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The Defenders 

A father and son lawyer duo take a variety of cases that often deal with the important issues of the day.


Reginald Rose




4   3   2   1  
1965   1964   1963   1962   1961  
Won 1 Golden Globe. Another 14 wins & 19 nominations. See more awards »


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Complete series cast summary:
E.G. Marshall ...  Lawrence Preston 132 episodes, 1961-1965
Robert Reed ...  Kenneth Preston 132 episodes, 1961-1965


Recent law school graduate (Robert Reed) joins his father (E.G. Marshall) as the pair tackle challenging legal cases, often involving issues which were highly touchy for the times (abortion, euthanasia, "un-American" activities, movie censorship). In most the freshly minted lawyer has much to learn from his father's extensive legal experience. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Tense drama in and out of court in the noted series with E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed.









Release Date:

16 September 1961 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Los defensores See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


(132 episodes)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


More than half of the actors who played jurors in 12 Angry Men (1957) have roles in the show. In addition to E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, and Robert Webber appeared in multiple episodes, often as District Attorneys or judges. Furthermore, Ossie Davis appeared in eight episodes as District Attorney Daniel Jackson. Davis played a juror in 12 Angry Men (1997). Series Creator Reginald Rose was nominated for an Oscar for writing 12 Angry Men (1957). See more »


Followed by The Defenders: Choice of Evils (1998) See more »

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User Reviews

The Best 'Cable Drama' in Network TV History
1 December 2011 | by deltaco-158-824418See all my reviews

The "Golden Age of Television"-- the era of live dramas about topical events-- officially ended in 1961, when PLAYHOUSE 90 went off the air and director John Frankenheimer left for Hollywood.

By that time, almost all its great writers-- Paddy Chayefsky, Gore Vidal, Horton Foote, Tad Mosel, Robert Alan Aurthur, Arnold Schulman, J.P. Miller, Frank Gilroy, Abby Mann, Leslie Stevens, Paul Monash and William Gibson-- had left television for Broadway, books or Hollywood.

Writing for TV was an exhausting, infuriating occupation. Getting any meaningful idea from page to screen required endless fights with sponsors and censors. Rod Serling, who submitted a script based on the lynching of Emmitt Till, a 14-year old black in Mississippi, saw his victim transformed into an immigrant in New England. The sponsor even forbade residents to be seen drinking Coca-Cola, out of concern that it might suggest the South-- and racists might protest.

Two writers had the courage to remain in TV. Serling created THE TWILIGHT ZONE, so he could use allegory and allusion to disguise social comment (nobody protested scripts where Martians were lynched, he cracked).

Reginald Rose, who wrote "12 Angry Men" and "Thunder on Sycamore Street" simply challenged the industry head-on. THE DEFENDERS was based on his two-part STUDIO ONE script, where a father-son team of lawyers (Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner) defends a 19-year-old (Steve McQueen) charged with murder that he insists he did not commit.

In the series, E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed played defense attorneys committed to making sure every defendant gets his rights under the law.

Marshall's Lawrence Preston is very like his "Juror 4"-- careful, logical and impossible to move with appeals to emotion. Reed's Kenneth has a social conscience and burning desire to see what he considers justice done, even if it violates the letter of the law. (Some of the most effective scenes occur when two actors argue their convictions to each other.)

A shorthand description of an episode for contemporary audiences would be "Keith Olbermann's Law and Order". Every one of the 132 shows argued legal issues that are still hot-buttons today. Remember: in 1961, abortion and birth control were illegal. Segregation wasn't. The US was fighting in Vietnam. Falsely-accused Communists were still blacklisted.

But the Prestons defended a neo-nazi arrested for inciting the crowd to beat a protester. They defended a Dr. Kevorkian, civil rights demonstrators, abortionists, immigrants without citizenship, draft- dodgers, pornographers, atheists and road rage murderers. (The only thing I don't remember seeing was a homosexual.) As I remember, the Prestons lost more cases than they won. But they made sure everyone got his or her day in court and a full and fair hearing.

THE WIRE, DEADWOOD, MAD MEN, OZ, BREAKING BAD and THE SOPRANOS are all good shows. Put in the context of their eras, not one compares to what THE DEFENDERS achieved. It still has the power to enrage. Wingnuts I've sent to YouTube to watch it die of apoplexy when they hear unapologetic advocating for civil liberties (even though their side gets equal time).

THE DEFENDERS was a top-30 show when there were only three channels. It won 13 Emmies-- Best Drama three times, Marshall for Best Actor twice, four for best writing, three for best direction. The shows still hold up well. They're talky, some of their dramatic conventions, psychology and sociology has dated. But the ideas are timeless, the writing is stellar and the acting and directing is often stunning.

There's a reason both MAD MEN and BOSTON LEGAL paid tribute to THE DEFENDERS in an episode. It's an outrage that a full run of this groundbreaking show isn't available on DVD-- while that execrable impostor starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell already is.

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