Torts and TV: How realistic are the shows in this fall’s legal lineup?

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America is fascinated with crime and justice, and American TV executives are happy to give us our fill. This fall’s lineup includes the usual suspects of sitcoms, ridiculous reality shows and police drama. But mixed in will be a plethora of legal programs, from lighthearted comedies to thrilling whodunits.

How real a picture of the legal system do these shows paint? We’ve ventured our best guesses for yet-to-air programs, but we can hand down a solid verdict on old favorites that return to TV this fall:

New on the docket this fall

Bad JudgeBad Judge. In this comedy, Kate Walsh of “Fargo” and “Private Practice” fame stars as a hard-nosed, by-the-book judge named Rebecca Wright. Rebecca plays by the rules in her courtroom, but when she’s out of her robe – and apparently she disrobes a lot – she doesn’t act very honorably. She drinks too much, is promiscuous and generally acts like a fool. Or at least that’s how it sounds from the previews. But hey, you be the judge. Airs on Thursdays on NBC.  Reality rating: Low

CristelaCristela. Starring the comedienne of the same name, “Cristela” is another comedy, this time about a Mexican-American sixth-year law student (yep, we said six years) who gets an internship at a posh legal firm. The problem is that she’s mistaken for the cleaning staff, and her family can’t seem to understand her ambition. Anyone for making clichéd storylines a capital offense? Tune in to ABC on FridaysReality rating: Low – medium

 How to get away with murderHow to Get Away with Murder. Viola Davis plays a popular law professor and practicing attorney who is as “serious-as-the-death-penalty,” according to TV Guide. In an interesting twist, her students somehow get involved in a murder and must work their way out of it. See what happens at ABC on ThursdaysReality rating: Medium

Returning favorites

The Good Wife. [Spoiler alert] Now in its sixth season, “The Good Wife” stars Julianna Margulies, who recently won an Emmy for her role as Alicia Florrick, the show’s “good wife” protagonist. The name might be a misnomer considering Alicia had an affair with her boss, but that didn’t happen until season two, so we’ll let it slide. Alicia is a litigator hired by an old law school friend and flame, while her husband, played by Chris Noth, is a disgraced state attorney-cum-politician who, proving America has a short memory, is elected governor of Illinois after serving a stint in prison. There’s sex, greed, corruption and everything you could want in prime time TV. Catch it on CBS on SundaysReality rating: Medium 

Law & OrderLaw & Order: Special Victims Unit. With story plots plucked from the headlines, this show, which is now entering its 16th season, a true rarity in Hollywood, gives viewers an unnerving dose of reality. Detective Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, and her fellow New York City detectives investigate crimes of a sexual nature, bringing them to the district attorney for prosecution. While the show is heavier on police action than courtroom drama, it still gives viewers an inside glimpse into the judicial system. You can almost always catch a rerun on cable, but for the new season check out NBC on WednesdaysReality rating: High  

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