Lisa Schwarzbaum
May 20, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The downfall of NBC’s L.A. Law after eight seasons was not that the plots had become stale, the characters had become cartoons, the trial scenes had become repetitive, and Benny (Larry Drake) had become terminally annoying. Rather, it was that the ’80s had come to an end. And try as a procession of producers and script doctors did, no one could turn back the clock to the time when the sexual and material excesses of Arnie Becker (Corbin Bernsen), the career and maternal game plans of Ann Kelsey (Jill Eikenberry), and the global boorishness of Douglas Brackman (Alan Rachins) were grist for giddy, riveting plots that reflected the decade of greed and expensive business suits for the working rich.

The adoption of Civil Wars orphans Alan Rosenberg as a menschy, ’90s-style lawyer and Debi Mazar as his un-L.A. secretary was a smart desperation play; the addition of Alexandra Powers as a born-again Christian was an effective headline generator. But this was too little, too late. By its very title, L.A. Law evoked glitz, sizzle, and outsize situations-Harry Hamlin in a gorilla suit! Diana Muldaur crashing down an elevator shaft! Michael Tucker melting Eikenberry’s sexual frost with the Venus Butterfly! That’s what we ate up like Belgian waffles. But fads change. Star power flickers. Actors who don’t know that they’re walking away from the best gig of their lives (word up, Hamlin, Jimmy Smits, and Susan Dey ) leave to cash in on a popularity they no longer have once they’ve left.

The demise of L.A. Law is, in the end, a sign of the times: People these days are buying minivans. L.A. Law got stuck driving around in a Bentley, looking for a place to park.

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