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CBS' 'Courthouse' botches theft of 'NYPD' nuance


There aren't a lot of original ideas on CBS this fall but at least the network is copying the right prototypes. "Central Park West" is from the "Melrose Park" mold; most of CBS' comedies are "Friends" knockoffs; and "Courthouse," the second drama premiering tonight at 10, attempts to bring the gritty "NYPD Blue" look and feel to legal drama.

"Courthouse" executive producer Deborah Joy Levine said she even wants to have brief nudity, a la "NYPD Blue," and has shot a couple of scenes. CBS has told her, "We'll see." The network's attitude is that when Ms. Levine (whose previous big credit is "Lois & Clark") establishes the credentials of Steven Bochco, she will be given the envelope-pushing freedom of Mr. Bochco.

"Courthouse" does such a weak job of pilfering the best of "NYPD Blue" that it could only be charged with petty theft. The CBS newcomer should capture viewer attention immediately with an explosive opening scene. Beyond that, it's mediocre, sappy melodrama.

Patricia Wettig stars as Justine Parkes, the presiding judge at an urban justice center. In spite of the usual suffocating caseload, Judge Parkes has to put everything else aside to deal with the events from the opening scene.

Ms. Levine is testing CBS in several ways. Another judge, played by Jenifer Lewis, has an open lesbian relationship, although it was ordered toned down from the pilot originally shown critics. In the revised edition, her lover could just as well be a close friend.

Amid all the turmoil, a new judge, Wyatt Jackson (Brad Johnson) arrives from Montana. Wyatt, who isn't used to big-city, assembly-line justice, gets off to a rocky start with Justine. However, there is clearly a spark between the two.

Robin Givens plays Suzanne Graham, an investigator in the district attorney's office. Her romantic relationship with a hard-charging prosecutor (Jeffrey Sams) results in the raciest grope in the premiere.

In spite of all the homage to "NYPD Blue," Ms. Levine says she was equally influenced by TV's soap opera of the moment: "The O. J. Simpson case showed that people are not just interested in the DNA evidences or whodunit. It's, 'My God, Marcia Clark's husband is divorcing her. How can she come to work every day? What is she wearing?' . . . I think the public is interested in that as well. That's sort of how 'Courthouse' was born."

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