The Paper Chase (TV series)

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The Paper Chase
The Paper Chase.png
Title screen
Genre Drama
Based on The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn, Jr.
Developed by James Bridges
Starring (See article)
Composer(s) Stephen Seretan (1.0, 1.1, 1.5, 1.7, 1.8, 1.15, 1.16, 1.17, 1.18, 1.19)
Charles Fox (1.2, 1.3)
Thomas Newman (1.20, 1.21)
Richard Shores (1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.9, 1.10, 1.11, 1.12)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 59 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Lynn Roth
Robert C. Thompson
Producer(s) Albert Aley
Robert Lewin
Ernest A. Losso
Cinematography Gene A. Talvin
Editor(s) Axel Hubert Sr.
Rod Stephens
Running time 60 minutes
Production company(s) 20th Century Fox Television
Original network CBS (season 1)
Showtime (seasons 2-4)
Original release September 9, 1978 (1978-09-09) - April 24, 1979 (1979-04-24)
April 15, 1983 (1983-04-15) – August 9, 1986 (1986-08-09)

The Paper Chase is an American drama television series based on a 1970 novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr., as well as a 1973 film adaptation. It follows the lives of law student James T. Hart and his classmates at an unnamed law school, modeled on Harvard Law School but filmed on the University of Southern California campus (featuring its Bovard Administration Building, Doheny Library and Von KleinSmid Center) and in Stages 2 and 4 at 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles.[1]


Season 1[edit]

James T. Hart is a law student from rural Minnesota who enters the intensely competitive environment of the prestigious Harvard Law School specifically to study with Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, the world's leading authority on contract law. Kingsfield inspires both awe and fear in his students in his unremitting determination to prepare them for the practice of law.

To cope with the heavy workload, Hart joins a study group organized by Franklin Ford III. Ford is under immense pressure to succeed. His family has produced an unbroken string of outstanding lawyers going back generations, culminating in his demanding father, the senior partner in a very prestigious Wall Street law firm. The study group includes smooth woman-chaser Thomas Craig Anderson, slob Willis Bell, idealistic activist Elizabeth Logan, and struggling Jonathan Brooks, who is married to Asheley. Brooks leaves Harvard after he is caught cheating.

Hart works part-time at Ernie's Tavern to help pay his way through school. In the pilot, he works at a pizza parlor alongside a waitress who shows him the ropes, played by Marilu Henner.

There was a four year hiatus between the end of the first season and the start of the second.

Season 2[edit]

Hart survives the first year with flying colors and joins the staff of the law school's Law Review (an honor reserved for the top students), under the leadership of Gerald Golden. He becomes romantically involved with a first-year law student, Connie Lehman (Jane Kaczmarek), only to lose her when she wins a Rhodes Scholarship and goes to Oxford University.[2] Later, he repeatedly clashes with Law Review rival Rita Harriman, though he admits to Ford that he is perversely attracted to her.

Bell, working as a dorm adviser, is smitten with one of his charges, Laura Kiernan, but she just wants to be friends.

Season 3[edit]

Hart, now in his third year, is joined by two new students: Franklin Ford's younger brother Tom (Peter Nelson) and former housewife Rose Samuels (Lainie Kazan).

Season 4[edit]

It is now the final year for Hart at the law school. In the 2-hour series finale, Hart finally graduates, and has to decide between taking a Federal Second Circuit Court clerkship or a position in a private firm. His decision is further complicated when he is asked to apply for the Thompson Endowment for Constitutional Law faculty position at his school. He decides to interview for the faculty position, but is disappointed to discover his appointment is adamantly opposed by Professor Kingsfield. Though Kingsfield admits Hart is an exceptional student and will most probably be an outstanding lawyer, he tells the faculty hiring committee that Hart has "no experience whatsoever" and has "no resources on which to draw as a teacher." When Hart finds out he did not get the faculty position, he is upset, but comes to terms with the outcome. As Hart gives the commencement speech, he directly addresses Professor Kingsfield and expresses his admiration and affection for the professor, thus bringing the series to a close.


Character Actor
Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. John Houseman
James T. Hart James Stephens
Franklin Ford III Tom Fitzsimmons
Willis Bell James Keane
Elizabeth Logan Francine Tacker
Thomas Craig Anderson Robert Ginty
Jonathan Brooks Jonathan Segal
Mrs. Nottingham, Kingsfield's secretary Betty Harford
Ernie Charles Hallahan
Connie Lehman Jane Kaczmarek
Gerald Golden, president of Harvard Law Review Michael Tucci
Laura Kiernan Andra Millian
Vivian Conway Penny Johnson
Rita Harriman Clare Kirkconnell



The CBS television network aired the series in the 1978–1979 season. John Houseman reprised his movie role, and James Stephens played Hart. It was cancelled after one year; PBS subsequently rebroadcast all of the episodes. In 1983, pay-cable network Showtime brought back the show with both Houseman and Stephens, as well as some other members of the original television cast. At the end of the fourth season, Hart finally graduates from law school.

Theme music[edit]

In the first year, the theme song was "The First Years", written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, and performed by Seals and Crofts. In the pilot, the opening used an instrumental version, and the ending used a different vocal version. Starting in the second year, a classical instrumental piece replaced it.

Opening narrative[edit]

In the first year, the program opens with Professor Kingsfield, in class, saying, "The study of law is something new and unfamiliar to most of you--unlike any other schooling you have ever known before." After the theme song, he continues: "You teach yourselves the law but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush, and, if you survive, you leave thinking like a lawyer."


Season Episodes Network Premiere Finale DVD
release date
1 22 CBS September 9, 1978 April 24, 1979 April 7, 2009
2 19 Showtime April 15, 1983 August 21, 1984 December 15, 2009
3 12 May 11, 1985 September 10, 1985 September 26, 2017
4 6 June 28, 1986 August 9, 1986 January 23, 2018



CableACE Award:

  • 1985: Best Dramatic Series
  • 1987: Best Dramatic Series

Home media[edit]

Shout! Factory has released the four seasons on DVD in Region 1.[3]

DVD name Ep# Release date
Season One 22 April 7, 2009
Season Two 19 December 15, 2009
Season Three 12 September 26, 2017
Season Four 6 January 23, 2018



In the late 1980s, The Family Channel rebroadcast the entire series in a late-night time slot, at midnight Eastern Time. The series was later seen in the early 1990s on A&E, and in the early 2000s on GoodLife Television.

International broadcast[edit]

The series aired in the UK on BBC Two.


External links[edit]