Region 2 (UK) Edition

Directors:  Charles Haid, Michael Fresco, Joe Ann Fogle, Jim Charleston

StarringDaniel Benzali, Barbara Bosson, Stanley Tucci, Jason Gedrick

“We know accused people aren't always innocent. Maybe not even usually innocent... and even though we know that, we treat people like they're innocent until they've had their shot in court, because it makes us better people. It civilises us to treat them that way. Civility's important. That's why no-one in here called you a self-deceiving fool until you opened your drunken mouth".

Theodore Hoffman, Chapter One.

Murder victim Jessica Costello (Collette White).

Pit-bull lawyer Theodore 'Ted' Hoffmann (Daniel Benzali).


Murder One was a ground-breaking legal drama series from producer Steven Bochco, creator of L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues. Unlike most American series, it focused on a single trial - the so-called Goldilocks Case - for the duration of the entire season. Other shows sometimes featured arc stories that would play out over a handful of episodes, but it was rare that a series would attempt something that so defiantly tested perceived wisdom about viewer loyalty.

Fox has promoted the DVD release of Murder One as if it was a forerunner to 24. There's some degree of similarity between them, but it also presents a very simplified distillation of Bochco's complex series. The Goldilocks Case (which concerned the rape and strangulation of fifteen-year old victim Jessica Costello) forms the core of Murder One, but there are many diversions into related cases and investigations, exploring the often-seedy lives of some of its wealthy and powerful characters.

The initial investigation into the Goldilocks Case quickly throws up a intriguing suspect: charismatic multi-millionaire businessman Richard Cross (an outstanding performance by Stanley Tucci). Cross owned the building where Jessica's Costello's body was discovered, and admits to having a relationship with the victim's elder sister, former prostitute Julie Costello (Bobbie Phillips). Cross is also involved with another regular client of his pit-bull lawyer Theodore "Teddy" Hoffman (Daniel Benzali), Hollywood bad boy Neil Avedon (Jason Gedrick), who has a notoriously short fuse. Jessica Costello had partied with Avedon the night she was murdered, and had called Richard Cross when things got a little too wild. Cross claims that when he arrived at the murder scene Jessica was already dead...

And those are, more or less, the establishing events of the first episode. From there onwards the story spirals outwards at a leisurely pace, exploring alternate scenarios, red herrings, and little sex-lies-and-videotape sideshows. What might have been rushed through in a couple of episodes of a series like Law & Order is more thoroughly explored in Murder One, resulting in something with uncharacteristic depth and subtlety. The series also has time to explore some of the moral ambiguities that defence and prosecution have to confront daily: questions like how you defend a client you know to be guilty, or how you deal with information that comes into your possession, which might determine the guilt or innocence of your client, or the man you're prosecuting.

Every aspect of the trial is examined as Hoffman prepares his case: office politics among members of the defence team, and a close examination of the jury selection process, for example. Indeed, the trial itself doesn't start until Chapter Eleven, half-way through the series! You certainly can't accuse Murder One of being boring, however. It's labyrinthine plot, its characters and atmosphere are gripping, and it's very addictive.

If you haven't seen the series for a while, you might be surprised by a few familiar faces that appear. Several of the regular cast members were members of Bochco's stock company of players, including Brazilian-born Daniel Benzali (who had appeared in a few episodes in L.A. Law, and a handful of early NYPD Blue episodes), Hill Street Blues regular Joe Spano, and Bochco's then-wife Barbara Bosson (another Hill Street Blues veteran, who was nominated for an Emmy award for her role in Murder One).

