EXCLUSIVE: In one of the first buys for the upcoming development cycle, ABC has put in development Lawless, from Mistresses developer/executive producer KJ Steinberg and Shonda Rhimes‘ Shondaland. The project tells the story of Joanna James, a maverick lawyer who returns to her hometown to right the wrongs she left behind. It is inspired by the real life of crusading trucker-turned-lawyer Wynona Ward, founder of Have Justice Will Travel. Former victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, Ward got compelled at age 41 by the news of another child in her family getting sexually abused by relatives to go to college and law school and start a group that provides free legal representation and support services to victims of domestic violence in rural areas.
Steinberg is writing Lawless, which she is executive producing with Shondaland’s Rhimes and Betsy Beers in conjunction with UK-based producers Esther Douglas and Tara Cook. ABC Studios, where Shondaland is based, is producing. This marks a reunion for The Nine co-creator Steinberg and Shondaland. Two years ago, they teamed for Gilded Lilys, a period drama which also was an early buy at ABC and went to pilot. Gilded Lilys was one of two scripts Steinberg wrote during the 2011-12 development season. The other, an adaptation of the British drama Mistresses, received a straight to series order by ABC for this summer. The network recently left the show in contention for a second season by extending the options on the actors. ICM-repped Shondaland has two series on the air next season, ABC veteran Grey’s Anatomy and hot sophomore Scandal, both created by Rhimes. Douglas and Cook are with attorney Leigh Brecheen.