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This essay offers a social history and examination of The Defenders as a popular, criti- cally acclaimed television text that negotiated anxieties regarding crime, law, justice, lib- eralism, and masculinity in the 1960s and 1990s. Both The Defenders television series (1961–1965) and the Showtime motion picture series (1997–1998) by the same name rearticulated enduring tensions between law’s formalism and just desires for compassion and mercy, depicting defense attorneys as men who work both inside and outside of “law” to ensure justice and confront the lack of humanism in “the rule of law.” Such discourses are understood and appreciated in different ways in different times, particularly as the cultural politics of nostalgia are engaged. The Defenders offers clear illustrations of the ways in which popular narratives not only depict juridical roles but also perform them, specifying when and where “law” begins and ends.


Originally published in Television and New Media, Volume 8, Issue 2 (2007), pages 144-68.

DOI: 10.1177/1527476406298904

© 2007 Sage Publications