Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the present system is a major improvement over the way it used to be, when you had to actually show up and sit around a huge, noisy room most of the day, waiting to find out if you were going to be impaneled.
I’ll also acknowledge that I’m not the busiest guy in the world. It’s not as if I make all that many plans, and those I do make, by and large, I can make after that 6 p.m. call. In that case, you well might wonder, why do I care that next year I’ll have to go through this whole rigmarole all over again? Would I so dread having to do my civic duty? Not at all. In fact, I think I’d find it an interesting experience. At least so long as they didn’t make me drive all the way downtown.
The problem is that not in a million years would I ever wind up on a jury. No defense attorney in his right mind would ever let me slip by. For one thing, I wrote for several TV crime shows, ranging from Dragnet and McMillan and Wife to Diagnosis Murder, and I never had any qualms about doling out justice to the bad guys. In fact, on one memorable occasion, I found myself at loggerheads with Dragnet’s producer- director, Jack Webb. In an episode I wrote involving a young women who had abandoned her newborn baby, Webb argued for an ending in which the infant would be placed in her arms and the woman would undergo a transformation from monster to madonna in five tearjerky seconds. “Jack,” I still recall saying, “she dumped her baby in a dumpster. I’m not letting her walk. She’s going to do time!” You’d have thought I was talking about an actual person. In any case, Webb backed down, and we gave her two-to-five.
Even now, when my own TV writing career is over, the only things I ever watch on the tube, aside from baseball games and old movies, are “Monk,” re-runs of “Columbo,” and, occasionally, one of the shows making up the “Law and Order” franchise. As you may have noticed, these are all series in which nogootniks, no matter how rich and clever they are or how wily and underhanded their defense attorneys, get their just deserts just before the final commercial.