show that was entertaining by making its dramatic points through fascinating human interest stories, and not by having characters stop the action cold every five minutes to make another editorializing sermonette. This is the reason why it wasn't just being slotted opposite "Bonanza" that doomed "For The People", it was also the weight of its own lofty pretentiousness that caused it to sink, and forced Shatner to find another role that would give him TV immortality.
The previous poster Eric is entirely correct about the political slant
of this program, not surprising with figures like Earnest Kinoy--at one
time an actual member of the Communist Party--and Howard da Silva
associated with it. But recall that in that pre-Reagan era many series
had a distinctly liberal tendency--like "The Defenders" and yes, even a
western like "Have Gun--Will Travel".
He is mistaken about the role of the prosecuting attorney, however. Prosecutor and defense counsel are NOT mere mirror images, on opposite sides of the case. The job of the prosecution, with the awesome power of the state behind it, is to do justice, not just win a conviction. Accordingly, public prosecutors are subject to special rules which don't apply to other lawyers. If the prosecuting attorney is genuinely unable to tell, based on the legally admissible evidence, whether an accused committed a crime or whether any crime was committed, it is duty bound to discontinue prosecution.
A confession obtained by duress is not admissible as evidence. If that is the prosecution's whole case, then there is no case.
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