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The Defenders
Title card
Created byReginald Rose
StarringE. G. Marshall
Robert Reed
Joan Hackett
Polly Rowles
Theme music composerLeonard Rosenman
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons4
No. of episodes132 (list of episodes)
Executive producerHerbert Brodkin
ProducersBob Markell
George Justin
Production locationsFilmways Studios, New York City[1]
EditorLyman Hallowell
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time45–48 minutes
Production companiesPlautus Productions
Defender Productions
CBS Television Network
Original networkCBS
Picture formatBlack-and-white
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseSeptember 16, 1961 (1961-09-16) –
May 13, 1965 (1965-05-13)

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The Defenders is an American courtroom drama series that ran on CBS from 1961 to 1965. It starred E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed as father-and-son defense attorneys who specialized in legally complex cases, with defendants such as neo-Nazis, conscientious objectors, civil rights demonstrators, a schoolteacher fired for being an atheist, an author accused of pornography, and a physician charged in a mercy killing.[1] It was created by television writer Reginald Rose.

The Museum of Broadcast Communications called it "perhaps the most socially conscious series the medium has ever seen", a show "singularly resonant with New Frontier liberalism".[1]

In 2002, The Defenders was ranked #31 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[2] and in 2013 TV Guide ranked it #8 in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.[3]


File:1961 The Defenders.jpg

E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed

  • E. G. Marshall as Lawrence Preston
  • Robert Reed as Kenneth Preston
  • Polly Rowles as Helen Donaldson (1961–1962)
  • Joan Hackett as Joan Miller (1961–1962)


Main article: List of The Defenders (1961) episodes

Subject matter[]

According to creator Reginald Rose, "the law is the subject of our programs: not crime, not mystery, not the courtroom for its own sake. We were never interested in producing a 'who-done-it' which simply happened to be resolved each week in a flashy courtroom battle of wits."[1] And unlike Perry Mason, which also ran on CBS, victory was "far from certain on The Defenders—as were morality and justice."[1]

Topics featured in the series included abortion, capital punishment, "no-knock" searches, custody rights of adoptive parents, the insanity defense, the "poisoned fruit doctrine", immigration quotas, the Hollywood blacklist, jury nullification, and Cold War visa restrictions.[1]

A 1962 episode entitled "The Benefactor"—in which the father-son legal team defended an abortionist—was the most controversial; all of the series' three regular advertisers (Brown & Williamson, Lever Brothers and Kimberly-Clark) refused to sponsor the episode, so it was only transmitted after a last-minute sponsor was found.[4] In 2008, this incident was used as the basis for a second season episode of the 1960s-set drama Mad Men.

The December 7, 1963 episode, "Climate of Evil" was originally titled "The Gentle Assassin", but was changed two weeks earlier in the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assassination. In addition, the January 4, 1964 episode, "Clare Cheval Died in Boston", was originally scheduled for the weekend of the assassination, and subsequently had reference to "President Kennedy" deleted from the episode.

Broadcast history[]

Note: The most frequent time slot for the series is in bold text.

  • Saturday at 8:30–9:30 p.m. on CBS: September 16, 1961 – May 25, 1963; November 30, 1963 – June 27, 1964
  • Saturday at 9:00–10:00 p.m. on CBS: September 28 – November 16, 1963
  • Thursday at 10:00–11:00 p.m. on CBS: September 24, 1964 – May 13, 1965

DVD release[]

On July 12, 2016, Shout! Factory released the complete first season on DVD in Region 1.[5]


  • 1961–1962: #26 (22.4)
  • 1962–1963: #18 (23.9)
  • 1963–1964: N/A
  • 1964–1965: N/A

As a top 30 series, The Defenders has an average rating of 23.2.

Emmy Awards[]

The Defenders won 13 Emmy Awards (including three in a row for Outstanding Drama Series) and received an additional seven nominations.

Year Result Category Who Episode
1962 Awarded Outstanding Continued Performance by a Lead Actor in a Series E. G. Marshall
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Franklin J. Schaffner
Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama Reginald Rose
1963 Awarded Outstanding Continued Performance by a Lead Actor in a Series E. G. Marshall
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Stuart Rosenberg "The Madman"
Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama Robert Thom

Reginald Rose

"The Madman"
Nominated Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Don Gordon
(for playing "Joey Tassili")
"The Madman"
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in

a Leading Role

Sylvia Sidney
(for playing "Adela")
"The Madman"
Program of the Year "The Madman"
1964 Awarded Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Jack Klugman
(for playing "Joe Larch")
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama -


Ernest Kinoy "Blacklist"
Nominated Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Paul Bogart "Moment of Truth"
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Stuart Rosenberg "Blacklist"
The Program of the Year "Blacklist"
1965 Awarded Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Directors Paul Bogart "The 700 Year Old Gang"
Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Writers David Karp "The 700 Year Old Gang"
Nominated Outstanding Program Achievements in Entertainment Bob Markell

Related works[]

File:The Defenders (1997 TV series).jpg

The 1997 version

The series was a slight reworking of Rose's 1957 two-part drama, The Defender, from the anthology series Studio One. In the original program, Ralph Bellamy played the father and William Shatner played his son. Shatner guest-starred in various roles in the later series, and the original drama later was incorporated into an episode of his series, Boston Legal. Original music for the series was scored by Frank Lewin and Leonard Rosenman.

A re-envisioned version of the series debuted on the Showtime network in 1997. Still called The Defenders, it featured E.G. Marshall in his original role as Lawrence Preston. However, the three Showtime films focused on Beau Bridges as Don Preston, a previously unmentioned second son of Lawrence, and Martha Plimpton as M.J., the daughter of Ken Preston, Robert Reed's character, who is said to have died (as had Reed in 1992). Don and M.J. worked as lawyers and carried on the family legacy. However, Marshall died after completion of the second episode ("Choice of Evils"). Production was halted and the remaining episode, "Taking the First", aired as a movie special in 1998.

The second season of Mad Men contains an episode named "The Benefactor" that featured a brief clip from The Defenders' episode of the same name.[6] In the Mad Men episode, the Sterling Cooper advertising agency is trying to secure sponsors for The Defenders' episode, which contains a plot involving abortion (originally telecast on April 28, 1962), after the regular sponsors pulled out because they claimed the episode (and subject matter) was "too controversial". The episode also offers a fictional backstory for the episode; that it was written for the third season of the series but rejected by the network for the usage of abortion as a plotline. The following season, the writers produced a script which revolved around the theme of cannibalism but the episode was rejected by the director who was assigned to film the episode due to the content. The director's refusal led to the network being forced to film the abortion-centric script, which an executive assigned to find advertisers for the show proclaims was the plan all along.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Mark Alvey. "The Defenders: U.S. Legal Drama". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2009-09-30.
  2. TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows
  3. Roush, Matt (February 25, 2013). "Showstoppers: The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time". TV Guide. pp. 16–17.
  4. "The Defenders U.S. Legal Drama". Encyclopedia of Television. Museum Of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  5. Shout! Factory The Defenders: Season One'
  6. Episode 3: The BenefactorTemplate:Unreliable source? from the AMC TV network website

External links[]

Template:EmmyAward DramaSeries 1951-1975