Some mediators I was meeting with this morning expressed trepidation about the new TV series Fairly Legal. (See my prior post on the announcement of this series over a year ago.) We were all curious to see it, but worried about such questions as whether mediators in real life can live up to the glamorous image of a TV mediator. We also wondered whether the show will give people the wrong idea about mediation. And the question I found most interesting, how will a show about mediation–which aims to reduce and resolve conflict–be able to show the conflict and drama so necessary for television? Having just watched the premiere, I came away fairly impressed with the way the show dealt with these potential problems. Not that any mediator’s life could be as hectic and incident-filled as was shown on the show. Not that the mediation scenes were particularly realistic. (The closest thing to a real mediation that was shown, strangely enough, was a scene near the beginning where Kate “settles” a robbery, preventing serious injury to both the store owner and the bad guy, by persuading the owner and the robber to agree to allow the robber to take a few items from the store.) But I was pleased to see that the show made a genuine effort to convey some of the ideas behind mediation, such as the concept of “win-win.” And despite its lapses in plausibility, and the tendency to resolve each situation with the kinds of tricks and gimmicks that are so common on TV lawyer shows, the show may still serve a useful purpose by introducing a broad audience to the whole idea of mediation, which is still new and unfamiliar to many.
And the dramatic conflict? Interestingly, the central dramatic conflict seems to lie in the tension between the requirements of the law and the needs of the people involved in the situations the heroine is called upon to solve, a problem I just wrote about last week. I actually thought the writers did a pretty good job of depicting that conflict, using Kate’s dear departed father and her evil stepmother to symbolize the traditional view of the law, and Kate’s rebellious nature to symbolize a newer approach. They also show that a mediated solution to problems can provide a better path and perhaps a better result than the results that might be dictated by the legal system. That means the creators of this show do understand something important about mediation: that it represents a shift from a rules and rights-based approach to the law, to an interest-based approach, and that the clash of these different paradigms presents an opportunity for entertaining drama.