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Diverting from a Winning Formula for a 'Conviction'

NOAH ADAMS, host:

The Cunningham story could almost be a plot in a new courtroom drama, Conviction, that makes its debut tonight on NBC. It's brought to you by Dick Wolf, the same guy who created the Law and Order franchise. But don't be fooled into thinking Conviction is more of the same.

Here is TV critic Andrew Wallenstein.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN reporting:

I haven't seen all ten million episodes of the various Law and Orders out there, but I'm fairly sure none of the lawyers on those shows ever had an exchange like the one introducing Brian Peluso, one of the assistant district attorneys featured on Conviction.

(Soundbite of Conviction)

Unidentified Woman (as Court Worker): Leslie Fritz.

Mr. Eric BALFOUR (as Brian Peluso): Who?

Unidentified Woman (as Court Worker): She's downstairs with security.

Mr. BALFOUR (as Brian Peluso): I don't know who that is.

Unidentified Woman (as Court Worker): Well, she told me to tell you, if you didn't remember her name, she's the skinny chick with the octopus tattoo from last night.

Mr. BALFOUR (as Brian Peluso): Sure, Leslie.

Unidentified Woman (as court worker): You left your D.A. badge in her bed.

Mr. BALFOUR (as Brian Peluso): Do me a favor. Grab the badge and tell her that I am in a meeting.

WALLENSTEIN: That's actor Eric Balfour playing the womanizer Peluso. He's perhaps the cast's boldest reminder that Conviction isn't your daddy's Law and Order. In fact, technically it isn't part of the Law and Order franchise at all. That might come as a surprise given Wolf is the executive producer, and Conviction is set in the New York criminal justice system.

But this show is more libidinous than litigious. Conviction successfully molds itself more in the image of the ABC soap Gray's Anatomy. In that show, its hospital setting is really just a backdrop for its sexy, relatable characters to romp. I think Law and Order traditionalists will harrumph at their first glimpse of this show. Wolf has decided to focus on a younger, sexier group of lawyers, all twenty-something assistant district attorneys who make for a compelling bunch.

Conviction strays even further from the Law and Order formula by delving into its lawyers' personal lives. What makes Law and Order so great is watching veteran cops and lawyers at the top of their game. But in Conviction, Wolf is exploring the dynamic at the bottom of the totem pole; that even opens up the show to some comedic touches, as you'll hear in this scene when the young prosecutor Christina Finn, played by Julianne Nicholson, has a little trouble her first time in front of the bench.

(Soundbite of Conviction)

Ms. JULIANNE NICHOLSON (as Christina Finn): On September 9th of this year, you were working.

Unidentified Man #1 (as a Judge): Sustained.

Ms. NICHOLSON (as Christina Finn): You were assigned.

Unidentified Man #1 (as a Judge): Sustained.

Ms. NICHOLSON (as Christina Finn): But Your Honor, no one is objecting.

Unidentified Man (as a Judge): I am. Johnny.

Unidentified Man #2 (as Johnny): You can't lead witnesses on direct.

Ms. NICHOLSON (as Christina Finn): I know. I was just, thank you. Officer Kelly, where were you working on September 9th?

Unidentified Man #1 (as a Judge): There you go.

WALLENSTEIN: Don't fret if the prosecutorial skills on display in Conviction aren't up to snuff. That matters about as much as how the doctors on Gray's Anatomy did on their medical boards.

Just one warning to Conviction. Feel free to stretch the courtroom genre in any direction you want. Hey, put mimes in there for all I care, but don't erode the foundation of a good legal show, which will always be great courtroom storytelling.

ADAMS: Andrew Wallenstein of the Hollywood Reporter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.