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Interview: Fairly Legal Producer Opens Up His New Series

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The USA Network is adding a new television series to its growing roster of hit shows, such as Burn Notice, Royal Pains, and White Collar. Fairly Legal stars Sarah Shahi as Kate Reed, a former lawyer turned mediator due to her frustration with the legal system.

Fairly Legal also stars Virginia Williams as Lauren, Kate’s “wicked” stepmother and new boss (Kate’s father has recently passed away), Michael Trucco as Justin, her ex-husband, an ADA and Baron Vaughn as Leonardo, her trusted assistant. The series takes place in San Francisco. Fairly Legal premieres January 20, 2010 at 10pm ET/PT on USA.

I participated in a conference call this week with Michael Sardo, creator and executive producer of Fairly Legal:

How did you come up with the idea for Fairly Legal?
About six years ago, many of my friends were getting divorced. It would always start out amicably but once the lawyers came in, it would turn into war. Mediation seemed like a much better alternative. I developed a pitch for a half-hour comedy and it didn’t get picked up. Four years later I came back to the mediation idea and this time wrote a script and it worked.

What was your casting process?
I like to see as many people as possible when casting. We must have looked at about 90 women for the role of Kate.

Sardo then went on to explain that just by the way Sarah was and the movements she made, he knew she was Kate.

Why did you choose San Francisco as the setting for Fairly Legal?
I wanted a city where people walk and take mass transit, not one where people drive everywhere. Also, San Francisco is multicultural and picturesque and the type of city that could have raised someone with Kate’s sensibilities.

Kate’s cell phone ring tones have a Wizard of Oz theme. Does this have a bigger meaning within the show?
Yes. Kate feels very much like Dorothy. All of the touchstones of her life have been taken away from her: her father died, she divorced and left the law and her stepmother is the wicked witch.

Why did you decide to make Kate a mediator and not a lawyer?
Legal shows have been going further and further to be exciting yet they bear little resemblence to the law. Lawyers complain about how unrealistic they are. Mediators can do anything. There are no rules.

Will we learn more about Kate’s past as a lawyer?

We will learn more about why Kate went from being a lawyer to a mediator, but not until later in the season. We didn’t want to see he looking back too soon.

Michael Sardo also added a few other tidbits about the new series:

  • “Writing for Kate and Justin is different than ‘will they or won’t they’ because they already have”
  • “Life is a mashup of drama and comedy so why shouldn’t a television series also be?”
  • “Kate has unbreakable confidence. She will throw herself into the quest for truth even if it is ugly along the way.”
  • “Leonardo [Kate’s assistant] is the only person Kate works with who is not of the firm. Kate trusts him completely. He keeps her centered.

Watching the screener for the first episode, Sarah Shahi (Kate) reminded me of a young mix of Sandra Bullock and Lisa Edelstein. Not only in looks, but in charms, strength and smarts. It is also great to see Michael Trucco (Battlestar Galactica, Castle) again in a regular series. And as someone who has left the law herself, I absolutely love the concept of Fairly Legal.

When Fairly Legal premieres on January 20 at 10pm ET/PT it will have a great lead-in. Royal Pains resumes new episodes again that same night at 9pm ET/PT. They will make a great combination.

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