When the show debuted in the late 1950s, Perry Mason symbolized the birth of the courtroom drama. For decades, Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason became America’s most beloved lawyer. The character was actually born in a 1933 novel by Erle Stanley Gardner that turned into a long-lasting franchise with over 80 detective novels, TV shows, Hollywood films, a radio series, comic books, and a new series on HBO called The Americans.
But the most successful part of the franchise was the hour-long CBS series starring Raymond Burr from 1957 to 1966. Perry Mason, the Navy veteran, was tall and sturdy, with brooding eyes and piercing gaze – all hallmarks of his trustworthiness and intelligence.
Perry Mason is in the DNA of pretty much every legal show that has been produced ever since, from L.A. Law to The Practice to Law & Order. Mason happened to be the first to make heroes out of investigators and defense attorneys.
The show portrayed a legal system that tended to work only for the innocent and the wrongfully accused. It fed into the larger and broader misperceptions about the flawed judicial system. In the fantastical world of Perry Mason, justice was always neatly served in the end. Not so realistic…
When producers prepared for Perry Mason before its debut in 1957, everything had to be just right. Gardner didn’t want his character to be used in radio or TV, but after he was persuaded by executive producer Gail Patrick, CBS didn’t share the same views as Gardner and Patrick.
The network wanted a live weekly program. In the end, the producers paid for the pilot themselves and convinced the network to do Perry Mason their own way, which made it the first hour-long program that aired weekly that was actually pre-recorded.