So far, I enjoy the new show The Good Wife despite the fact that legal shows usually make me want to throw things at the TV. Maybe it’s because Julianna Margulies makes anything watchable. Whatever it is, the show is pretty compelling.
However, last week’s show had a scene that had the main character essentially testifying during her examination of a witness. The scene involved a key piece of evidence exonerating a murder defendant, the time a set of sprinklers went on.
I understand the writers’ urge to speed through what might be pretty boring testimony about plumbing. But a lawyer who did this would be chastised, wouldn’t be allowed to do it, and would probably be committing malpractice. That’s because they need a witness to come on the stand and testify about the sprinkler times. If they didn’t bother to call the witness, the evidence couldn’t come in and their client would be in trouble.
Here’s what the writers could have done to satisfy my legal colleagues out there who would love to find a watchable legal drama.
There was a great character they underused. It was the owner of the house with the sprinklers who was also the father of a witness. The witness was a teen who wanted to testify, but would have had to admit to having drugs in the house. The father came out, screamed at our main character that she should leave his son alone, that his son would never testify, and threw her off the property. I thought he was pretty interesting, but that’s the last we ever saw of him.
The writers could have put the father on the stand. We wait for the fireworks. He’s ready to blast the lawyer, to deny his son’s involvement. She asks him only about the sprinklers. The prosecutor and the witness are scratching their heads. A great dramatic moment where the audience is wondering what's happening. Then she springs on us the importance of the sprinklers. The killer is unveiled.
Doing it the right way would have added about another minute to the show. I’m sure something else could have been cut. Had the writers been more accurate in their legal writing, they could have also had a better show for all of us.
There are over a million lawyers in the U.S. We watch TV and read books. With a little creativity and a bit of research, most writers could put together something we find watchable, and that also entertains the non-lawyer audience.