The Defenders (TV Series 1961–1965) Poster


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Was this the best dramatic TV series ever?
west-129 April 2001
Can this series really have been as inspiring as I thought it was at the time? If so, it must have had enormous effect on American society.

Certainly it dealt more courageously than any other show of the period with issues such as civil rights, religious and political oppression, faults in existing laws on divorce, narcotics and legal sanity, and the ethical problems of priests, doctors and lawyers.

And, as I remember, although E.G.Marshall (as Lawrence Preston) demanded our sympathy for his stand on these issues, there was always argument and challenge from Robert Reed (as his son, Kenneth), and humor prevented solemnity or sentimentality.

Actors such as Sylvia Sidney, Sam Wanamaker, Ruth Roman, Akim Tamiroff, Teresa Wright, and Jack Klugman played leading roles, but minor characters also came across as people of dignity and importance.

What impressed me most perhaps was Lawrence Preston's respect for THE LAW.

Won't some kind person allow us to see it again?
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The Defenders: The reason I became a lawyer
nandue092914 March 2008
This landmark TV series (1961-65) was years ahead of its time. It correlated many contemporary stories from the headlines and did so with uncompromising depth. The protagonist attorneys (The late E.G. Marshall, Robert Reed) lost nearly as many cases as they won, because the series focused on controversial social issues where there were no easy answers or solutions. This was reflected in the outcome of some episodes. The issues included abortion; euthanasia; capital punishment; censorship; blacklisting; criminal insanity; Nazis; cannibalism; and a variation of what is currently called "road rage." The first listed, "The Benefactor," was a compelling episode about abortion, years before it was legal. The last, "Death On Wheels," involved an enraged motorist who accidentally killed a pedestrian after a heated argument with his wife. A shocking case was the one about cannibalism. Two men were accused of murdering and literally devouring another man when they were all cast adrift in a lifeboat in the ocean. An unusual episode, "Mind Over Murder" involved a clairvoyant accused of murder based on ESP. The defendant's background was loosely parallel to the late psychic, Peter Hurkos.

The Defenders theme song coupled with an aerial view of the courthouses in Foley Square, New York City, were presented with the onset of each episode. Immediately before the theme, the viewer saw the actual crime being committed when possible, which was graphically realistic and sometimes unnerving. The lawyers then often interviewed their clients in a simulated version of "The Tombs," an archaic NYC jail. The late E.G. Marshall portrayed the lead attorney, Lawrence Preston, with flawless acting that was in a class by itself. Indeed, he was so convincing that it was difficult for me to think of him thereafter as anyone else. The style and integrity he displayed in The Defenders inspired my interest in the law and was one of the initial reasons I became a lawyer.
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The Firm Of Preston & Preston
bkoganbing29 August 2008
From the early Sixties came this show which one viewer described as that era's Law and Order. It wasn't that, it couldn't be that because the Prestons were defense attorneys. Still the cases raised some of the legal issues that Law and Order raises. The Defenders whatever else it was, was not a who done it show like Perry Mason.

E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed played the father and son law firm of Preston&Preston. E.G. as Lawrence Preston was a widower and Reed was his son Kenneth. What I remember was these two guys apparently had no personal life at all. I can't remember a single episode where these two weren't on the clock defending all kinds of clients.

But lawyers and law students loved this show as it took on some really important issues. The episode that I remember best was one involving the McNaghten Rule which evolved from an English murder case in which a guy named McNaghten killed Prime Minister Robert Peel's Secretary, thinking it was Peel. The poor demented jerk thought that the government was plotting against him personally. That case set a standard for a successful insanity defense, that someone like McNaghten had to be unaware of the difference between right and wrong when he committed the homicide.

I still remember Marshall saying that in behalf of his client the McNaghten Rule should be repealed. He certainly gave it one good effort in trying to repeal about a 120 years of Anglo-American jurisprudence. The rule's been modified, but never repealed. But that was typical of the stuff the Prestons did. No arraignments in night court for this duo.

The scripts though were intelligently written even if you didn't agree with what the Prestons were doing. Proof that entertainment can be intelligent and informative, the show ran for four years.

