Recasting is little more than life-support for 'L.A. Law'

There's a new "L.A. Law" coming to NBC this season.

Yes, once again, NBC is recasting and retooling at McKenzie-Brackman.


Susan Ruttan, Sheila Kelley and Lisa Zane are out. And ex-"Civil Wars" stars Alan Rosenberg and Debi Mazar -- along with actress Alexandra Powers -- are in.

But can anyone still be interested or is this just another vain attempt to breathe life into a show that died two years ago -- even if it hasn't been canceled yet?


If "L.A. Law" is remembered for anything in this, its eighth season, which begins tonight, it will probably be remembered for its contribution to TV trivia.

In an interesting, though hardly show-saving gambit, NBC has taken Mr. Rosenberg and Ms. Mazar's characters from ABC's "Civil Wars" -- lawyer Eli Levinson and legal secretary Denise Iannello -- and plopped them into "L.A. Law." And that, NBC proudly notes, amounts to "TV history" -- the first "prime-time characters to be transplanted from one drama series into another network's non-spinoff series."

Now there's a reason to watch, huh?

Actually, though Ms. Mazar's Denise has a spark plug of a personality and Mr. Rosenberg's Eli is far more likable than just about anybody working for McKenzie-Brackman, it's Ms. Powers who has the juiciest role.

Though she played a prostitute in "Rising Sun," Ms. Powers is cast in "L.A. Law" as a fundamentalist Christian attorney named Jane Halliday who trips all sorts of emotional and political levers when she joins the firm.

NBC is promising "renewed emphasis on vital story lines and legal complexities" along with its new faces.

And some of that is indeed in evidence in tonight's episode, "Book of Renovation, Chapter I."

Who knows, maybe they really can revive interest in "L.A. Law" with yearly transfusions of talent.


But if that's the way the producers are going to go, they should go all the way and really break with tradition, smash all the molds, do the truly unexpected.

Why stop with a couple of also-rans from a canceled show?

Did anyone, for example, ever consider Barney?

Yeah, that's right.

Barney the Dinosaur.

Can you imagine what a legal eagle -- maybe a purple prosecutor -- might do for the show's ratings?


He'd bring in the kids, who, let's face it, are staying up later these days, not to mention dragging their parents into court all the time.

And since we are the most litigious society in the world, what better way to teach the kids?

Can't you just hear them singing themselves softly to sleep with Barney.

"I sue you. You sue me. We will settle for a million three . . ."

Too far-out even for the once cutting-edge "L.A. Law," you say?

How about Oprah?


She's got the ratings power. She's got the gift of gab. She's got the talent, she's got the acting experience and she's got enough cash to buy and sell McKenzie-Brackman if not NBC several times over.

Besides, her cross-examinations could be classics. ("And you say WHAT in your defense?!")

But in case she's busy, there are always other alternatives.

Though William Finkelstein, formerly executive producer of "Civil Wars" is in charge of "L.A. Law" this season and former "L.A. Law" executive producer David E. Kelley is now producing "Picket Fences" for CBS, perhaps Mr. Finkelstein could talk Kelley into persuading his girlfriend Michelle Pfeiffer into signing on for a season of "Law."

What would she do?

Who knows? Lie around on a piano every episode and sing, maybe.


Who cares? It's beside the point.

And that, of course, is the point.

"L.A. Law" hasn't been about law or lawyers for years.

It's a show that's 8 years old -- which is about a million in TV years. And there's not a face lift in the world that could make it look like anything else.