Murder One

1995 | United States

Inspired by the sensational O.J. Simpson murder trial of the mid-1990's, this Steven Bochco legal drama followed the twists and turns of a fictional high profile homicide case for an entire season. Despite its high quality, Murder One was thwarted by bad scheduling and only lasted two years. 

The series began with the gruesome murder of 15-year-old Jessica Costello, and the arrest of her lover, film star Neil Avedon (Jason Gedrick). Defending Neil was the Hoffman and Associates legal firm, led by attorney Theodore (Ted) Hoffman (Daniel Benzali) and his team of associates, including Arnold Spivak (J.C. MacKenzie) and Justine Appleton (Mary McCormack). Challenging Ted’s case was Assistant District Attorney Miriam Grasso (played by Bochco’s now ex-wife Barbara Bosson). Philanthropist Richard Cross, who had his fingers in the Costello murder case, was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in a scene-stealing role that raised his profile in both film and television. 

But ABC made the fatal mistake in slotting Murder One against NBC’s formidable medical drama ER (which was entering its second season). The results were no surprise: ER easily doubled Murder One’s audience. By mid-season, ABC moved the show to Monday nights, but new viewers didn’t tune in, largely because of “Murder’s” serialized format. Even though viewers were given a recap of previous events at the start of every episode, ratings remained marginal. Still, the network renewed the series for the second (and final) season, Bochco changed the format to focus on several separate cases instead of one case over an entire season. Also gone were several regulars, including Benzali. His place at the head of the legal firm was Jimmy Wyler (played by a pre-Without A Trace Anthony LaPaglia); the reason given on the show was that Hoffman retired to save his shaky marriage. Wyler had his own problems, including finding money to save the legal firm from closure. But despite the changes, ratings fell even further, and ABC pulled the plug. (The final episodes were aired over three consecutive nights after the conclusion of the May 1997 ratings sweeps.) 

Murder One had all of Bochco’s trademark plot devices, plus stellar acting and writing. Sadly, it wasn’t enough for the show to make its own case with the viewing public.

Published on January 9th, 2019. Written by Mike Spadoni (2012) for Television Heaven.