Q: I feel like I've learned a lot watching "Perry Mason" reruns. Are all the legal statements made in the shows true? The writers must have included a lawyer.

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

If you're facing down a murder charge, don't cite a "Perry Mason" episode as legal precedent -- indeed, no one would ever tell you to take anything you see on TV as legal advice. That said, the "Perry Mason" writers room was pretty strict about legal accuracy.

(A quick note before we proceed: Since you said "'Perry Mason' reruns," I'm assuming you mean the original '50s-'60s series, rather than the recent HBO reboot. The HBO version spends less time in the courtroom, anyway.)

As you suggest, there were a number of lawyers among the "Perry Mason" writing staff, including the boss himself, Erle Stanley Gardner.

Gardner, who created the Mason character in a long series of novels that were only later adapted for TV, passed the bar in 1911 and worked as a trial lawyer for years before his writing career took off. (Though it should be noted that he studied for his bar exam independently, after being kicked out of the Valparaiso University School of Law.)

Gardner himself worked as a writer on the show and was reportedly the final set of eyes on each script, particularly to ensure legal accuracy.

His job was made easier by the fact that other staffers had legal backgrounds as well. Producer Ben Brady, executive producer Gail Patrick and story editor Gene Wang all studied law before working on the show. Wang and Brady were only around for the first two seasons, but Patrick stuck with the show right up to its end in 1966.

For the record, Raymond Burr (who played Mason on screen) didn't have a legal background, but he became a fast student of the courts.

"I spent two months watching the judges and lawyers in Los Angeles courts to get the feel for the role," he told the Detroit Free Press around the time of the show's debut in 1957.


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