Hollywood has more lawyers per square inch than anyplace in the United States except Washington D.C. Most of them are employed by networks and studios, endlessly sifting scripts and reviewing shot scenes to make sure that nothing has been said or photographed that remotely could trigger a licensing lawsuit. And I mean remotely. Remember how all Jimmy Stewart's friends went off to some nameless college in It's A Wonderful Life? In the original script, the college was Cornell, but RKO lawyers went insane and deleted the name.
David Cronenberg reshot an entire scene of The Dead Zone because a set dresser had put an E.T. toy in the background in a kid's bedroom. And when I visited the set of a record store in NBC's 1960s family drama American Dreamsa few years ago, I noticed that all the LPs in the record bins were fakes (groups like Zimmy and the Zothars, stuff like that) made up by the show's art department. When I asked Jonathan Prince, the executive producer, why he wasn't using real, recognizable record albums of the time, he shrugged and said, "They're afraid somebody would hit us for licensing fees."
Oddly, this concern doesn't seem to extend to the titles of TV shows at all, as I was reminded by this week's announcement that FX has ordered 13 episodes of a new cop show called Lawman. The FX show will star Tim Olyphant (whose previous law-enforcement experience was playing Sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO's Deadwood) as a U.S. marshal whose colleagues consider him a hopeless antique. The show is based on a character created by Elmore Leonard in a short story called Fire in the Hole.
What makes this strange is that there was another show that was not only called Lawmanbut was also was about a U.S. marshal. The original Lawman, a cheapjack version of Gunsmoke, ran on ABC during the 1958 to 1962 heyday of Westerns and starred John Russell. It was interesting mostly because it was one of the few shows on TV in those days in which the hero wore facial hair. (A mustache...beards were unthinkable for anybody on TV but grandfathers and anarchist bombthrowers.)
It's the second time in less than a year that a title of an early 1960s TV show has been recycled. Last fall, CBS debuted a crime drama called Eleventh Hour that was no relation to NBC's 1962-64 show of the same name starring Ralph Bellamy and Wendell Corey as psychiatrists. I guess all the good names have been taken. Combat, Surfside 6 and The Virginian are probably on the way even as I write this.