Make Room For A New Legal Drama

sidney lumet 2001
This week, CBS News Sunday Morning's John Leonard recommends a new TV series that carries some powerful talent.
Sidney Lumet is back on television, which is where he got his start before settling for Hollywood and directing Network.

So, as a matter of fact, did Steven Spielberg, John Frankenheimer, George Roy Hill and Arthur Penn get their start on television, back in the days of Studio One.

Remember this the next time some cinematic snob gets snooty about couch potatoes.

You could even drop the name of Ingmar Bergman and Marcel Ophuls.

Anyway, Lumet has returned, on high-definition videotape, as the executive producer of 100 Centre Street, the first-ever weekly dramatic series on the Art & Entertainment cable network.

100 Centre Street is the working address of New York City's criminal justice system.

It's where night-court judges like Alan Arkin, a former cop with a reputation for being too liberal, deals as best he can with a conveyor belt of losers.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
It's where Arkin, along with fellow judge (and not-so-liberal) LaTanya Richardson, meet assistant district attorneys like Paula Devicq (fresh from Bennington and Yale and in rebellion against her corporate-lawyer father) and Joseph Lyle Taylor, whose family origins are less exalted and whose stockbroker brother is a coke-head facing serious jail time.

Not to mention, there's Manny Perez, an ambitious public defender whose womanizing will cost the life of one of his clients.

In the program's two-hour pilot, Arkin is overly lenient with a youthful perp, who ends up killing a young policewoman, who happens to be the daughter of his old cop partner.

And Taylor's family bullies him into erasing his brother's previous arrest from the court computer.

And Richardson, whose triumph over an awful childhood had left her with no sympathy for anybody else's hard luck, tries to comfort her friend Arkin even as she heads for her own big mistake.

100 Centre Street has Sidney Lumet's characteristic virtues (casting, passion, and a machine-gun pace) as well as his vices (he's never been exactly subtle).

Whether there's room in your life for another legal drama depends on if yu're satisfied with an increasingly sensational Law & Order and increasingly farfetched The Practice. There is room in mine for a genuine friendship between professionals of the opposite sex and a different color. Anything that brings Alan Arkin into our living rooms is a dividend. And the message that there is a significant difference between law and justice seems to be that we don't want to learn.

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