If I had a mind to, I could watch Law & Order, in its many incarnations, in first runs and reruns, all night long from now until my eyes fell out and never see the same episode twice.
I've grown to like these programs, perhaps because of their ever-constant bombardment from the screen, and I often have a tough time remembering that they're all just entertainment.
I'm not quite able to suspend my belief completely, however, having spent many working hours covering the police station and the courthouse. I am amazed that the characters in these crime dramas can investigate a murder scene, arrest suspects and find them guilty in court - all in 60 minutes (minus commercials, promos and closing credits, of course).
Then, as I turn off the tube, I am a bit irritated. I can't quite shake the realization that these programs, no matter how riveting, have nothing to do with reality. Give a police officer, a coroner or a prosecuting attorney only one hour to handle a case, and he or she wouldn't even start the paperwork.
Justice takes time, money, shoe leather and sometimes just plain luck. Even when a real criminal or court case finally ends after months or years, it is difficult for the law-and-order folks to see the immediate results. Did we actually win the case? That's winning?
It's too bad reality can't take a cue from television. Sixty minutes would be much better for everyone than the long hours that prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, law enforcement officers and countless others pour into a real case. I wish life were like Perry Mason.
In that vintage program, Perry was a lawyer who knew the best offense is a good defense. No matter how guilty his client looked, Perry always won after turning the tables on the poor prosecutor at the last minute.
As each episode's tense trial reached its conclusion, viewers knew Perry would prove that the witness was the real culprit; or, even better, his legal eagling would prompt someone else in the courtroom - a minor player in the case so far - to jump to his feet and confess.
That meant, of course, that the guest star was suddenly acquitted and that the district attorney, who had been prosecuting an innocent citizen - again - maintained intact his record of straight losses. Somehow, though, he kept his job and would return the next week.
Viewers didn't care. Someone had been proved innocent, sure, but the real killer would be going to prison for a long time. The scales of justice maintained their balance. Fade to commercial.
That was justice in a nutshell, the 1950s equivalent of Law & Order. The viewers couldn't fast-forward a few months to see what happened next to the people involved in that episode of Perry Mason. We never saw what became of the guy who confessed in the court.
Maybe he ended up hiring a good attorney (Perry, perhaps?) and changing his plea to not guilty, necessitating another long trial and the difficult task of seating 12 impartial jurors who hadn't been prejudiced by coverage of the defendant's sensational courtroom confession.
Or let's say he eventually was convicted. The viewers never had to endure the endless appeals that tied up the case for years, keeping the bad guy from death row and the victim's family from closure.
No, it's not that easy, simple or quick. Let's not forget that television serves up justice in a microwave oven, but we have to wait for the slow cooker of life.
Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.