Few people who saw the series will have forgotten Stanley Tucci's quixotic performance as "evil incarnate", Machiavellian multi-millionaire Richard Cross, or prettyboy Jason Gedrick as the defendant, actor Neil Avedon. Veteran character actor Stanley Kamel will probably have lodged in people's memories as the slimy psychiatrist, Doctor Graham Lester. Co-stars John Fleck (as Ted Hoffman's fainty-creepy personal assistant, Louis Hines), Mary McCormack (as unscrupulous lawyer Justine Appleton), and J.C. MacKenzie (as Hoffman's motions clerk), all made lasting impressions, marking them out as actors to keep an eye on. No surprises there, then, but there are vivid guest appearances from several virtually-unknown actors who have subsequently become relatively famous, including Dharma and Greg's Jenna Elfman (as a prosecution witness) and 8 Mile's Brittany Murphy (as slutty runaway Diane 'DeeDee' Carson). Charlotte Ross, who appears as one of Doctor Lester's patients, would go on to star in Stephen Bochco's NYPD Blue.

Other notable guest appearances include the late Roy Brocksmith (as an ineffectual medical expert witness), 24's Tobin Bell (who plays a jailbird who confesses to the murder), Anne Haney (who played Carter's grandmother in ER, and appears here as a hard-nosed divorce lawyer), Richard Riehle (as a weasely legal secretary soliciting a bribe for a corrupt official), David E. Kelly regular Natalija Nogulich (as Hoffman's attorney), and Star Trek - The Next Generation's John de Lancie (a throwaway cameo, as a lawyer whose slippery morals reflect Hoffman's).

The series wasn't entirely successful. Its ratings sagged in the middle, and there were sometimes lengthy gaps between episodes, which made following it difficult. Fox dropped an episode from the original run, necessitating increasingly long and involved "Previously on..." segments at the beginning of subsequent episodes (which are retained on the DVDs).

It was, however, successful enough to be re-commissioned for a second series, which failed to recapture the magical formula: Daniel Benzali, who looked like becoming a major star, despite his unconventional appearance, was replaced by the comparatively dull Anthony LaPaglia. There were  changes in the supporting cast, too, none of them for the better. The second series featured several cases, each spanning a handful of episodes, and none of them featured a villain as compelling as Richard Cross.

Incidentally, episode guides on the Net are often screwed up, because one of the episodes was dropped from the series' original US run (Chapter Nine). Many episode guides become muddled at this point, because they don't account for the unaired episode. To complicate things further, the series was originally shown in the UK (between March and August 1996) in twenty-two parts: Chapter Twenty-One and Chapter Twenty-Two were shown together, setting a pattern that would be followed for the UK run of the show's second series. Sensibly, the DVD presents the episodes exactly as their creators intended.

Hoffman's nemesis, Detective Arthur Polson (Dylan Baker).

Ambitious attorney Justine Appleton (Mary McCormack).

Prosecutor Miriam Grasso (Barbara Bosson) and defence lawyerTed Hoffman (Daniel Benzali) appear on "The Larry King Show".


This is the first time Murder One has been released on any home video format.

Like most American TV drama of the period Murder One would have been shot on film, and then transferred to video for editing. This makes it impractical to go back to the original source elements: unless you have deep pockets, you're stuck with using contemporaneous video transfers. Luckily the master tapes used for the Murder One DVD release are generally in pretty good shape. However, this isn't a feature film, and it's evident that it wasn't made on a feature-film's budget. Minor film or negative dirt speckles the film, but very rarely to any distracting degree. If the film elements were to be transferred again today, these impairments would be much more noticeable, because the improved resolution that a state-of-the-art telecine transfer would offer would show them up more clearly. (This is what happened to Babylon 5).

The picture certainly looks like it's come from an analogue source (probably 1"), and shows the usual artefacts associated with analogue video (including underlying video noise and cross-chroma interference patterning).  Thankfully, if there's been any noise reduction applied to the image, it's been carefully done. There's plenty of detail in the image: it doesn't look smeary, like the DVDs of contemporary episodes of Star Trek - The Next Generation.

