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The Paper Chase (TV series)

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The Paper Chase (TV series)

The Paper Chase
Title screen
Genre Drama
Created by John Jay Osborn, Jr.
Starring (See article)
Composer(s) Stephen Seretan (1.0, 1.1, 1.5, 1.7, 1.8, 1.15, 1.16, 1.17, 1.18, 1.19)
Charles Fox (1.2, 1.3)
Thomas Newman (1.20, 1.21)
Richard Shores (1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.9, 1.10, 1.11, 1.12)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 59 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Lynn Roth
Robert C. Thompson
Producer(s) Albert Aley
Robert Lewin
Ernest A. Losso
Editor(s) Axel Hubert Sr.
Rod Stephens
Cinematography Gene A. Talvin
Running time 47-48 min.
Production company(s) 20th Century Fox Television
Distributor CBS
Original channel CBS (season 1)
Showtime (seasons 2-4)
Original release September 9, 1978 (1978-09-09) - April 24, 1979 (1979-04-24)
April 15, 1983 (1983-04-15) – August 9, 1986 (1986-08-09)

The Paper Chase is an American television series based on a 1970 novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr., as well as a 1973 film based on the novel. It follows the lives of law student James T. Hart and his classmates at Harvard Law School.


The CBS television network aired the series in the 1978–1979 season. John Houseman reprised his movie role, and James Stephens played Hart. It was cancelled after one year; PBS subsequently rebroadcast all of the episodes. In 1983, pay-cable network Showtime brought back the show with both Houseman and Stephens, as well as some other members of the original television cast. At the end of the fourth season, Hart finally graduates from law school.


Season 1

James T. Hart is a law student from rural Minnesota who enters the intensely competitive environment of Harvard Law School. He has chosen Harvard specifically to study with Professor Charles Kingsfield, the world's leading authority on contract law. Kingsfield inspires both awe and fear in his students in his unremitting determination to prepare them for the practice of law.

To cope with the heavy workload, Hart joins a study group organized by Franklin Ford III. Ford is under intense pressure to succeed. His family has produced an unbroken string of outstanding lawyers going back generations, culminating in his demanding father, the senior partner in a very prestigious Wall Street law firm. The study group includes smooth woman-chaser Thomas Craig Anderson, slob Willis Bell, idealistic activist Elizabeth Logan, and struggling Jonathan Brooks, who is married to Asheley. Of these students, Brooks left Harvard Law School after he was caught cheating.

Hart works part-time at Ernie's Tavern to help pay his way through school. In the pilot, he worked at a pizza parlor, and worked along side a waitress who showed him the ropes, played by Marilu Henner. He would find a her a supportive friend who helped him with mistakes and the pressure of dealing with the fast pace of taking care of customers' orders.

Season 2

Hart survives the first year with flying colors and joins the staff of Harvard Law Review (an honor reserved for the top students), under the leadership of Gerald Golden. He becomes seriously involved with a new law student, Connie Lehman (Jane Kaczmarek), only to lose her. Later, he repeatedly clashes with Law Review rival Rita Harriman, though he admits to Ford that he is perversely attracted to her.

Bell, working as a dorm adviser, is smitten with one of his charges, Laura Kiernan, but she just wants to be friends.

Season 3

Hart, now in his third year, is joined by two new students: Franklin Ford's younger brother Tom (Peter Nelson) and former housewife Rose Samuels (Lainie Kazan).

Season 4

It is now the final year for Hart at Harvard. In the 2-hour series finale, Hart finally graduates from Harvard, and even tries to take over the soon-to-be-retired Professor Kingsfield's job. But his dreams are shattered when Kingsfield tells him that he needs to experience more of the real world before he can teach. Disappointed, but not willing to give up, Hart ends up joining a law firm instead, thus bringing the series to a close.


Character Actor
Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. John Houseman
James T. Hart James Stephens
Franklin Ford III Tom Fitzsimmons
Willis Bell James Keane
Elizabeth Logan Francine Tacker
Thomas Craig Anderson Robert Ginty
Jonathan Brooks Jonathan Segal
Mrs. Nottingham, Kingsfield's secretary Betty Harford
Ernie Charles Hallahan
Connie Lehman Jane Kaczmarek
Gerald Golden, president of Harvard Law Review Michael Tucci
Laura Kiernan Andra Millian
Vivian Conway Penny Johnson
Rita Harriman Clare Kirkconnell


Theme music

In the first year, the theme song was "The First Years", written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, and performed by Seals and Crofts. In the pilot, the opening used an instrumental version, and the ending used a different vocal version. Starting in the second year, a piano instrumental tune replaced it.

Opening narrative

Awards and nominations

CableACE Award:

  • 1985: Best Dramatic Series
  • 1987: Best Dramatic Series

DVD releases

Shout! Factory has released the first two seasons on DVD in Region 1.

DVD name Ep# Release date
Season One 22 April 7, 2009
Season Two 19 December 15, 2009


In the late 1980s, The Family Channel rebroadcast the entire series in a late-night time slot, at midnight Eastern Time. The series was later seen in the early 1990s on A&E, and in the early 2000s on GoodLife Television.

External links

  • The Paper Chase at the Internet Movie Database
  • The Paper Chase at
    • List of episodesThe Paper Chase at
  • Theme tune
  • John Houseman on Paper Chase set interviewed by TV Guide Nov. 18, 1978
  • Article by John Houseman in TV Guide Aug. 9, 1986 about Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr.
  • Pictures of John Houseman as Prof. Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr.
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