Was L.A. Law’s Jonathan Rollins Based on Barack Obama?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Jonathan Rollins on L.A. Law was based, at least in part, on Barack Obama.

In 1987, the hit television series L.A. Law introduced a brand new character, a young black lawyer named Jonathan Rollins, played by Blair Underwood. The character was created by the show’s co-creator, Stephen Botchco.

The character would become a major part of the series, staying on the show for the rest of the series’ run (all the way to the finale in 1994) and the character would become more and more of a central figure as the show went on (as other stars, like Jimmy Smits and Harry Hamlin, left).

An interesting facet of Rollins’ character was that he was the first black President of the Harvard Law Review.

This has led people, looking back, to wonder if the character was based, even in part (like perhaps the writers saw an article on the topic), on current United States President Barack Obama, who was the ACTUAL first black President of the Harvard Law Review.

It would be pretty cool if true, right? So IS it true?

As cool as it would have been, Rollins’ creation actually predates Obama’s historic achievement (Underwood joined the show in 1987 while Obama did not even ATTEND Harvard Law School until 1988).

Blair Underwood, though, has told stories about a trip he and some producers of the show made to Harvard for a talk to students two or three years after his character’s introduction. At a dinner party after the event, he was approached by a student who informed him that he was the actual first black Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Review.

Ever since then, Underwood made it a point to follow the progress of young Barack Obama (who, actually, is three years OLDER than Underwood).

In 2008, Blair Underwood was one of the many celebrities who campaigned heavily (and successfully) for the election of Obama as the President of the United States.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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