The Dirty Harry of Lawyers, in a Skirt

Media Reviews for Media People: 'Canterbury's Law'

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With more TV programs returning to or launching on air after the writers strike, Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg casts a critical eye on some of the new and continuing series to help marketers determine which may prove to be the best showcases for their ads and products. This week: "Canterbury's Law," a new Fox legal drama featuring a gusty but flawed heroine.
Julianna Margulies plays hard-boiled Elizabeth Canterbury in Fox's 'Canterbury's Law.'
Julianna Margulies plays hard-boiled Elizabeth Canterbury in Fox's 'Canterbury's Law.' Credit: Fox/KC Bailey

"Canterbury's Law"

Where/when you'll see it: Fox, Mondays 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST (starting March 10).

What you'll see: Talk about hard-boiled! Elizabeth Canterbury is Dirty Harry dressed in legal briefs. And she can take a pretty mean punch, too.

Fox's new leading lady will stop at nothing to win her cases -- and that can mean anything from following an associate into a men's bathroom to get the latest information to taunting a potential defendant in the bowels of the courthouse. Add to this the fact that she seems to have no problem sleeping with someone she also has to defend in court (not her husband, by the way) and doesn't mind getting her client to lie on the stand if it means justice will prevail, and you've got the makings of what seems to be a pretty solid legal drama.

Julianna Margulies plays the brassy Canterbury, a woman who seems to have more testosterone than the guys in a very male world. There's a reason why this character is so driven. She is struggling to keep her marriage intact despite the unsolved disappearance of her young son.

Canterbury is the latest in a burgeoning series of TV antiheroes -- people who may act terribly but who have so many flaws that the audience can't help but sympathize with them. Other examples are Glenn Close's Patty Hewes on "Damages," Denis Leary's Tommy Gavin on "Rescue Me" or Michael Chiklis's Det. Vic Mackey on "The Shield." If you're thinking, "Those are all dramas on FX," you're entirely correct. In fact, "Canterbury's Law" comes from Mr. Leary and Jim Serpico, two of the folks behind "Rescue Me."

The rest of the cast floats about in Ms. Margulies' wake. In her star turn as Nurse Carol Hathaway on "ER," Margulies was a little more fragile. In this go-round, she's anything but, and the writers will have to make sure she has a few foils in her office or the courthouse (Ben Shenkman as her buttoned-up partner Russell Krauss already begins to emerge as her conscience) to make her palatable.

Just as in other Fox dramas such as "House," Elizabeth Canterbury is a dynamo with obvious cracks in her base. The idea is not that we'll be bowled over by her devotion or hard work, but rather that we'll ignore our misgivings when we see how tragic she is. Everyone loves an underdog, it seems, even if the underdog has a few fleas.

What's at stake?: Launching another hit drama on the order of "House" would be nice for Fox, which flies out of the gates in the second half of the TV season each year, but has become very dependent on "American Idol" and "24," both of which are getting long in the tooth. (And "24," thanks to the writers strike, has been pushed back to the fall.) "House," featuring a cranky wunderkind doctor who sleuths out cures to the most complex of maladies, has been a slow-building hit. "Canterbury's Law" could fit a similar bill -- and, for a network so targeted at young men, having a drama about a strong female character couldn't hurt when it comes to expanding audience base and drawing in more categories of advertising.

Your ad here? Fox is a network best loved by automakers, telecommunications giants and movie studios, but "Canterbury" could offer a chance to nab some advertisers who specialize in packaged goods. A strong, albeit flawed, female lead might be a great platform to highlight products aimed at working women looking to balance a hectic life with the rigors of maintaining a career. Unilever's Dove, for instance, burnishes some of those themes in its advertising. Procter & Gamble could also find a home here for some of its products, as could fashion marketers.

Media buyer's verdict: For now, Fox isn't putting "Canterbury" after "American Idol" -- a strategy that helped goose ratings for "House" because of the strong lead-in audience -- so buyers think the News Corp. network has a lot of confidence in the new program being able to draw an audience on its own. "If it does well and we don't see it moving to Tuesday or Wednesday with 'American Idol' leading into it, I would venture to say that there's a pretty good chance" Fox will stick by it, said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research for Horizon Media.
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