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The 1960s Handbook takes a closer look at the cultural references that appear in each week's episode of Mad Men.
The coutroom drama The Defenders was on air from 1961 to 1965 and starred E.G Marshall and Robert Reed as a father-son legal team. Although the series wasn't shy about courting controversy, the April 28, 1962 episode was a date to remember nevertheless. That Saturday, CBS aired an episode that took on the weighty issue of abortion, this despite the fact that the program's regular advertisers pulled their sponsorship and ten affiliates refused to carry it.
In this episode (entitled "The Benefactor"), the two lawyers defend a doctor who supports (and performs) abortions for very personal reasons: His daughter died having one performed. Significantly, this physician advocates legalizing the procedure -- an especially contentious stance pre-Roe v. Wade. A "remarkable demonstration of the use of theatre as an instrument of editorial protest," the show "penetrated the national curtain of embarrassed silence" wrote the New York Times. That may be but advertisers -- Brown & Williamson, Lever Brothers and Kimberly-Clark -- still backed out. In the ensuing firestorm, viewers complained the program had "'crossed the line' and was no longer dealing with 'the law' as much as moral or political crusading." (So cites Professor Steven Classen of California State University.) The editor of a Jesuit magazine likewise criticized the episode's "tacit approval of the physician and his actions." Undaunted The Defenders went on to push buttons moving forward as it dealt with such polarizing topics as the Hollywood blacklist and capital punishment.