These are all timely topics for television drama in 2017. But they were also tackled, with gritty realism, more than a half century ago on two landmark CBS series: “The Defenders” (1961-65), starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as crusading father-and-son defense attorneys, and “East Side/West Side” (1963-64), featuring George C. Scott as a New York City social worker, with Cicely Tyson as his able secretary. Tyson’s series regular role, coupled with the fact that she appeared with her natural hair, was groundbreaking in a fraught period of civil rights struggles.
The New Frontier era ushered in by President John F. Kennedy’s election marked a moment when the networks made room for “prestige” narrative series that dealt with weighty social issues. The appetite for serious fare was stoked by the May 1961 declaration by Kennedy’s FCC chairman, Newton