I wish that TV Land would pick up this series.
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The Defenders
LRachiele122 February 2006
There are heavy residuals on this great show, which I sure would like see again. Currently I have 32 stories, 29 of which are very good. If anyone has any episodes, please let met know. The ones I have are 30 listed "caseyguy", the Locked Room, and The Nonviolent. Of the remaining 100, I would like all but the the 2 part episode The 600 Year Old Gangm and Poltergest. Both of these were bad. Almost all of the old shows on video stores or cable were not worth watching even once. Somebody out there has the brainpower and pull to make them available to those willing to pay the price. This show caused you to think about conditions in your country. E.G. Marshall as excellent as were the frequent guest stars such as Frank Overton, Viveca Lindfors, Judson Laire, Jack Klugman, Harold Stone, Richard Kiley, Gene Hackmen, Edward Binns, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Webber, Malcom Atterberry, and others. This was the most socially conscious show ever.
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Realistic, topical, sixties, court room drama
Tom-20726 February 2005
"The Defenders" realistically portrayed issues of the day, often in a court room setting. They produced the show in New York City with, if memory serves, location exteriors. The court room scenes were well written and directed, usually the high point of each program.

At its best, the acting could be very good indeed. E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed worked well together as father and son attorneys. Their roles in this series provided them with career high points. The guest stars added further strength to the show.

As a teenager then, I thought it was a cutting edge show. It would probably be dated if viewed today, since it was filmed mostly in black and white (though the last season might have been color), and production values were different then. One of the best shows of its era, it should be released on DVD, but probably won't be because of onerous residuals obligations.
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Riveting Courtroom Drama at its best!!!
raysond7 November 2000
Even though it only ran between 1961-1965 on CBS,this was one of those shows that broke ever taboo with subjects that were too rowdy for television back then. This show was the forefront other successful courtroom shows to follow,even though it came out at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the overall turbulance of the Vietnam War. Based on a Studio One play of the same title(which starred Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner) its premise was similiar to that of "Perry Mason",but with amazing results. E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed(long before he became one of the "Brady Bunch") were terrific as the father and son defense team who tackle issues head on in the courtroom and outside the premise as well. Great show!!!
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Atty. Preston argues for principles against strict interpretation of the law.
Deusvolt1 August 2006
My elder brother (who is now a Metropolitan Trial Court judge) and I used to watch this every week back in the early '60s. I don't remember much of the episodes except I know I enjoyed most of them. It has a very inspiring trumpet led theme music as the camera took a long bird's eye view panning shot of a majestic courthouse with Greco-Roman architecture.

I do remember Atty. Preston, the elder, (E.G. Marshall) often arguing on the basis of principles over strict or often shystery interpretation of the law used by his court opponents.

One episode I distinctly remember is the one that involves a leader of an American neo-Nazi organization who organized a counter-demonstration to a Jewish rally or parade. Dressed in what looked like approximations of Sturmabteilung ("shock troops" or SA)uniforms, they peacefully stood on the sidewalks and shouted "Hitler had the right idea" repeatedly. They got arrested and charged with something in court. The Preston father and son lawyer team had the rather unpleasant but legally correct task of defending the neo-Nazi leader on the grounds of freedom of speech.
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Very compelling writing and acting
c38200024 November 2005
I have not seen an episode since the mid-60s (YIKES, how long is that?), but I remember many of them. In one, these father/son are assigned the defense of a young Nazi. The man was defacing a synagogue when he was interrupted by the rabbi, who accidentally fell and hit his head and died. The man was caught and charged with murder, since it was assumed that he had killed the rabbi. There turned out to be a witness who could clear the man. When the Defenders finally tracked him down, he told them the most horrific story of his arrest and transfer to a concentration camp - and for that reason he would not testify for "one of THEM." Their response was, "Do you want us to be like them, ignoring the truth?" And that was how the episode ended - would the witness testify or not? How childish modern TV "drama" seems in comparison...
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A incredibly groundbreaking show
sam-468-67683125 October 2012
before this show came out, Television was meant to be pure escapism meaning that like movies,people who watched TV often times watched it to escape from all the turbulent and sometimes horrendous things that happened in that 60's. So because of that, Most network & daytime TV shows often avoided current social issues of the day, making them seem very unrealistic. And then the Defenders came along.

