Media Circus: If this show sucks, you must still pay me bucks

Following his megahit infomercial "O.J.: The Trial," Johnnie Cochran goes prime time.

Published January 23, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

he's the rhyming defense attorney from the long-running serial "O.J.: The Criminal Trial." She's the CNN/NBC legal expert who looks like Stevie Nicks, talks like Susan Sarandon in "The Client" and always sides with the prosecution. Now, Court TV has brought them together in their own Must Sue TV show! Move over, "L.A. Law," it's "Cochran & Grace," two lawyers who have nothing in common -- except their passion for justice!

Cochran and Grace -- that's Johnnie Cochran and former Atlanta prosecutor Nancy Grace -- are the latest superlawyers to forsake the courtroom for the bright lights and no-risk payday of a Simpson spinoff talk show. The roster grows every day. CNN's Simpson commentators Greta "Go girl!" Van Susteren and Roger "The Marauder" Cossack host CNN's daily legal dish show "Burden of Proof." Sulky Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden and gloating Simpson Dream Teamer Alan Dershowitz are duking it out nightly as two of Geraldo Rivera's "O.J.: The Civil Trial" analysts; it's as if they're caught in an endlessly repeating time loop, like that episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Last week, Marcia Clark quit her job (where she hasn't had the strength to show her face since "O.J.: The Verdict") and announced that she'd signed to host a syndicated true crime show called "Lady Law." Surely there must be something out there for Barry Scheck -- maybe a recurring role as Anthony LaPaglia's evil twin on "Murder One"?

"Cochran & Grace" (airing nightly on Court TV at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. PST) is another of those "debate" shows where two people spit their opinions into each other's faces -- literally, in this case, because Cochran and Grace practically sit shoulder to shoulder behind the anchor desk. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before "Cochran & Grace" gets to the spitting point, it teases us with a buildup that makes you think you're about to see Tracy and Hepburn in "Adam's Rib," or at least Sam and Diane on "Cheers."

In an opening credit sequence that seems to have wandered in from "A&E Biography," a female voice recaps pivotal moments from the lives of the stars as they inched their way to greatness. "1937: Johnnie Cochran is born in Shreveport, Louisiana in the heart of the Jim Crow South (picture of baby Johnnie).... 1978: Cochran becomes the highest ranking African-American in the history of the L.A. prosecutor's office (picture of Cochran in Afro and wide lapels) ... and from there one of the most celebrated civil rights lawyers in the country ... 1991: He becomes the only attorney to win awards for both civil and trial lawyer of the year ... 1979: With hope and optimism, Grace sets out to become a professor of literature (graduation picture), but her life is shattered by the murder of her fianci...1987: Grace becomes a prosecutor (courtroom photo), transferring her loss into a crusade for victims of violent crime. She has never lost a case."

The opening culminates in Cochran and Grace walking briskly abreast down a New York street, apparently fulfilling their destiny. Everything that came before was pointing toward this one moment; they were meant to be together as adversaries, here, now, on cable.

Court TV has been promoting "Cochran & Grace," which premiered January 13, with a blitz of newspaper and radio ads asking, "Has Johnnie Cochran finally met his match?" The answer is, "Yes, and then some." Seasoned by her previous TV appearances, Grace is more relaxed in front of the camera and more natural interviewing guests than Cochran. She's a quick and pugnacious debater who expertly changes lanes without signalling; often, she leaves Cochran in the dust, still laboring to make his point. And she has the best skeptical stare since Agent Scully.

"Cochran & Grace" doesn't seem to fit with the legend of Johnnie Cochran, Silver-Tongued Orator. Here, he's stiff and fumbly; he trips over introductions even when he's reading from cue cards. His arguments ramble, his Biblical schtick is tired and he patronizingly calls Grace "my dear." When the two finally do the verbal nasty at the end of each show, it's an anti-climax. He rattles along on autopilot, she keeps yelling "I disagree, I disagree" until your head hurts, and there's nothing there, no heat, no rapport, not one itty-bit of the feeling that flew between him and Marcia Clark during their big love/hate scenes together in "O.J.: The Criminal Trial." At the end of every show, Grace smiles and says "Goodnight, Cochran" and Cochran smiles and says "Goodnight, Gracie." Yeah, it's cornball, but it's preferable, I suppose, to something like "We will not quit till we're a hit" or "If the van's a-rockin' don't come knockin'."

Maybe "Cochran & Grace" just isn't the best showcase for Cochran's talents. Somebody ought to put him in a show where he doesn't have to defend his positions face to face, where his skill as a monologist, conspiracy theorist and folklorist (who can forget his thrilling account of the colorful methods used by Colombian drug lord hitmen in "O.J.: The Criminal Trial"?) can really shine. Wait! What about Cochran and Grace in -- "The O.J. Files"? "Without a doubt, dear, the truth is out there." Hello? Court TV? I've got a proposal...

EXTRA! Private's parts ...

The push to increase women's roles in the armed forces is part of a broader "assault on military culture" -- or so James Webb argues in the January 20th Weekly Standard, the tip-sheet of the conservative cultural counterrevolution. According to Webb, this assault is the work of "agenda feminists" and "demasculinized" anti-war-activists-turned politicians, feeling guilty (and a bit, well, castrated) for not having served in Vietnam. Trouble is, Webb suggests, male soldiers are anything but demasculinized themselves, and "when you throw healthy young men and women together inside a volatile, isolated crucible of emotions," you're asking for trouble. Webb thinks it's best to let the boys find, er, relief with civilian women.

By Joyce Millman

Joyce Millman is a writer living in the Bay Area.

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