Commentary

Unlawful Taco Consumption On Docket In New ABC Legal Drama

In this scene from the new ABC legal drama “For The People,” one of the young lawyers eats a breakfast taco in a courthouse corridor where no food is allowed, drawing the ire of another one of the young lawyers.

That’s the taco-eating miscreant in the photo above getting a disapproving look from the other lawyer. Intrigued? Curious about the show? Making a mental note to be sure and tune in Tuesday night?

Of course not. However, this photo was just about the most action-packed of all of the photos ABC provided for publicity purposes in support of this new lawyer show.

Publicity photos have long fascinated me. I have been on the receiving end of them for more than 30 years. It never ceases to amaze me how off-point so many of them seem to be.

When choosing photos to accompany stories and columns about new TV comedies, for example, I often struggle to find a photo that actually looks funny from the supply of photos the networks provide.

Dear network publicists -- when promoting a new comedy, please provide photos that are funny, with characters making funny faces or seen in comedic situations. In times gone by, this might have meant a photo of the lead male character wearing a dress, for example. Today, I guess the comedy has been wrung out of that kind of image.

The same goes for dramas and action shows. Publicity photos for the former are not dramatic -- such as the photo above. The rest of the photos for this new show “For The People” had less drama in them than this guy eating a taco.

As for action shows, the supply of publicity photos for these almost never show any action. I have long attributed this to the network publicity departments’ sensitivity about violence. The shows they are promoting might be bloody, but the photos they provide never show the same scenes.

Publicity photos showing guns are rare, although they do turn up from time to time. I always use them if I can.

Over the years, I have developed a theory about the lack of funny pictures for comedies, dramatic photos for dramas and action photos for action shows: That, based on a consideration of the available photos, these respective shows have no (or very little) comedy, drama or action.

This theory does not hold up in every case, however. For example, in your typical legal drama, such as “For The People” on ABC, the action and drama consists mainly of conversations, confrontations and orations (in court or out) between hard-driving, square-shouldered adversaries.

Understandably, still photos of these scenes cannot convey the drama that even a cynical critic can concede exists there. That’s the thing about these legal dramas: Most of them are very good, or at the very least, exhibit a great deal of what you might call glossy proficiency.

“For The People” concerns itself with young public defenders and assistant U.S. attorneys opposing each other in U.S. District Court in New York City. They face off in court, spar with each other in the corridors (sometimes over unlawful tacos and sometimes not) and make goo-goo eyes at each other.

They walk fast -- high heels and men's soles clicking rapidly indoors on terrazzo floors and outside on city sidewalks. These legal eagles meet various challenges in their defense or prosecution of accused wrongdoers. Some win their cases and some lose.

In the premiere episode on Tuesday night, one of the public defenders tries to get a young Muslim-American man acquitted on charges that he conspired to smuggle a bomb into the Statue of Liberty with the intention of blowing it up. She loses.

In one of the more interesting lines of dialogue ever heard on a TV show, her supervisor (played by Hope Davis), tells her: “This is not TV. You don't get a Muslim-American kid off charged with trying to blow up the Statue of Liberty.”

I beg to differ, however: This is TV, with a capital “T” and “V.” Not that there is anything wrong with that, but this show is just like a hundred others that have come before it.

It begs a question: Another lawyer show? Really? Why is network television still making shows like this?

“For the People” premieres Tuesday (March 13) at 10 p.m. Eastern on ABC.

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