Now, back in the 60's if you decided to make a show that focused on contemporary controversial social issues, you would risk getting your show cancelled because most big corporations would be uncomfortable sponsoring a show that did that, and that's exactly what the Defenders did. They were the first show that was brave enough to focus on such controversial social issues of the 60's such as civil rights,abortion neo-natzis and they almost got cancelled because of it. there was one episode where the father-son lawyer team of Lawrence and Kenneth Preston (E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed) had to a defend an abortionist, and almost every regular sponsor of the show, decided not to sponsor the episode and all of the sudden, the series was hanging by a thread, until one sponsor came in at the eleventh hour to sponsor the episode, and they saved the show from cancellation singled handed.

the bottom line is that this show was incredibly groundbreaking because if was one of the first TV shows to deal with contemporary controversial social issues, something no other show before or on on at the same time did, making it one of the most realistic shows of it's time. it also paved the way for socially conscious shows that came after it. Now what I really don't understand is that the show's not on DVD and it hasn't been seen in reruns in 20 years. But regardless, the show needs to be on DVD or in syndication, and it definitely can't be forgotten by the next generation of TV watchers.
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"Law & Order" for the 60s!!
redlet10 July 1999
This was an amazing show - tackling issues headfirst that other shows wouldn't even mention. E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed were powerful as a father-son defense team, and the stories were all very involving and satisfying.
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The Best 'Cable Drama' in Network TV History
deltaco-158-8244181 December 2011
The "Golden Age of Television"-- the era of live dramas about topical events-- officially ended in 1961, when PLAYHOUSE 90 went off the air and director John Frankenheimer left for Hollywood.

By that time, almost all its great writers-- Paddy Chayefsky, Gore Vidal, Horton Foote, Tad Mosel, Robert Alan Aurthur, Arnold Schulman, J.P. Miller, Frank Gilroy, Abby Mann, Leslie Stevens, Paul Monash and William Gibson-- had left television for Broadway, books or Hollywood.

Writing for TV was an exhausting, infuriating occupation. Getting any meaningful idea from page to screen required endless fights with sponsors and censors. Rod Serling, who submitted a script based on the lynching of Emmitt Till, a 14-year old black in Mississippi, saw his victim transformed into an immigrant in New England. The sponsor even forbade residents to be seen drinking Coca-Cola, out of concern that it might suggest the South-- and racists might protest.

Two writers had the courage to remain in TV. Serling created THE TWILIGHT ZONE, so he could use allegory and allusion to disguise social comment (nobody protested scripts where Martians were lynched, he cracked).

Reginald Rose, who wrote "12 Angry Men" and "Thunder on Sycamore Street" simply challenged the industry head-on. THE DEFENDERS was based on his two-part STUDIO ONE script, where a father-son team of lawyers (Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner) defends a 19-year-old (Steve McQueen) charged with murder that he insists he did not commit.

In the series, E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed played defense attorneys committed to making sure every defendant gets his rights under the law.

Marshall's Lawrence Preston is very like his "Juror 4"-- careful, logical and impossible to move with appeals to emotion. Reed's Kenneth has a social conscience and burning desire to see what he considers justice done, even if it violates the letter of the law. (Some of the most effective scenes occur when two actors argue their convictions to each other.)

A shorthand description of an episode for contemporary audiences would be "Keith Olbermann's Law and Order". Every one of the 132 shows argued legal issues that are still hot-buttons today. Remember: in 1961, abortion and birth control were illegal. Segregation wasn't. The US was fighting in Vietnam. Falsely-accused Communists were still blacklisted.

But the Prestons defended a neo-nazi arrested for inciting the crowd to beat a protester. They defended a Dr. Kevorkian, civil rights demonstrators, abortionists, immigrants without citizenship, draft- dodgers, pornographers, atheists and road rage murderers. (The only thing I don't remember seeing was a homosexual.) As I remember, the Prestons lost more cases than they won. But they made sure everyone got his or her day in court and a full and fair hearing.

THE WIRE, DEADWOOD, MAD MEN, OZ, BREAKING BAD and THE SOPRANOS are all good shows. Put in the context of their eras, not one compares to what THE DEFENDERS achieved. It still has the power to enrage. Wingnuts I've sent to YouTube to watch it die of apoplexy when they hear unapologetic advocating for civil liberties (even though their side gets equal time).

THE DEFENDERS was a top-30 show when there were only three channels. It won 13 Emmies-- Best Drama three times, Marshall for Best Actor twice, four for best writing, three for best direction. The shows still hold up well. They're talky, some of their dramatic conventions, psychology and sociology has dated. But the ideas are timeless, the writing is stellar and the acting and directing is often stunning.

