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 release
ReleaseSeptember 16, 1961 (1961-09-16) –
May 13, 1965 (1965-05-13)

The Defenders is an American courtroom drama series that ran on CBS from 1961 to 1965. It was created by television writer Reginald Rose, and stars E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed as father-and-son defense attorneys. Original music for the series was scored by Frank Lewin and Leonard Rosenman. This series is not related to the 2010s CBS series of the same name.


Lawrence Preston (Marshall) and Kenneth Preston (Reed) are father-and-son defense attorneys who specialized in legally complex cases, with defendants such as neo-Nazis, conscientious objectors, demonstrators of the Civil Rights Movement, a schoolteacher fired for being an atheist, an author accused of pornography, and a physician charged in a mercy killing.[1]


E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed

Several other actors appeared numerous times over the course of the series. John Boruff, J.D. Cannon, Lonnie Chapman, and Ossie Davis each appeared in eight episodes; Walter Klavun appeared in seven episodes; Marc Connelly, Robert Gerringer, Murray Hamilton, Judson Laire, Kermit Murdock, Frank Overton, Lester Rawlins, and Dolph Sweet each appeared six times; and Simon Oakland, William Shatner (who had starred as Kenneth Preston in the original Studio One episode), and six others each appeared in five episodes.


Main article: List of The Defenders (1961) episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
132September 16, 1961 (1961-09-16)May 26, 1962 (1962-05-26)
234September 15, 1962 (1962-09-15)May 25, 1963 (1963-05-25)
336September 28, 1963 (1963-09-28)June 27, 1964 (1964-06-27)
430September 24, 1964 (1964-09-24)May 13, 1965 (1965-05-13)



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.

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]

Writers for the show included Rose in many early episodes, with later episodes by Albert "Al" Ruben and Ernest Kinoy – both Jewish Americans holding socially liberal views.[2] It was thought the move to “ratings graveyard” Thursday nights after a successful prime time reign on Saturday evenings, was a conservative corporate device to force the socially conscious program into cancellation, which it ultimately did.

Controversial episodes

A 1962 episode entitled "The Benefactor"—in which the father–son legal team defended an abortion care provider—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, Speidel, for a discounted advertising rate.[3][4] The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation banned this episode when it was first shown on April 28.[5] In 2008, this incident was used as the basis for a second season episode of the drama Mad Men, set in the 1960s.[6]

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.



The Defenders won 14 Primetime Emmy Awards (including three in a row for Outstanding Drama Series) and received an additional eight nominations.

Year Category Recipient Episode Result
1962 Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama Won
Outstanding Continued Performance by a Lead Actor in a Series E. G. Marshall
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Franklin J. Schaffner
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama Reginald Rose
1963 Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama
Outstanding Continued Performance by a Lead Actor in a Series E. G. Marshall
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Stuart Rosenberg "The Madman"
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama Robert Thom
Reginald Rose
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Don Gordon
(for playing "Joey Tassili")
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Sylvia Sidney
(for playing "Adela")
The Program of the Year
Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction and Scenic Design Willard Levitas
Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Television Sid Katz Won
1964 Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Paul Bogart "Moment of Truth" Nominated
Stuart Rosenberg "Blacklist"
Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama - Original Ernest Kinoy Won
Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Jack Klugman
(for playing "Joe Larch")
The Program of the Year Nominated
1965 Outstanding Program Achievements in Entertainment Bob Markell
Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Directors Paul Bogart "The 700 Year Old Gang" Won
Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Writers David Karp

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,[7] and in 2013 TV Guide ranked it #8 in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time,[8] while the Writers Guild of America ranked it – and Gunsmoke – #84 on their list of the 101 Best Written TV Series.[9]


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

Home media

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

Sequel and spin-offs

The 1997 version

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, 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 the 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.

Episodes Date of Release
The Defenders: Payback October 12, 1997
The father of a child rape victim (John Larroquette) kills the rapist, who was freed from prison after only a few years. The victim was admitted to a mental health facility after several failed suicide attempts, the older daughter ran away, and the father became fixated on revenge. The Prestons need to devise a defense strategy that takes into account his and his family's mental health.
The Defenders: Choice of Evils January 8, 1998
Don Preston defends a journalist charged in a wrongful death.Although he is found guilty, a bureaucratic error causes him to be inadvertently released from prison, sending him on the run and leading to an event where a police officer is killed trying to apprehend him again.
The Defenders: Taking the First October 28, 1998
After attending a protest given by a visiting professor and organized by a racist organization, a group of college boys beat a young Latino to death. The Prestons are hired to defend one of the boys, the grandson of Lawrence's old friend. The victim's brother, a law student, convinced Don to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the bigot and his group after persuading their client to accept a plea and testify against the others, despite accusations that they may be violating the First Amendment.

References in other media

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.[10] 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 that 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. ^ a b c d e f Mark Alvey. "The Defenders: U.S. Legal Drama". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2009-09-30.
  2. ^ Buhle, Paul (2004). From the Lower East Side to Hollywood: Jews in American Popular Culture. Verso. p. 146. ISBN 9781859845981.
  3. ^ Alvey, Mark. "The Defenders U.S. Legal Drama". Encyclopedia of Television. Museum Of Broadcast Communications. Archived from the original on 6 November 2014.
  4. ^ Battaglio, Stephen (31 August 2016). "'The Defenders' finally gets justice with DVD release". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ Marsters, Jack (30 April 1962). "Dial Turns Top Episode On Defenders". The Montreal Gazette. p. 12 – via Google News.
  6. ^ Melendez, Tanya (14 October 2021). "How TV lied about abortion". Vox.
  7. ^ TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows
  8. ^ Roush, Matt (February 25, 2013). "Showstoppers: The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time". TV Guide. pp. 16–17.
  9. ^ "101 Best Written TV Series". Writers Guild of America West. June 2, 2013.
  10. ^ Episode 3: The Benefactor[unreliable source?] from the AMC TV network website