Tonight, National Geographic Channel, which, I’m told, has long abandoned any pretense of having to do with geography and has wholeheartedly embraced the quasi-reality of crime and prison shows, is airing a half-hour episode of a new project titled “Criminal Defense: And justice for all” (note that the title makes no pretensions of “equal” justice). There is a second episode set to air tomorrow night, I think. The show is getting a sort of trial and if these episodes garner enough interest, they might order a full run. Whatever.
The show follows public defenders at the World Famous© Brooklyn Legal Aid as they represent clients during the course of their humdrum, everyday routine while doing things like climbing ladders at crime scenes to prove that the cops are lying. We all do that, right? Whether this show accurately captures the life of a public defender and the day-to-day workings remains to be seen.
Real-life crime shows have taken off and captured the public’s “imagination” because they allow us to: 1) not think; 2) pretend we’re better than everyone else; 3) laugh at the misfortune of others and 4) not think. But these prosecution and law-and-order oriented shows are easy to make and easier to market. They’re black and white and, increasingly, the American populace seems to like things to only be black or white. A show from the defense perspective necessarily brings with it nuance and challenges the viewer to be understanding and compassionate, which is why they don’t garner much success despite being fronted by the ridiculously handsome Mark-Paul Gosselaar. And it makes sense, when a pro-prosecution show can generate this:
[You really need to click here to see the image. Or right click and say 'view in new tab/window'. It's worth it. For your troubles, there's a bonus video at the end of the post]
Over at Legal Ethics Forum, Brooks Holland, who I can only assume is a LawProf, asks an interesting question: are these shows good or bad? Specifically:
A great chance to profile the important, difficult, and under-valued work of public defenders, and to humanize the experience of clients and other individuals who navigate our criminal justice system. At the same time, I wonder about confidentiality, even with client consent, and how a TV camera could affect client representation and advocacy, consciously or unconsciously. What do folks think of the pros and cons of this kind of show—should lawyers agree to participate?
I’d love to see what the confidentiality waiver looked like for participants. Will prosecutors try to argue that any and all confidentiality was waived? Will lawyers be tempted to be on their best behavior and actually perform their jobs and will judges and prosecutors play nice because there’s a camera around? Will people get the wrong idea about just how messed up the criminal justice system really is?
I’m not going to say outright that I would never agree to this, but I’d have to think long and hard before I did. I still think there’s room – and a need – for a well produced, realistic show about criminal defense attorneys, if for no other reason than to educate the public about what goes on inside a courtroom and how everything isn’t black and white. A NatGeo “reality” show, though, might not be the answer.
I’ll probably tune in tonight, if I haven’t succumbed to old-person-itis and fallen asleep at 9:00pm EDT. Leave a comment if you watch this and let me know your thoughts.
BONUS VIDEO because you’re all so nice: