Street Legal (1987 TV series)
C. David Johnson
|Country of origin||Canada|
|No. of seasons||8|
|No. of episodes||124|
|Running time||60 minutes|
|Original network||CBC Television|
|Original release||January 6, 1987 – November 6, 1994|
Street Legal was the longest-running one-hour scripted drama in the history of Canadian television, holding the record for twenty years before being surpassed by Heartland's 125th episode on October 18, 2014.
Ordered to series from the 1985 television movie Shellgame, Street Legal focused on the professional and private lives of the partners in a small Toronto, Ontario law firm, Barr, Robinovitch and Tchobanian. The primary stars were Sonja Smits as Carrington "Carrie" Barr, Eric Peterson as Leon Robinovitch, and C. David Johnson as Charles "Chuck" Tchobanian. The cast also included Julie Khaner, Albert Schultz, Cynthia Dale, Maria del Mar, Ron Lea and Diane Polley (1987-1990).
Produced at the same time as L.A. Law, this series was distinctively Canadian, in the use of Canadian court customs and procedures. Much of the show's music was composed by Eric Robertson who was nominated for a Gemini Award in 1987 for his work on the show.
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The series debuted on January 6, 1987, during the 1986-87 season with Maryke McEwen as executive producer. It experienced a rocky start, with low ratings. The theme music, beginning in season four, was a saxophone piece by Micky Erbe and Maribeth Solomon. Until that time, the show revolved around three lawyers: Carrie Barr (Sonja Smits), Leon Robinovitch (Eric Peterson), and Chuck Tchobanian (C. David Johnson). Carrie and Leon were the committed, left-wing social activists, and Chuck was the conservative yet aggressive 1980s criminal lawyer.
From the third through the seventh seasons, Brenda Greenberg was first senior producer, then executive producer, with Nada Harcourt taking over for the final season. As CBC's director of programming in 1987, Ivan Fecan hired a Canadian script doctor at CBS, Carla Singer, to work with the producer on improving the show.
The series introduced aggressive, risk-taking Olivia Novak (played by Cynthia Dale) to contrast the niceness of the Carrie Barr character. Olivia and Chuck had a daughter and later married as the series progressed.
Alana Newman (Julie Khaner) is a confident, compassionate judge, married to Leon, who battles sexism in the workplace. They eventually adopt a son. Rob Diamond is added as a young bright lawyer (Albert Schultz) who leaves R.J. Williams and joins as a junior lawyer and managing partner.
In the fourth season, the first African-Canadian continuing character was introduced: Crown Prosecutor Dillon Beck (Anthony Sherwood). Dillon falls in love with Carrie and marries her. They have two children: Dillon's daughter (previous wife deceased) and Carrie's adopted daughter.
Carrie is struck and killed by a judge who was driving drunk. This wrote Carrie (Smits) out of the show due to family reasons. New lawyer Laura Crosby (Maria del Mar) is added to replace Carrie. Laura clashes with Olivia and romances Olivia's then-former boyfriend (later, husband), Chuck.
Dillon then has a relationship with Mercedes (Alison Sealy-Smith), the no-nonsense Caribbean office secretary. At the series end, Dillon joins the firm to replace Chuck, who is heading to Vancouver, now estranged from wife Olivia and longtime friend/partner Leon. Ron Lea played a Crown Prosecutor named Brian Maloney, an in-joke to Canadians who connected him to the Progressive Conservative Prime Minister, lawyer Brian Mulroney.
Maloney and Laura have an ongoing and eventual sour relationship. Nearer the end of the series, Rob and Laura get together.
The enlarged cast allowed for more storylines and increased conflict.
The issues dealt with are definably Canadian as well as international. Leon fought an employment equity case for a Royal Canadian Mounted Police candidate, as well as representing an African-Canadian nurse in front of the Human Rights Commission. Olivia became a producer of a Canadian movie. Chuck defended a wealthy Native cigarette smuggler on conspiracy to commit murder. Leon represented the survivors of a mine disaster and then ran for mayor of Toronto. Leon and Alana became involved with a Mexican refugee, eight months pregnant, who gets in trouble with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Human interest stories intertwined with the political issues and the characters' personal lives.