There's a reason both MAD MEN and BOSTON LEGAL paid tribute to THE DEFENDERS in an episode. It's an outrage that a full run of this groundbreaking show isn't available on DVD-- while that execrable impostor starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell already is.
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Request for TV series The Defenders
lrachiele1-124 January 2009
Of the 132 stories, 33 are now available. Couldn't we pool our resources to get this show on video DVD. There are high residuals for this show buy if enough people want it, they will pay the money. Most of the TV programs on DVD now were not worth watching even once. One exception is Death Valleys Days in B/W. Let's bug CBS for the remaining 99 episodes of the Defenders. All but three of them were very good. The three bad ones are a two parter The 600 Year Old Gang and Poltergeist. All of the rest were quality stories that would hold up well today. Some of the guest stars included Ruth Roman, Frank Overton, Fritz Weaver, and Robert Redford. Let's ban together and find out who has the rights to the Defenders.
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The Defenders is on DVD
ambmar13 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This socially relevant TV series was and still is excellent! Recently, DVDs of the first season of 32 episodes have been released and I purchased a copy. I'll comment on two of them.

The episode, "The Attack," examined the case of a police officer who killed a teenage boy he thought had molested his five-year old daughter. During his trial for murder, he learns that a different boy had just confessed to the crime against his daughter. It is a hard-hitting episode. Martin Sheen was in the cast. I read in an article that Sheen gave this episode credit for getting his Screen Actors Guild membership card in order to act in it, which began his career.

Another episode, "The Last Six Months," has the most devastatingly effective teaser opening that I have seen. A man named Fred Braden is told by his doctor that he only has a few months to live. In the six-minute opening, the viewer sees his plight from the viewpoint of the stricken man himself at the time he becomes enraged and strangles his business partner. It is a powerful and heartbreaking episode. Braden was a conscientious objector who had served in the medical core instead during the Second World War due to his abhorrence to killing.

I hope the release of the first season delights other fans of The Defenders and possibly new fans as well, because the acting and scripts are timeless! Perhaps it may serve as a harbinger toward release of the other three seasons.
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I base my judgment on season one only...
AlsExGal13 April 2017
... because that is the only season available on DVD, and I never saw it in syndication on TV. E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed star as a father and son team of defense lawyers. I can just imagine the stink that this might have made when it first came on the air 56 years ago. For example, episode one deals with a doctor performing a mercy killing in the case of a newborn mongoloid child before there was any capability to know anything about the child one was carrying until it was born. The show also tackles rape, temporary insanity, and the death penalty among other issues. But not every episode is "ripped from the headlines" before newspapers would ever even print this material. There are quite a few basic "whodunnits" and some humorous episodes along the lines of Agatha Christie such as "Gideon's Follies" when a rich man with half a dozen ex-wives - who are all best friends - is murdered.

There is a love interest for Robert Reed's character in the first episode, but then she disappears, only to reappear sporadically in a few other episodes and then she is only mentioned in a few episodes later in the season. Maybe the writers wanted to concentrate on the legal issues feeling that they had their hands full just with that. Among the future famous actors that have notable guest appearances are Jack Klugman, Gene Hackman, Hugh Herbert, Martin Sheen, and William Shatner. But not in every case is this true. In one episode near the end of the season Gene Wilder appears as a waiter at a reunion in a hotel. I was very disappointed when all he did was serve the butter and leave.

Also, right out of the gate, the two main characters have their personas down, and the writing is just superb. Not a wasted or boring minute in any of the episodes I've seen. I'd highly recommend purchasing the first season if you can. It is truly classic television at its dramatic best.
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Way Too Many Filler Scenes And Grumpy Judges
StrictlyConfidential21 April 2020
"The Defenders" was a marginally interesting "legal-themed" TV series that first aired for public viewing way back in 1961.

With each of this show's episodes being close to an hour in length - I found that (besides all of the super-dry storytelling) there were just way too many filler scenes edged into the action that tended to bog down each one of "The Defenders'" legal stories to the point of literal monotony.

Anyway - As something of a consolation - "The Defenders" did feature a lot of celebrity/guest star appearances in many of its episodes. And that sure helped to keep things moving along.
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