#40: ‘Judd for the Defense’

Every Saturday, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box is counting down “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” in reverse chronological order, as researched and written by Todd M. Pence. (This series ran originally in the Classic 1960’s TV Facebook group.)

#40: Judd for the Defense: ‘Tempest in a Texas Town’

Judd for the Defense, Tempest in a Texas Town

The fall of 1967 brought a courtroom drama which had a brief but memorable existence.

In ABC’s Judd for the Defense, Carl Betz played the role of nationally-renowned defense attorney Clinton Judd, based in Houston. Like other legal dramas of the decade, the show was noted for tackling controversial topics.

In the pilot episode, “Tempest in a Texas Town,” (September 8), Judd returns to his small home town of Amos, TX, having been retained to take up the case of a local youth charged with a double murder. We learn that years earlier, Judd’s own father had been murdered.

Judd’s client is Brandon Hill (Christopher Jones) a James Dean-esque character who was the last person seen one night in the company of two young girls who have since disappeared, although no bodies have yet been found. The elders of the town disdain Hill for his n’eer-do-well ways, while the youth idolize him.

The prosecuting attorney is played by the venerable Pat Hingle, who brings all the expected tropes of the role to his performance, as the show treats us to the required courtroom fireworks. Things look bad for Hill when a shovel with hair and blood on it is found in his house, and then a surprise witness (James Davidson) comes forward who claims that he saw Hill murder at least one of the two girls. It is up to Judd to discredit the testimony of the witness, which brings him into a personal conflict – the man had come to the aid of his father after he was shot.

The trial takes an unexpected turn when one of the missing girls turns up alive. The story she gives about her whereabouts in the interim is fishy, and there is obviously more going on than meets the eye. Judd’s digging for the truth will uncover many of the townspeople’s secrets and will end with a devastating denouement.

“Tempest” is an outstanding start for what would prove to be an exceptional series. The script by Harold Gast and Leon Tokatyon won an Edgar Award from  the Mystery Writers of America. By the time the series ended its two-year run it would be showered with several other accolades, including a Writer’s Guild honor for Robert Lewin (for the episode “To Kill a Madman”) and both Golden Globe and Emmy Awards for Betz.

But the series has slipped into undeserved obscurity in the years following its run.

(Top image source: Wikimedia. Colorized with Algorithmia)

About Todd M. Pence

Todd M Pence has been an amateur historian and scholar of American television for the past 35 years. “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960” is the product of decades of research, not just in active viewing but in extensive combing of newspaper and magazine archives to read the original reviews of programs at the time they aired. He has also reached out to fellow television researchers to get their opinions. Pence maintains that the decade of the 1960's constituted the zenith of American primetime television drama, and that we will probably never see its like again. His purpose in compiling this list was to preserve this history and to spotlight many exceptional programs which have been forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. Pence holds a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University and has worked for the past 20 years in the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School system

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