With network television shows in their mid-season breaks, WNYC’s Sara Fishko looks back to a New Frontier-era television series that dared to confront topics that no other series would touch at that time. Here is the next Fishko Files…
"The Defenders" was an expertly written television series starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed, who played both defense attorneys and father and son. The show was shot in New York and ran at the cusp of The New Frontier television dramas on CBS from 1961-1965. While set in a courtroom, "The Defenders" dealt with serious issues rather than courtroom fluff: The show tackled abortion, cannibalism, the insanity defense and capital punishment, among other controversial topics. Reginald Rose, the writer of "12 Angry Men," was the show's creator, and he valued strong writing above everything else. Many episode descriptions and information on the writers for the series can be found at this website.
Ellen Rose was the secretary for "The Defenders" throughout the series' entire run and, later, Reginald Rose's wife. She spoke with us about Rose's devotion to writing -- both in the subject-matter for the show, and also in his relationships with the writers.
There were a lot of subjects that hadn’t even been approached on television before that "The Defenders" did. And that was Reggie. That was him. I mean, he loved writing, and he was very interested in good writing, and was encouraging. David Rintels was one of the ones that — in effect — Reginald found. Another one was Stanley Greenberg. Both of them had sent something in just on the spur of the moment. And Reginald Rose read it and said, you know, this has possibilities — it’s not for 'The Defenders,' but it's a good writer, and maybe we can work together.
David Rintels talked with us about his relationship with Reginald Rose.
I remember on the first script that I wrote for him, I didn’t understand how television writing had to be economical. We only had 52 minutes, whatever it was in those days, to tell a story. And you had to make every word count. And when I handed in my first script, Reggie asked me to come in, and I’m sitting at the table with him, and he says, 'Oh, let’s go through some of this.’ And he said some nice things — and he said, 'Here you see on page two where you write, ‘Lawrence Preston gets up from the comfortable easy chair he’s been sitting in, and walks across the room to the door. He opens the door and is about to go out when he thinks of something he has left unsaid. He turns back to the room and starts to say it, and then realizes that sometimes there are things better left unsaid. And he goes out and closes the door behind him'? I said, 'yeah.' Reggie said, 'how about: he exits?' I said, 'Oh!' So, just in his comic way, he taught me about — you know in book writing and Proust can spend five pages discussing the taste of a petite madeleine. But in television you gotta get on with it.
- The popular series "Mad Men" invoked a famous episode of "The Defenders" in its second season. The "Mad Men" episode follows the Sterling Cooper Agency as it attempts to find a replacement sponsor for a controversial Defenders episode, from April 28, 1962. Here's a blog post discussing "The Defenders"/"Mad Men" connection.
- Leonard Rosenman composed the theme music for "The Defenders." For more on Leonard Rosenman, listen to this archival episode from The Fishko Files, Leonard Rosenman, about the composer's work. (By the way, Frank Lewin composed much of the incidental music for "The Defenders." He's the father of New York Public Radio's/WQXR's Naomi Lewin).
WNYC Production Credits...
Mix Engineer: Rob Weisberg
Associate Producer: Laura Mayer
Managing Editor, WNYC News: Karen Frillmann