'Bull,' 'Notorious' build courtroom drama around real-life figures

(CNN)One of the quirkier mini-trends in this season's TV lineup are series loosely inspired by actual people, usually played by better-looking actors.

Enter "Bull," a CBS drama drawn from Dr. Phil McGraw's pre-talk-show life as a jury consultant; and "Notorious," an ABC drama derived from defense attorney Mark Geragos and former "Larry King Live" producer Wendy Walker.
Both shows premiere this week, in what are enviable time slots. Starring "NCIS" alumnus Michael Weatherly, "Bull" (as in Dr. Jason Bull) slides into the hour after that CBS hit, and "Notorious" will keep "Scandal's" seat warm while the series premiere is delayed due to star Kerry Washington's pregnancy.
    Alas, neither show is particularly deserving of the real estate, and each has a too-familiar feel built around sensational court cases.
    Like most of CBS' crime shows, "Bull" comes dressed up with a lot of gee-whiz science, including a 400-factor matrix that the title character and his crack team -- at something called Trial Analysis Corp. -- use to identify juror tendencies and behavior.
    "We'll know how they'll vote even before they do," Bull's neuro-linguistics expert, Marissa (Geneva Carr), explains to a skeptical lawyer.
    As has become common in these shows, "Bull" employs a visual gimmick. In this instance, jurors speak directly to Bull -- revealing their inner voices -- to illustrate how well he can read a jury.
    Still, the show seems relatively sedate compared to "Notorious," which hinges on the cozy professional relationship between attorney Jake Gregorian ("Rescue Me's" Daniel Sunjata) and Julia George (Piper Perabo), a cable-news producer for "Louis Herrick Live," who leverages their friendship to land all the big interviews. (Geragos and Walker are both producers on the show.)
    For his part, Jake spends an inordinate amount of his very-expensive time hanging around Julia's office, where the two walk and talk very fast, much like the ABC soaps that surround it. Nor does the insider's look at TV news offer much media savvy, other than in the broadest "The show always comes first" terms.
    In the premiere, Jake finds himself defending a wealthy defendant, and has a history with the fellow's ex-wife, who he interviews about the case as she's getting out of the hot tub. Or as most lawyers call that, just another day at the office.
    Everyone here comes across as slightly ethically challenged, although wagging fingers risks taking the show too seriously. In fact, "Bull" and "Notorious" really aren't far removed from the old days of courtroom drama a la "Perry Mason," only with more diverse casts and a lot more dialogue per page.
    Networks are obviously pretty keen on this formula, with CBS having put another autobiographical series about the earlier life of a daytime TV personality, Judge Judy Sheindlin, into development.
    Beyond the chemistry (or lack thereof) among the characters, these shows are partly defined by the situations they can concoct on a weekly basis. Based on the opening arguments for watching, neither earns a favorable verdict.
    "Bull" premieres September 20 at 9 p.m. on CBS. "Notorious" premieres September 22 at 9 p.m. on ABC.