Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Harry's Law


See Ya, Harry!

By Jon Gallagher

I’d love to sit in on one of those discussions that TV execs have when discussing which shows to keep and which ones to dump. It’d be fascinating to see if there actually are people in the world as stupid as these morons lead us to believe they are.

Let’s take NBC for example. In 2011 they put together a mid-season replacement that attracted a lot of attention. Harry’s Law starred Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates as a 50-something patent lawyer who grew tired of the drudgery of corporate law and walked out of her world into one that she wasn’t aware existed.

She finds herself in one of Cincinnati’s rougher neighborhoods when someone falls out of the sky and lands on her.

You read that right. The guy was trying to commit suicide and had jumped off the roof of a building only to land on an awning which broke his fall, then propelled him onto Harriet “Harry” Korn. Both take it as a sign from God that she should open a law office right there.

As she’s scouting the neighborhood for a good location again, a driver careens out of control and rams into her which of course cements her decision to leave the world of corporate law behind for the satisfaction of practicing law out of a storefront. She opens up her law office in a former shoe store which still has an inventory of shoes on hand. Fortunately for Harry, her assistant who makes the move with her from corporate to storefront law just happens to be a fashion expert which leads to the opening of “Harry’s Law and Fine Shoes.”

The characters in Season One are wonderful on many levels. Paul McCrane, best remembered for his role as Dr. Robert Romono on ER, is assistant district attorney Josh Peyton who ends up going a little bonkers after being beaten by Harry in court once too often (he strips to his underwear during court while complaining about how the system strips him of his prosecutorial powers).

Damien Winslow III, played by Johnny Ray Gill, offers protection for the neighborhood with his special brand of insurance. Nate Corddry is the hyperactive driver of the car that hits Harry, who just happens to be a lawyer himself. 

It’s an interesting series, created by David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, L.A. Law, and Doogie Howser M.D.) that, like a great cook, combines just the right amounts of what’s needed – in this case drama, comedy, interesting characters, and conflict – to produce a winning recipe.

When Harry’s Law was picked up for a second season, I was anxious to see where they were going with it and what could be done with a full season’s run.

Evidently, no one ever told them, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” because that’s exactly what happened.

Harry moved upstairs, leaving the shoe store far beneath her. Instead of having a small law office, she now had a major law firm with several lawyers working for her. Instead of representing the motley crew of characters from the ghetto setting, she was now taking on clients who could afford the exorbitant rates that she must now be charging.

Gone are most of the characters who added so much to Season One, replaced by, well, lawyerly types. Adam (Nate Corddry), who tried to run her over, is still with her, but it’s obvious that they’ve quadrupled his hourly dose of Ritalin. He’s had a complete personality transplant and seems to have found an inferiority complex that would fill psychological journals.

Tommy Jefferson (Christopher McDonald) is another holdover from the first season. He’s a flamboyant ambulance chaser who opposed Harry in the first season, yet has somehow moved into one of her vacant offices in the second. His role has increased, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The assistant DA from Season One, Josh Peyton, is also gone, but in his place is a lazy Susan of prosecutors, each of whom brings their own quirkiness to the courtroom. From the born-again Christian with a closet porn problem to the DA herself with a personal vendetta against Harry, the DA’s office appears to be the last refuge for lawyers who are on the fast track to a padded room. The trouble with this is that they’re TOO quirky, with writers trying to round out their characters quickly rather than letting them develop with just a problem or two.

Harry walked out of the high-priced corporate law setting into the storefront-law setting, then right back to criminal law without the store front. The journey that was so interesting became boring when she went from being a high-priced patent attorney to being a high-priced criminal attorney. She just changed her concentration, not her surroundings. That’s pretty boring. 

So why make the wholesale changes in an already successful show?

Producers of the series claim that Harry’s Law in its second season was NBC’s most watched scripted show, but that it didn’t do well with the 18-49 age demographic. According to NBC’s logic on this, those of us over the age of 50 have already purchased everything we need to purchase in our lives, so they have to aim their advertising at the 18-49 year old group who still have disposable income. The changes were made in order to appeal to the age group targeted by advertisers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work so those of us over the magical age of 50 will just have to find another show to get attached to. It also didn’t work for those between the ages of 18 and 49 as NBC canceled the show.

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