Starz recently announced that it would be ending its relationship with Netflix in order for Starz to maintain its premium band and avoid losing subscribers who just watch movies on Netflix. This doesn’t have a big impact on me as I use Netflix mostly for old movies rather than new ones, but there’s one big change mystery fans should be aware of. The 1980s and 1990s Perry Mason TV movies are currently available on Netflix, but they’re being made available by Starz, so by February, they’ll be gone along with the rest of the Starz content.
Nearly twenty years after the last Perry Mason episode with Raymond Burr left the air, Burr reprised the role in the 1985 Made for TV Movie, Perry Mason Returns which features Perry Mason resigning from the Court of Appeals to defend Della Street from the charge of murdering her boss. With the death of William Hopper (who played Paul Drake from 1957-66), Perry was aided by Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt), a free spirited young detective that clashed gently with Perry.In 1989, Paul Drake, Jr. was replaced by Ken Molansky (William Moses) a young attorney who did Perry Mason’s investigations.
Additional movies were greenlighted. From 1986-93, Raymond Burr and the cast turned out between 2 and 4 Perry Mason movies per year. Most of the Mason films were shot in Colorado which meant some great and notable scenic shots. The scenery, along with well-written mysteries and the iconic acting of Raymond Burr made these latter day Mason mysteries a pleasure for fans of legal detective dramas.
In addition, show producers Fred Silverman and Dean Hargrove began production of another similarly formatted program in 1986 when they produced Matlock. Matlock starred another golden age legend (Andy Griffith) as Attorney Ben Matlock, who like Mason was a brilliant lawyer with competent supporting colleagues who investigated his cases.
These two shows were my introduction to the mystery genre. They represented a dying genre of heroic superlawyers who won 99% of their cases and the interests of their clients almost always run parallel to the interest of justice.
A new breed of more realistic and cynical lawyer dramas were already on the rise. Programs like LA Law, Law and Order, The Practice, and Boston Legal took an entirely different slant with their lawyer heroes sometimes helping guilty clients escape, sometimes failing to get innocent clients acquitted, and fighting over ripped-from-the headline controversial issues, while living deeply flawing personal and professional lives.
The death of Raymond Burr in 1993 and the cancelation of Matlock in 1995 forever ended the super lawyer genre, at least when it came to recurring television drama. Yet while most fans know it may not be realistic, the stories remain fascinating and compelling escapism, starring beloved actors.
Outside of Netflix, the Perry Mason Movies are hard to come by. Like Seasons 7-9 of the original Perry Mason and Matlock, the 26 Perry Mason TV Movies are not available on commercial DVD. Once they’re gone from Netflix, the only legal way of catching them will be to find an occassional cable TV rerun. I hope to watch as many of these great movies in the meanwhile.
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