- SHOW: JAG
- NETWORK: NBC (Season 1), CBS (Seasons 2-10)
- YEARS: 1995-2005
From a high-concept perspective, JAG was Perry Mason meets Top Gun. It centered around Harmon Rabb Jr., played by David James Elliott, whose father was a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. Rabb Sr. was shot down over Vietnam and taken prisoner by the Viet Cong. Rabb Jr. decides to follow his father into the Navy as a fighter pilot. On one mission, he crashed his plane on the flight deck of a carrier. This led to a diagnosis of night blindness and made him unfit for flight duty. He transfers to the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, which is responsible for “administrative law, government contracting, civilian and military personnel law, the law of war and international relations, environmental law, etc. They also serve as prosecutors for the military when conducting courts-martial.”
The show was cosiderably different in its first season than the rest of its run. LT (later LCDR) Rabb was assisted in his investigations by LTJG Meg Austin, played by Tracey Needham (last seen on NBC’s Life Goes On), and did more investigations than arguing cases in court. His partner for the two-part pilot episode was LT (Kate) Pike, played by Andrea Parker. Evidently NBC wasn’t impressed with the chemistry between Harm and Kate, though later Parker was hired to play Miss Parker on the network’s Pretender. The chemistry between Harm and Meg was practically nonexistent, so then a third female JAG officer, Commander Allison Krennick (played by Andrea Thompson) was added as a supervisory officer. Cmdr. Krennick quite clearly had the hots for Rabb, but the relationship stayed professional, even prickly, during working hours.
The first season ended with Harm thrown in the brig for murdering a former girlfriend, LTJG. Dianne Schonke, who was played by Catherine Bell. (This will play a role later in the show.) Producer Donald Bellisario clearly intended for this to be the season finale cliffhanger, but NBC cancelled the show for low ratings.
JAG was picked up by CBS and was a midseason replacement in January 1997. In the first episode, Harm meets the new JAG, RADM A. J. Chegwidden (played by John M. Jackson, who had a minor role as the JAG in A Few Good Men), and the rest of his team, including LTJG Bud Roberts (played by Patrick Labyorteaux, who reprised his role from the pilot) and Marine MAJ Sarah “Mac” McKenzie, played by the aforementioned Catherine Bell. (Strangely, Bellisario didn’t clear up the cliffhanger from the first season until the middle of the third season.) When Harm sees Mac, he’s haunted by his former girlfriend, and that remains throughout the rest of the series.
Harm has two primary objectives when the show starts: to find out what happened to his father and to go back to flying F-14’s. He accomplishes the first objective in the third season, when a notebook found during an investigation contains information that could lead to Harm finding his father at last. Of course, the notebook disappears, taken by a Soviet agent who later agrees to give it to him. In the season 3 finale, he and Mac (who speaks Russian) take off for Russia, then in the season 4 season premiere Harm learns that his father died not long before he arrived. Also in Season 4, we learn that Mac is a recovering alcoholic, has been married before, and had an affair with a previous commanding officer, and is reprimanded by the Admiral for it. Also arriving on the scene in season 4 is LCDR Mic Brumby of the Royal Australian Navy (played by Trevor Goddard), mostly to woo Mac and make Harm jealous. By the end of Season 4, Harm has been approved to go back to flight duty and leaves JAG.
Season 5 starts with Harm as a fighter pilot again, but for some reason he keeps getting hauled into prosecuting or defending courts martial. Finally his commanding officer recommends that he go back to being a lawyer, which he does. When he gets back to JAG, he discovers that Mac has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and that she and Mic are becoming an item. He now has new objectives: get Mac back and be promoted to Commander.
