Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher, co-creators and producers of A. Law," said the cast and crew of the critically acclaimed show had an office betting pool on how many Emmy Award nominations the ensemble dramatic series would get.
No one, however, guessed the show would lead the pack with a whopping 20 nominations as announced Thursday morning by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The show, new in the 1986-87 season, received nominations as outstanding drama series and for lead actor and lead actresses Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry and Susan Dey, supporting actors Jimmy Smits and Michael Tucker, and a host of other nominations.
Bochco and Fisher also co-created the recently canceled award-winning "Hill Street Blues," which still holds the record for the most Emmy nominations in one season--21 in 1981 and 1982. Bochco has won six Emmys; Fisher, former producer of "Cagney & Lacey," has one.
"It really was a little overwhelming," Bochco said in an interview Friday. "We assumed we would get some (nominations); we would be from Mars if we didn't think there would be some degree of recognition. But I don't think any of us thought for a moment that it would be quite that much across-the-board."
The Emmy nominations reflect the growing popularity of the show. Even lawyers initially skeptical of the show have told Fisher they now enjoy debating the cases along with their TV counterparts. "At first, lawyers thought we were going to go after lawyers, to expose them," Fisher said. "But they love the show."
Fisher, a former district attorney who has pulled many of the show's more bizarre story lines directly from her case files, said the daily grind of series television kept the show's staff from having much time worrying about Emmy nominations prior to their announcement. "We weren't thinking about it, we were just sort of doing our jobs here," she said. "All day (Thursday), people were wandering around, just sort of enjoying it.
"It really was just a little moment," she added. "Now what will happen is you dive right back into the river and you start paddling like a lunatic."
Although Fisher was confident that the show would eventually find its audience, she and Bochco were surprised by its immediate popularity, as well as the instant sex-symbol status of some of the players, including Bernsen, Smits, and Harry Hamlin. "I thought we would be the scrappy underdog at least until our second year," she said. "It's really pretty gratifying. It seems to have a kind of universal appeal."
Office politics may be part of that appeal, Bochco said. "The thing in 'L. A. Law' that absolutely everybody can identify with is the politics of the work arena," he said. "We had that going for us."
As letters to the producers attest, audiences also have been drawn by the frank, cheeky sexiness of the series, they say. The Emmy-nominated segment, "The Venus Butterfly," takes its title from a mysterious romantic technique featured in the episode, prompting a flood of phone calls and letters asking for more details.
Bochco takes no responsibility for this. "I write the warm and sensitive stuff--Terry writes the smut," he said, laughing. Fisher admitted that the easiest character for her to write is Arnie Becker, the sleazy divorce lawyer played by Bernsen.
"We told them (the letter writers) that we couldn't divulge the secret of the Venus Butterfly in the mail because it would be a felony," Bochco added. "But we told them a demonstration videotape we did together would be in the video stores."
Bochco and Fisher, who describe their producing/writing partnership as a successful "arranged marriage," say they plan no major changes in style or content for the show except the addition of one character, a young black lawyer.
"I think we're getting better," Bochco said. "It's taken a year for me to get comfortable with this stuff (the law). Even more than with a cop show, you're constantly raising ethical issues, at a time in our society that I think demands that we examine our ethics."
Fisher added that the "Venus Butterfly" episode's focus was not the silliness of the romantic technique, but the more serious issue of mercy killing of an AIDS victim by his lover.
Although Fisher says her old DA file is almost empty now, the team plans to keep the issues as topical as they were last season.