Producer and writer Steven Bochco defined much of 80s television programming, first with “Hill Street Blues,” and then “L.A. Law” and “NYPD Blue.”
Bochco’s smallscreen wheel house contained classically flawed heroes while testing network boundaries with language. His shows were gritty teleplays that featured the capricious and often unfair outcomes of the American justice system, where money determines a person’s legal fate.
Now TNT basic cable has made a home for Bochco’s latest yarn, ‘Raising the Bar”, based on David Feige’s book “Indefensible,” and has Feige serving a co-creator and screenwriter too.
“Raising the Bar,” debuts Monday at 10 p.m. on TNT.
The series follows the lives of young lawyers who work on opposite sides the public defenders’ office and the district attorney’s office, as well as those who sit in judgment on the cases. The series was created by Bochco and lawyer/writer David Feige, (author of “Indefensible”) and looks at the courtroom strategies and different sides of the legal battles.
Bochco spoke to Monsters and Critics at the recent TCA’s and on the set of his legal drama filming in Los Angeles, though the show is set in New York.
“These are young public defenders and prosecutors who battle during the day, but who hang out with each other in the evening. They are dedicated players in a broken criminal system,” he shared.
Bochco cast Jane Kaczmarek as Judge Trudy Kessler; Kaczmarek spoke to Monsters about her role as Trudy.
“This show has been an absolute delight for me, the cast and the storylines have given me so much room to grow and create this character…Steven has given us a really lovely loose leash to play, and we’ve all been having a great time with it.”
Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays nemesis to Judge Trudy, the angry public defender Jerry Kellerman. He told Monsters about his first Bochco audition for “Philly.”
“I had never even seen an ‘NYPD’ episode before meeting Steven, and I knew his name, but I’m actually pretty young. I didn’t even see ‘Hill Street’…So I just did my audition, and he (Bochco) said, ‘you’re good,’ and I thought, ‘thank you,’ he had just an honest quality about him. To say that as an actor, I just didn’t know how to take that. I didn’t get ‘Philly’ but three weeks later he called and said he would think about another character on ‘NYPD Blue,’ and a half year later I was on the show.”
Jane Kaczmarek elaborated about her character Judge Trudy’s legal jargon, and how the role affects her.
“I have never been at the mercy of the court. I mean, memorizing those lines is hard enough and really figuring out what it is exactly the law is saying in certain instances is really confounding.
I have to say I am very grateful for David Feige, who wrote the book who was with us, to explain a lot of these stuffs for us because we just assume these civilians just assume that it is common sense and a lot of them which is not. A lot of time of the law is really based on precedent – and not on the way we think something logically should go. I hate to say it but I have greater respect for lawyers than I did before the show.”
Bochco also noted his relationship with David Feige, his co-creator on the series.
“David had just published a book called “Indefensible” and wanted to get it to me through a mutual friend, as there had been some interest in the television community. I read it, and I thought it was wonderful, the book really chronicles up to 15 years of his life as a public defender in the Bronx.
I said I didn’t want to do a series about a public defender, as we had done ‘Philly’ with Kim Delaney, which I thought was a terrific show, but I didnlt feel found its audience, especially with attorneys who rep scumbags and such. So I told David, ‘great book, thank you and goodbye.’
Next thing I know, I get this 10 foot long e-mail from this guy with an impassioned defense of that world and why it’s worthy. I told my wife Dayna ‘you know, this man is so passionate about what he does and what he believes in, we should be in business with passionate people, because that’s what we do.
I coincidentally wound up having a meeting with TNT’s Senior VP Michael Wright and in just talking through some ideas, I said, ‘well I’ve been talking to this author in New York about his book,’ and literally in two minutes Michael said I should do this show.
I called David and said if you want to do a show abut a really dysfunctional criminal justice system where the point of view isn’t just skewed towards public defenders but to prosecutors and judges as well, I said that is something I would be interested in doing with you. He said ‘well okay, let’s do that.’ I said ‘good, because I already sold it.’ ”
Jane explained a bit of her character, Trudy. “Well, you know we have done 10 episodes which is less than half of what you do on a network show – so a lot of things are still up in the air. We see her relationship with Charlie, my law clerk becoming a little more intense and finally some resolution to that which I really enjoyed doing.
The courtroom seem to run things but what happens back in the chambers with this actor Jonathan Scarfe who played Charlie has really been the most interesting and satisfying to me.
He is 20 years younger than I am and there is a real power difference between me, being the judge, and he, being my clerk, and being sexually involved with someone like that is, is fraught with complications. So we are going to see that trajectory reveal some more.
And basically I just continue to be really annoyed by Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s character who is very idealistic and earnest and totally justified in his arguments and very outspoken. He would make a lovely lawyer.
I think Mark-Paul is a wonderful actor. I have a great time working with him but he basically continues to drive me nuts and I think in season two when we have a little more time we will probably see even more evolution of Trudy Kessler.”
Series premiere Monday at 10 p.m. on TNT.