And the wheels kind of come off at that point. Over the next five years, Bud, kept in the show more for comic relief than anything, marries LT Harriett Sims and the two have several children. Mic goes back to Australia, then comes back, getting engaged to Mac, who secretly has been in love with Harm the whole time, something that comes out during her engagement party (how embarassing). LCDR Sturgis Turner (played by Scott Lawrence), a friend of Harm’s from the Naval Academy, joins the cast more for diversity than anything. Turner helps Bud get back into shape, whereupon Bud volunteers for duty in Iraq, only to have his legs blown off. Chegwidden falls in love and is ready to get married, only to find his bride-to-be in bed with another man. They break up and he retires to spend the rest of his life traveling around the country with his daughter and going to baseball games. His replacement is Marine Major General “Biff” Creswell, who had prosecuted Mac’s lover, so she’s worried he’ll hold it against her, but he tells her that he figured she was young and stupid and she’d get a clue and straghten up. David James Elliott’s real-life wife Nanci Chambers joins the cast as LT Loren Singer, who has designs on the Admiral’s job, but is eventually murdered, providing the basis for introducing the cast and premise of NCIS.
The show ends with Harm and Mac being sent to opposite corners of the world, deciding they can’t live without each other, and that one will resign their commission and follow the other, they’ll get married and live happily ever after. They decide to let Bud toss a coin to decide who stays and who goes, and the show concludes with the coin in the air.
Okay, so JAG was a soap opera. There were many more characters and many more things that happened than I was able to squeeze in here. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining show with well-crafted characters, interesting stores and plenty of humor.
10 thoughts on “TV Draft Round 4 – Pick 8 – John Selects – JAG”
Terrific writeup John… I remember this one and I did see some episodes way back in the day. I had no clue it was on that long. Perry Mason meets Top Gun…THAT is a great description!
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A good book on TV writing is Television Writing From The Inside Out by Larry Brody. I took a course from him years ago and really got a lot out of it. He talks about “high concept” descriptions in there.
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A good writeup….I’ve never seen it but I certainly do remember seeing ads for it and seeing it in the listings; I didn’t know half of it from what you describe (including what JAG stood for). Sounded like one that would get you caught up in it for sure… great finale too from your description.
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By the conclusion, it was all Harm and Mac. They had started introducing new characters, which made us think they were going to keep it going after the coin toss, but no.
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Ah…Bellisario stuff (along with Larson). Battlestar Galactica, Magnum PI, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Airwolf, Quantum Leap, JAG, NCIS…
I could count on one hand how many JAG episodes I’d seen over the years. In 1995, I was up to my eyeballs in Sci-Fi. That being said, when NCIS rolled out of JAG in 2003, I was there…day one. I was a huge Mark Harmon fan and…I was married to the Corps at the time (you never actually marry a Marine…you are “issued” to them…LOL). Gibbs was a Marine Sniper & Gunnery Sgt. (the wheels eventually came off of that show, too and it continues to drag itself along).
About two years ago, WGN started running JAG reruns and I caught a lot more of them. It was a good show for the most part. Coming from LE, I like a well written investigative show. If there is too much drama, much of the footing can be lost. I watched soap operas with my grandmother as a kid. As an adult, I want to slap everybody.
Sadly, WGN became News Nation and all programming ceased.
Good write-up. I had no idea Bell was the original Season One girlfriend.
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Catherine Bell as LT Schonke was in just that episode. He kept her picture on a bookcase in his apartment until things headed up with Mac. The first time Mac sees the picture of Diane, she remarks that Diane is practically a dead ringer for her. One of the funnier moments in the show.
WGN on cable used to be the exact Chicago feed, complete with Bozo in the morning and Cubs and White Sox baseball and Bulls basketball in the evening. When Bozo ended, they went to a morning news show in Chicago and Beverly Hillbillies reruns on the cable to the rest of the country. I read Robert Feder, a Chicago media critic, and he’s talked a lot about News Nation’s growing pains. There had been another cable network, CLTV, that was all news. I think the people who bought Tribune Media gutted that channel…
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I miss the old cable WGN. There was always something good on it…at least in my area of NC.
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