Picture quality is generally acceptable. Well-lit scenes are usually strong and vivid. Scenes set in shadows are sometimes a little noisy, but much of that must be attributed to a cinematographer pushing the capabilities of the film stock.  Black levels waver a little from episode to episode, sometimes from shot to shot. Black crushing is a problem with some scenes (particularly on some of the recaps, which were presumably several generations removed from the original negative). There are patches where the MPEG encoding probably isn't resolving all the detail from the available image, but there are no distracting artefacts. The average bitrate is about 5.7Mb.s. Unless you're particularly fastidious, or have unrealistic expectations, you should be happy with the DVDs.

The audio is presented in 2.0 format (at 192kbps). There are no real problems to report. Dialogue is almost invariably distinct (even Mary McCormack's dialogue, which is twisted by her very attractive accent and slight lisp!) The mix is professional, but not elaborate. The music is used sparingly, and is faithfully reproduced.

Evil incarnate: multi-millionaire businessman Richard Cross (Stanley Tucci).

Ted Hoffman's wife, Annie (Patricia Clarkson).

The victim's sister, Julie Costello (Bobbie Phillips).


It would have been easy for Fox to stint on providing bonus materials for this set. After all, this isn't a show with a vociferous and loyal fan-base, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The X-Files. Assembling many of the key cast members (including Daniel Benzali, Jason Gedrick, J.C. MacKenzie and Mary McCormack) to contribute to a twenty-five minute featurette, Making the Case: Murder One - Season One, is more than fans of the series have any right to expect, frankly. Other contributors to the featurette include producer / director Marc Buckland and director Randall (Randy) Zisk. There are some important contributors absent, most notably Stephen Bochco himself, surprisingly. The featurette acknowledges the contributions of just everyone who worked on the series. Special mention is made of the series' cinematographer, whose work is truly exceptional. There's a fair bit of back-slapping, but it seems well-deserved, and sincere.

Two episodes have commentary tracks: Chapter Eight has a track by actor Jason Gedrick, and Chapter Fifteen has a track by director Randall Zisk.

Gedrick's commentary is probably best described as casual. There are a few sporadic insights, and some amusing anecdotes, but generally the actor simply reacts to what's going on on screen. It's also rather patchy, as the actor seems to get caught up in merely watching what's going on. He explains some of the background to the series, noting that the series had tough competition (it was up against ER for much of its run), and the viewing figures flagged in the middle (unsurprisingly, since there were gaps in the run, and it was moved from its original slot), but it opened and closed with very respectable numbers.

Randall Zisk's commentary is sometimes hesitant, and rarely specific to the particular episode. In fact it's not often about Murder One, but it does sketch out what a director does on a episodic series, and how much time is allotted to each aspect of the production. Zisk's credits include Lois and Clark, Millennium and NYPD Blue.

The final disc in the set also includes a six-minute Inside Look promotional featurette for 24 - Season 3; a teaser trailer for Alien vs Predator; a trailer for the forthcoming Helen Mirren / Robert Redford / Willem Dafoe kidnap thriller The Clearing; a generic advert for The X-Files DVDs; and a trailer for the 24 DVDs (which features the completely-different US box artwork).

L.A. District Attorney Roger Garfield (Gregory Itzin).

Richard Cross's alibi: Beverly Nichols (Tia Carrere).

Psychiatrist Doctor Graham Lester (Stanley Kamel).


Fans of Bochco's other shows shouldn't hesitate to buy Murder One. By any yardstick it's a remarkable series, and one that stands up remarkably well, almost a decade after it was made.

The DVDs present the series as well as could be expected, and Fox has provided a generous amount of bonus material to provide some additional value.

Fox is due to release the second season of Murder One in October 2004, when a box set containing both series will be released.











Unless explicitly stated, DVD screen captures used in the reviews are for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to be accurate representations of the DVD image.   While screen captures are generally in their correct aspect ratio, there will often have been changes made to the resolution, contrast, hue and sharpness, to optimise them for web display.

Site content copyright © J.A.Knott - 2002-2004