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James T. Hart (James Stephens) was a first-year law student whose rural Iowa upbringing had not prepared him for the intensity that he found at his highly competitive law school.
His nemesis was Professor Charles Kingsfield (John Houseman), the world’s leading authority on contract law, who inspired both awe and fear in his students.
To help cope with his heavy workload, James joined a study group of students who worked together sharing notes and assignments. The group was organised by Franklin Ford III (Tom Fitzsimmons), a would-be third-generation lawyer from a socially prominent family.
Others in the group included Tom Anderson (Robert Ginty), Willis Bell (James Keane), Elizabeth Logan (Francie Tacker) and Jonathan Brooks (Jonathan Segal) – the only married person in the group. Brooks eventually left school after he was caught cheating.
Hart also had a part-time job at Ernie’s Pizza, where he met Carol (Carole Goldman), a waitress who admired him but couldn’t understand his deep dedication to his studies.
Despite being hailed by critics as the best new series of the 1978-79 season – with adult scripts and above-average acting – The Paper Chase was cancelled at the end of the year (although PBS aired reruns for a few years).
Some said it was doomed from the start, scheduled against ABC’s blockbuster tandem of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, two of the three highest-rated series on television (alongside Three’s Company).
In the first case of its kind, cable network Showtime brought it back in the Spring of 1983 under the new title The Paper Chase: The Second year.
These new episodes introduced James’ new love, Connie Lehman (played by Jane Kaczmarek who found fame many years later on Malcolm In The Middle), as well as fellow students Rita (Clare Kirkconnell), Laura (Andra Millian), Vivian (Penny Johnson) and Gerald Golden (Michael Tucci), who was editor of the Law Review for which Hart was writing.
Then in 1985, a title change appeared again. This time to The Paper Chase: The Third Year and two new first-year law students were added. Franklin Ford’s younger brother Tom (Peter Nelson) and former housewife Rose Samuels (Lainie Kazan).
When James Hart finally graduated in 1986, (in The Paper Chase: The Graduation Year) he was hoping for a teaching position at the law school he had attended. His appointment never happened and he joined a law firm in the last episode.
Although the TV series was based on the movie of the same name (where Harvard was the school) no specific university was ever mentioned in the TV series. Episodes were filmed at the University of Southern California.
The title song, The First Years, was performed by Seals and Crofts.
Charles W Kingsfield Jr
James T. Hart
Franklin Ford III
Thomas Craig Anderson
Stanley De Santis