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"Boston Legal" Makes Case Against TV Ageism

You have to give ABC credit. In the semifinal episode of "Boston Legal" Monday, it allowed writer-producer David E. Kelley to take several shots at the direction of broadcast television.

The teleplay, written by three people including Kelley, had a sub-plot in which attorney Carl Sack (John Larroquette) took a case inspired by Catherine Piper (Betty White) that concerned broadcast television's belief that viewers over the age of 50 are irrelevant.

Sack argued passionately before Judge Clark Brown (Henry Gibson) that broadcast television's refusal to make shows that appeal to older viewers is discriminatory because the airwaves are a public trust and those viewers don't want to watch the reality shows, the game shows and the sex-crazed shows aimed at younger viewers that appeal more to advertisers.

"Old people, the ones with intelligence don't want to watch that crap," argued Sack. "We're fed up. The networks might think we're dead but we're not. We're very much alive with working brains. Give us something to watch, damn it."

At one point, Sack was about to say that "Boston Legal" is the only TV show "unafraid to have its stars over 50" but he stopped himself. "I can't say it because that would break the wall," said Sack, alluding to the imaginary fourth wall that separates the audience from the action of a performance.

Of course, characters in "Boston Legal" often come close to breaking the wall by indirectly discussing things that obviously pertain to the show. In the closing scene Monday between Alan Shore (James Spader) and Denny Crane (William Shatner) they indirectly discussed the lack of promotion for the show. 

Judge Brown, noting that there are 87 million people in the demographic the networks ignore and they spend more time watching TV than younger people, allowed the case to proceed.

"If I am to assume that the industry is not run by a bunch of idiots, I can only conclude that it is dominated by prejudice," ruled the judge.

He was making a big assumption. The primary reason the networks make shows aimed at younger viewers is because advertisers believe older viewers have already made up their minds on what products to buy.

"Legal" ends its run with a two-hour finale on Monday, with Crane and Shore heading to the United States Supreme Court to argue a case and Sack and Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) heading to the altar.

What do you think of Sack's argument, the judge's decision and the end of "Boston Legal"?

-- Alan Pergament 

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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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