Along with the CTV series E.N.G., set in a Toronto television newsroom, Street Legal established Canadian dramatic television stars. Cynthia Dale, who played vixen Olivia, has said that she gets letters from young girls who want to grow up to be like Olivia. In one episode, when ogled and harassed by a construction worker as she passed his job site, Olivia knocked him off his sawhorse with her hefty briefcase. The scene was then inscribed into the new credit sequence.
The other cast members have also gone on to other work, but the problem of a Canadian star system remains. There are few series produced, often their stars return to theatre or radio or to auditioning again for TV parts. One reason Street Legal ended was that CBC could not afford to have two dramatic series on air at the same time, and the older program was supplanted by Side Effects, a medical drama. The show's regular episode run came to an end on February 18, 1994, and then all new episode production wrapped up with a two-hour movie, aired on November 6, 1994, which drew 1.6 million viewers.
The one-hour CBC drama series about a group of Toronto lawyers stands as a landmark event in Canadian broadcasting history. After taking two years to find its niche, it became extremely popular. In its last six seasons, it regularly drew about a million viewers, the benchmark of a Canadian hit.
- Sonja Smits — Carrington "Carrie" Barr
- C. David Johnson — Charles "Chuck" Tchobanian
- Eric Peterson — Leon Robinovitch
- Cynthia Dale — Olivia Novak
- David James Elliott — Nick Del Gado
- Julie Khaner — Alana Newman Robinovitch
- Anthony Sherwood — Dillon Beck
- Albert Schultz — Rob Diamond
- Maria del Mar — Laura Crosby
- Ron Lea — Brian Malony
- Alison Sealy-Smith — Mercedes
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Street Legal was the fact that on almost every episode there were guest appearances by prominent Canadian actors. In fact, an estimated 500 different actors, including Gordon Pinsent, Donnelly Rhodes, Nicholas Campbell, Jayne Eastwood, Margot Kidder, Eric McCormack, Vlasta Vrána, Linda Kash, Gordon Clapp, Kim Coates, Wendy Crewson, Nonnie Griffin, Jan Rubeš and Abby Zotz, had guest roles during the show's eight-year run.
Janet Wright would play a lawyer named Jessica Grant in the last regular one-hour episode of Street Legal. She would later go on to play Emma Leroy on the CTV sitcom Corner Gas, alongside main Street Legal cast member Eric Peterson. Lynette Davies, in what proved to be her final screen role, played Dr. Renata Berger in the episode "Children's Hour" (1992). American actor Joseph Bottoms had a recurring role as Peter Garland during the 1990-91 season.
References in popular culture
In the episode of Corner Gas entitled "Cable Excess," Wanda, during a discussion of Canadian television, comments "I always kinda liked Street Legal", to which Oscar (played by Peterson) replies "Street Legal sucked!"
Street Legal held four time slots during its tenure on CBC Television, appearing on either Friday or Tuesday evenings.
- January 1987 - March 1988: Tuesday 8:00-9:00pm
- November 1988 - March 1991: Friday 8:00-9:00pm
- November 1991 - March 1992: Friday 9:00-10:00pm
- November 1992 - March 1994: Friday 8:00-9:00pm
A year after the series finished its seven-year run, Showcase ran the series for several years. Years later, Bravo aired repeats of the show weekdays at 6 a.m., 12 p.m., and 6 p.m. Eastern until July 27, 2009. The show also entered first-run syndication in the US during the early 1990s; one station that aired it was WWOR-TV in Secaucus, NJ; it was not aired, however, on the national cable feed, the WWOR EMI Service, because of the SyndEx laws enacted at the time which forced the EMI Service's founding. It also aired in India on Star Plus from April 1993.