Flipping Channels: Suits Serves Courtroom Drama Without Much Courtroom

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Legal shows have been TV staples since the days of Perry Mason and the original Defenders, but it's doubtful USA expected the reaction and response viewers have had to Suits, their program about machinations and misadventures at a high-powered Manhattan law firm.

For one thing, Suits neither devotes much airtime to specific cases nor spotlights (often) its main characters opposing other attorneys in court. Instead, it focuses on inter-office politics, tangled relationships between principal figures, and other plot devices that have only a slim connection to the law. So while you seldom see supposed top attorney Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) representing anyone, you see him in action everywhere else.

Yet that formula's worked very well. Over its first two seasons, Suits has not only become USA's top-rated drama, it has dominated every demographic category. When Season Three begins tonight at 9 p.m., the fallout from last year's explosive finale is plentiful. Specter and his boss Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) were once close allies, but her decision to merge with a British law firm against his wishes drove a huge wedge between them. Even worse, in his view, was that Specter's hand-picked associate Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) supported that decision.

The fact Specter gave Ross a job even though he lacked a law school degree — and has shielded him for two years — has intensified the anger Specter now feels toward him. Plus Ross' secret has leaked out, both to Pearson and to paralegal Rachel Zane (Meghan Markle), making things even more complicated.

Suits is a million miles removed from 1950s and '60s portrayals of attorneys as crusaders for justice. Yet it doesn't take the cynical approach of shows like The Practice or Boston Legal, which juggled sensational cases with outrageous and bizarre situations. It's a character drama with a thin legal framework, and fireworks occur almost everywhere except in a courtroom.

Even TNT's Franklin & Bash (8 p.m. Wednesdays), which also spotlights character interaction more than legal tactics, devotes more time and attention to arguing cases and attorney strategy than Suits. But thus far USA's approach has proven far more popular with audiences. Case dismissed.

Whose Line returns
While never being a huge network hit, the improv comedy Whose Line Is It Anyway? enjoyed a successful eight-year run starting on ABC and ending on ABC Family from the late '90s until 2007, with a special reunion edition airing in 2011.

Comic Drew Carey had already had his own program on ABC before he started hosting, and both he and his successor Wayne Brady garnered plenty of personal popularity during the show's run. Carey's now occupied hosting The Price is Right, and Brady's taken over Monty Hall's role on Let's Make A Deal.

But Brady's back as part of a new version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which debuts 7 p.m. tonight on the CW (Channel 58). The new principal host is Aisha Tyler, who's doing double duty with her spot on the daytime program The Talk. Tyler joins Brady and fellow originals Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie in a summer version that plans to introduce some new features and add a weekly celebrity guest.

Tyler told TV Guide she wouldn't be getting out on the floor during the season, but would be having exchanges from the desk. Her standup act and new book Self-Inflicted Wounds (based on her popular weekly podcast) have gotten Tyler plenty of exposure, along with The Talk. Perhaps she can get the audience-challenged CW some new viewers.

Covert Affairs goes overt
USA's espionage drama Covert Affairs begins its fourth season 8 p.m. tonight with an episode that finds spy hero Annie (Piper Perabo) undercover in Latin America. She also finds herself juggling two relationships, while trying to find the latest person designated by the agency as a "person of interest."

The show's producers say the pendulum will swing evenly this season between romance and adventure, but there'll be less focus on inter-agency intrigue and more action out in the field.

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