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The Paper Chase: Season 1

4.7 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews

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(Apr 07, 2009)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The Paper Chase was a one hour dramatic series premiering on CBS in 1978 that won great critical praise, garnering the Emmy for Outstanding New Series. Based on the movie and novel, rural Minnesotan James T. Hart (James Stephens) is unprepared for the life of a first year law student at an Ivy League law school. In his first class, he elicits the ire of revered and feared contracts professor Charles W. Kingsfield(played by the brilliant John Houseman reprising his Academy Award winning movie role). But Hart is committed. And smart. And so is The Paper Chase. In order to keep up with the never-ending workload, Hart joins a study group for support. Each episode explores the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures, the competition and camaraderie that each student faces.


The chase is finally over for this shining example of a television series that didn't treat its viewers as if they had skulls full of mush. Based on the acclaimed 1973 film that was adapted from John Jay Osborn, Jr.'s novel, this 1978 series is literally old school. It presents education in general and the study of law in particular as noble pursuits. The students for whom we develop a rooting interest are the best and the brightest, and in Professor Charles Kingsfield we have an addition to the pantheon of great movie/TV teachers. James Stephens anchors the series as Hart, an idealistic first-year law student. In the Grade-A pilot episode, as in the film, he gets on the wrong side of the intimidating Kingsfield, his role model and inspiration, on the first day of class. How Hart gets back in his good graces sets the stage for episodes in which classroom drama proves to be just as compelling as the courtroom variety. Hart's study-group classmates include third generation lawyer Ford (Tom Fitzsimmons), genius Anderson (Robert Ginty), activist Logan (Francine Tacker), newly-married Brooks (Jonathan Sagall), and slob Bell (James Keane). The Paper Chase got the prestige treatment. James Brooks, who directed the feature film, developed the series for television, Osborn wrote several of the episodes, and the venerable John Houseman recreated his Oscar-winning role as Kingsfield, a TV first. While Kingsfield was a monolithic character in the film, he is more accessible in the series. There is much more interaction between him and the idolizing Hart. Familiar faces in Season One include Marilu Henner as a sympathetic waitress in the pilot episode, Don Porter (Gidget) as Ford's demanding father in "The Man Who Would Be King," Robert Reed as a professor who sexually harasses Logan in "Once More with Feeling," and Kim Cattrall as a struggling law student's wife in "Da Da." The Paper Chase was a critics' darling, but just as bad grades could sink Kingsfield's students, so did bad ratings result in The Paper Chase's cancellation after one year. Following reruns on PBS, the Showtime network picked up the series for three more CableAce Award-winning seasons. The Paper Chase was no doubt to aspiring lawyers what All the President's Men was to fledgling investigative reporters. Rarely syndicated, the series is just as gripping as when it first aired, its intensity and intelligence are undimmed. --Donald Liebenson

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: John Houseman, James Stephens, Tom Fitzsimmons, James Keane
  • Directors: Ralph Senensky
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 6
  • Rated:
    General Audience
  • Studio: Shout Factory
  • DVD Release Date: April 7, 2009
  • Run Time: 1080 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001O4KBMI
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,995 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Paper Chase: Season 1" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Hornaday on January 10, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Fans of Classic TV shows should rejoice with the release of The Paper Chase on DVD.

Based on an unforgettable 1973 movie, the series focused on the lives of students struggling through law school at a prestigious university.

The series lasted only one season on CBS with 22 episodes, from 1978 to 1979, and this boxed set from Shout!Factory collects those episodes, which revolves around the students' first year of 'trial' and tribulatios.

PBS reran the series then the cable channel Showtime revived the series in 1983, where it lasted for three more seasons.

The series centered around student James T. Hart, a core cast of fellow-students, and one truly dominant force of nature in the form of a legendary law professor, Charles W. Kingsfield Jr., played beyond iconic perfection by the fabulous John Houseman.

Houseman had starred as Kingsfield in the movie version, then unbelievably reprised the role on the small screen to the delight of his fans. Sadly, Houseman died a year after the Showtime incarnation of the series ended.

Hart, played by James Stephens in the series, and by Timothy Bottoms in the movie, is a hard-working student from Minnesota whose background ill prepares him for the rough and tumble of law school.

Hart is utterly terrified and fascinated by Kingsfield, who challenges his students so vigorously that he has become a legend in his own time, and his classes are both loathed and cherished.

The professor, the undisputed authority on contract law, becomes an unwilling and unknowing mentor to Hart, who decides he will do anything he can to meet and exceed the expectations of the master legal-eagle. By the time the series ends on Showtime, Hart graduates.
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As others have written, "The Paper Chase" is one of the best, most compelling dramas ever made for television. A critical darling when it first aired, it was really too intelligent and did not find a large enough audience on CBS. However, it was so good that it just would not die quietly. After gaining more kudos in reruns on PBS, Showtime brought it back several years later luring back the key players from the first season to continue in "The Paper Chase - The Second Year" and "The Paper Chase - The Third Year." Showtime finished its run with a final six episodes called "The Paper Chase - The Graduation Year" which was actually a continuation of the third year. It maintained an incredible level of excellence from the first season through its Showtime years.

Based on the novel by John Jay Osborn Jr. The Paper Chase and the motion picture of the book The Paper Chase, the television series far surpasses the quality of its predecessors. It reminds me in some ways of "M*A*S*H," the series, which was far and away better than its original book and movie. Unfortunately, unlike "M*A*S*H," once Showtime finished "The Paper Chase" more than 20 years ago, it has been rarely seen since. It is so well written, so well acted, so compelling and dramatic, that it deserves a chance to find a new audience on DVD.

If you watched it in its day and liked it, please purchase a copy and show the distributor (Shout Factory) that there is a market for the rest of the series.
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This has to be one of the most eagerly anticipated debuts to DVD set for those who were devotees of the 1978 CBS-TV show, "The Paper Chase". I have one show that I taped on VHS back in 1979, which I had been watching, hoping and praying for the DVD set to be released. And now it has!! This is simply television drama at its best, the ensemble, headed by the great John Houseman,reprising the character of the fascinatingly brilliant curmudgeon Kingsfield, who both teaches and torments his students to become the best that they can be, is a tour de force acting triumph. His Academy Award was well deserved. His presence in the series gives a bit more humor and interest, building the character as the episodes progress, than that of the motion picture. James Stephens, in my opinion, is the quintessential Hart, giving more sensitivity and naivete than the portrayal by Bottoms, with a bit more of a moral edge. The rest of the students in the study group are also much more effective and likeable than those in the motion picture. I felt the motion picture study group was very one dimensional, we only saw arrogant Harvard kids. But the television series study group is a bit more diverse, allowed to develop into interesting personalities we grew to love, with lots of humor and pathos, especially the character of the luckless Willis Bell --remember "Liberty" Bell?. One of the best episodes in this set is "The Seating Chart" which illustrates the understated and comedic talent of James Keane, who played Bell. All of the actors are excellent and blend well as an ensemble. I can't wait to purchase this set, it is well worth the money. Not hard to understand why this program was voted Outstanding New Series. Of course one knew that it would be cancelled by the network, it was way before its time. Now, it can be appreciated and revered by a whole new set of fans. Kingsfield would be pleased INDEED.
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