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The Great Defender

Main problem with snappy new law show "The Great Defender" is the unhappy timeslot it's being handed, opposite "60 Minutes." Otherwise, the fresh program, about a live-wire Boston mouthpiece who uses teleblurbs to grab clients, could be one of the season's surprise numbers-getters.

With:
Cast: Michael Rispoli, Peter Krause, Kelly Rutherford, Rhoda Gemignani, Richard Kiley, Hugh Thompson, John Evans, Wayne Robson, Tanya Allen, Fiona Highet, Barbara Gordon, Brenda Kamino, Mark Burgess, Sanjay Talwar, James Mainprize, Kate Trotter, Angela Moore, Maria Vacratsis, Ho Chow, Tim Lee, Richard Thornton, Leon Pownall.

Main problem with snappy new law show “The Great Defender” is the unhappy timeslot it’s being handed, opposite “60 Minutes.” Otherwise, the fresh program, about a live-wire Boston mouthpiece who uses teleblurbs to grab clients, could be one of the season’s surprise numbers-getters.

The best thing about the debuting series — besides the know-how writing — is Michael Rispoli playing Lou Freschetti, who works out of his apartment and whose mother, Pearl (Rhoda Gemignani), acts as his receptionist.

In the debut story, Lou defends a client (Hugh Thompson) who’ssuing a department store over an accident; the store is being defended by a cushy Beacon Hill law firm, whose untrained young associate, the snooty Crosby Caulfield (Peter Krause), is pitted against the scrubby, shrewd Lou.

Naive Caulfield, not knowing how cunning his opponent is, hires a private investigator (John Evans) to get into the act; it doesn’t take Lou long to defuse that.

In one episode, Lou takes the leap that the 1970-71 “Storefront Lawyers” series took a full season to accomplish: In an unlikely move at the end of the episode, he’s enfolded into the stuffy firm headed by Jason DeWitt (Richard Kiley), who admits to liking his style and his pro bono attitude.

But Rispoli’s Lou will probably bring off this major jump, if the producers can keep the drive and wit.

Characters are good — Kelly Rutherford as Lou’s P.I., Frankie Collet, is a strong foil — and Kiley’s DeWitt is assured, suave and wise. Krause serves well enough as a pawn in the first hour, and Gemignani as Lou’s mom is a plus.

Scripters Frank Renzulli, George Schenck and Frank Cardea keep the action moving with several plotlines, and director Rick Wallace gives the hour an upbeat pace. Violence and sex (so far) are minimal, and Rispoli as Lou knows exactly what he’s doing.

Tech credits for the pilot are excellent, and even Jay Gruska’s score is amusing. Now, if that prestigious law firm — Kate Trotter and James Mainprize play the other partners — doesn’t spoil Lou’s fun, “The Great Defender,” despite the timeslot, could be the people’s choice.

The Great Defender

(Sun. (5), 7-7:30 p.m., Fox)

Production: Filmed in Toronto by Schenck/Cardea Prods. and Warner Bros. TV. Executive producers, Frank Cardea, George Schenck; supervising producer, Frank Renzulli; producers, Sascha Schneider, Cathryn Michon; director, Rick Wallace; writers-creators, Renzulli, Schenck, Cardea.

Crew: Camera, Christopher Taylor; editor, Paul Dixon; production designer, Karen Bromley; art director, Tom Doherty; sound , Ian Hendry; music, Jay Gruska.

Cast: Cast: Michael Rispoli, Peter Krause, Kelly Rutherford, Rhoda Gemignani, Richard Kiley, Hugh Thompson, John Evans, Wayne Robson, Tanya Allen, Fiona Highet, Barbara Gordon, Brenda Kamino, Mark Burgess, Sanjay Talwar, James Mainprize, Kate Trotter, Angela Moore, Maria Vacratsis, Ho Chow, Tim Lee, Richard Thornton, Leon Pownall.

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