New Spotlight: The Storefront Lawyers / Men at Law

My latest spotlight focuses on The Storefront Lawyers, a CBS legal drama that premiered in September 1970 riding the wave of relevancy the networks were obsessed with. It was one of two new shows featuring young lawyers; the second, on ABC, was actually called The Young Lawyers, although technically the characters in that series weren’t lawyers yet. Robert Foxworth, Sheila Larkin and David Arkin starred as lawyers working for a plush Los Angeles Law firm who spent most of their time downtown at the Neighborhood Legal Services, a storefront law firm providing free legal services to the poor.

Reviews of the premiere were mixed and ratings weren’t good. In January 1971, CBS “cancelled” the series and replaced it with a new drama called Men At Law, which starred Robert Foxworth and Gerald O’Loughlin, with Sheila Larkin and David Arkin in supporting roles. The storefront angle was all but dropped.

I don’t believe the series, under either of its titles, was widely syndicated after it went off the air. I’m not sure it was ever syndicated. At least one episode is circulating among private collectors. The Paley Center for Media has two episode; UCLA’s Film & Television Archive also has one episode. The series was a co-production between National General Television Productions Inc. and Leonard Freeman Enterprises, with CBS in the mix as well, and CBS is the current copyright holder.

Read the full spotlight here.

12 Comments

  • Mike Doran says:

    I tried to put this up at the longer entry, but I couldn’t get the comment mechanism to work properly.

    Anyway:
    When The Storefront Lawyers was first mentioned in TV Guide‘s Teletype section, Barry Morse was identified as having the “Wise Old Head” role.
    Indeed, when the series premiered, Morse’s name appeared in the opening titles (box billing at the end, although his face wasn’t seen).
    Apparently, Harold Gast’s decree that there wouldn’t be a “Wise Old Head” was a late decision – possibly made after Lee J. Cobb was added to ABC’s simultaneously announced The Young Lawyers, as their WOH figure.
    Coincidence? You decide …

    I started reading weekly Variety in the early ’70s, to get info that the “TV critics” in Chicago weren’t providing.

    Sometime in December ’70, Variety‘s front page carried a story about the format cahnges upcoming for Storefront Lawyers (the title change hadn’t been decided yet).
    This is, I believe, as close to the exact quote as memory can get:
    “Negotiations are underway for the services of Edward G. Robinson.”
    … this being for the “Wise Old Head” part that Harold Gast disclaimed at the show’s onset.
    How accurate this account is, I have no way of knowing. At that point, Variety was far more reliable than any of the local Chicago critics (two of whom you quote in your main article), and anyway the whole thing is academic because Gerald O’Loughlin got the WOH part, so there too.

    • Robert says:

      Mike, I came across one vague reference to Barry Morse originally being intended as a series regular. Bizarrely, it was included in the summary for the premiere episode in the television listings in a newspaper, although now I can’t remember which paper.

  • Phil says:

    I had the same problem trying to load my comments onto the article page. Also, after the 5th paragraph on the article page (starts “CBS announced its official…”), I see a line that says “Loading the player…”. Is there supposed to be a video here? Maybe my PC’s browser doesn’t recognize it or you have some kind of technical problem.

    A few days ago, someone uploaded three episodes of ‘The Young Lawyers’ onto Youtube. I watched one of them and their concept (two law students and one wise old head) seems more original and interesting than whatever ‘The Storefront Lawyers/Men at Law’ was attempting to do…and ‘TYL’ had a better cast…and a VW bus!

    It’s a little odd to see Harold Gast as the producer of ‘TSL/MAL’, a show that planned to tackle the societal ills of that era. He had already produced a legal program that had done this (and quite well), ‘Judd for the Defense’. Why repeat yourself?

    Yes, “relevance” was the parroted catchword for almost all the new 1970 programs. I haven’t looked them all up, but I’ll bet 85% of them went down the tubes after one season or less. Maybe that’s the normal attrition rate; I don’t know.

    • Mike Doran says:

      Hollywood TV production in the ’60s-’70s was home to specialists, especially in genre drama.
      Leonard Freeman was the creator of Storefront Lawyers; producing a “relevant” lawyer show, he’s naturally reach out to writers who’d worked that route before – therefore Harold Gast, late of Judd.

      About Judd:
      In his book The Studio, John Gregory Dunne recounts a confab between Judd creator/showrunner Paul Monash and Bill Froug, who’d come to pitch a story idea.
      At the close of the talk, Monash asks Froug (Quote recalled, hopefully accurate), ” Have you got any old ideas from your Sam Benedict days that we can steal? We’re hurting.”
      Froug replies, “Sure, no problem … What’s mine is yours …”
      Sam Benedict was, of course, a lawyer series that Froug had produced a few years previously.

      See? There is nothing new under the sun …

  • Robert says:

    I just tested the comment box on the Spotlight page in three different browsers and was able to leave a comment successfully.

    Also, there is a video in the Spotlight and, again, I tried it in three browsers and it loaded and played in all three.

    Do you have the same problem on any other pages?

    • Phil says:

      The video box in the TSL/MAL article is now visible and runs fine, thanks. However, I just looked at three sample articles (The Interns, Seach, and The Good Guys) and they all have the line “Loading the player…”, instead of a video box. I have Explorer 9.

  • Skidmarks Mcgee says:

    Seems, to me, an attempt to do the flipside of ‘The Mod Squad’?

    • Mike Doran says:

      Basically, the whole 1970-71 TV season was the flipside of The Mod Squad, which was one of the few clear-cut hits of the previous season.

      Because Mod Squad was on ABC, with its short station lineup, its status as an audience-getter was given extra weight that it might not have otherwise gotten. The ad agencies had made known their rising interest in the pseudo-science of “Demographics”, with special emphasis on youth over age and urban over rural. Robert Wood, the new CBS president, took all this to heart, as he scuttled the older comedians and rural sitcoms in favor of Storefromt Lawyers and the like.
      Meanwhile, ABC, with a genuine hit in Mod Squad, doubled down in that direction, while NBC stood pat with a business-as-usual schedule – that wound up winning most of the season on a week-to-week basis.
      So it was – and still is – with trends in programming: one hit leads to a big bunch of copies, but at the end of the season all that’s left is the original, if that.

  • Bob says:

    I can still see the video here but get “Loading the player” for everything else. Did Robert do something different to make this one visible?

    I still haven’t been able see the video for the WTIC-TV Eischeid Promo. I’ll keep checking back to see if it opens.

  • Bob Randisi says:

    I preferred The Young Lawyers, which starred Zalman King and Lee J. Cobb, but I watched both shows when they first appeared. Back then I watched EVERYTHING.

    RJR

  • david hartzog says:

    I thought this was a pretty good show ar the time.

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