The Perry Mason TV Show Book
The History of the Show

Disorder in the Court

The show also caused its fair share of controversy during its nine-year tenure.

One vocal group of critics was the National Association of County and Prosecuting Attorneys. Their complaint? That TV lawyer shows--Perry Mason the chief among them--were conditioning real jurors to: 1) view the defense lawyer as the hero, 2) view the district attorney as the villain and 3) expect theatrics, tricks, and last-second, tearful confessions whenever they were deciding a case.

"In trying to select people for a grand jury, I know that prospective jurors get the wrong idea by watching the Perry Mason show week after week," one prosecutor intoned at a real-life DA convention in 1957. "They think the prosecutor and the police department are trying to convict somebody who is innocent. I know personally from talking to jurors that they often decide a case on the basis of what they saw on TV."

Of course, if the DAs had decided to bring this case to court, they might just as well have given the case to Hamilton Burger. To blame a poor win-loss judicial record on the effects of TV is like saying that hospitals are filled with sick people because they like doctor shows.

It wasn't just the DAs who turned thumbs down on the show. Lawyers, at least in Philadelphia, had their objections, too. Early in the show's history, a questionnaire was distributed to forty Philadelphia lawyers asking them for their opinion. The verdict was later published in a Philly legal journal. Of the twenty-two lawyers who admitted watching the show at all (seven only regularly), eighteen called it "unrealistic." Thirteen thought it "rendered a disservice" to the bar by giving the public an inaccurate picture (you know--smart, compassionate, generous, infallible) of a lawyer.

The role of Della also faced tough cross-examination. Only five thought she portrayed the "typical" lawyer's secretary. Not even Perry's work area escaped unscathed. Only three of twenty-two thought his office was "realistic." (However, on a close vote of nine to eight, with five abstaining, Paul Drake was deemed--just barely--realistic.")

Another surprising group of critics were the actors themselves. After playing the loser so often, William Talman had several beefs. But his major complaint centered on the characterizations; he felt they were becoming stale. Upon hearing this, Erle Stanley Gardner felt betrayed. If anyone on the cast owed Gardner a favor, it was Talman, for reasons explained later. But what bugged Gardner was that Talman, who was something of an unguided missile, went public with his criticism. This prompted Gardner to say of the actor: "When it comes to the field of public relations, that guy needs a guardian."

But then Raymond Burr also publicly criticized the show. He went on record calling the 1964-65 season "a bad year." His chief complaint was that the plots were too complicated--so much so, even he couldn't follow them. More than likely the criticism was born of Burr's chronic workaholic habits, and he was probably getting a little bored with the show. In fact, he was getting the seven-year itch a year late.

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The Perry Mason TV Show Book Copyright 1987 by Brian Kelleher and Diana Merrill. All rights reserved. Presented here by permission of the copyright holder. Commercial use prohibited. Web page Copyright 1998 D. M. Brockman. Last edited 04 Nov 2004.