From Ray Richmond, who is contributing to Deadline Hollywood’s TCA coverage:
How is it that David E. Kelley, who started off on L.A. Law and created The Practice, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, wound up on the air with yet another law series? Even he admitted to being not entirely sure. “I made a promise to myself at the end of Boston Legal that my next show wouldn’t be a law show,” he said during the TCA panel for his new NBC legal drama Harry’s Law starring Kathy Bates. “Even my kids begged me, ‘Please Dad, not another one!’ But I found I did miss getting into some of the topics that are out there today…I wanted t vehicle that could touch on the disparity between the wealthy and others in this country and how it’s increasing. But this isn’t a typical legal show, because it deals with a walk-in business and the personalities who come through that door.”
In any case, the famously prolific Kelley maintains he is happy to be back on the air and creating no matter what the genre. “I was getting a little squirrelly not having something regularly to write,” he admitted. “I wanted to get my hands on some topical subject matter again.”
He is doing it on a smaller scale this time, with a 6-episode midseason order. “Well sure, it’s going to be tough,” he admits about the shorter order. “It takes time to cultivate an investment in the characters, but you don’t get the time tocday that you did in the past. Hopefully we can make enough of a mark wityh six to keep going and tell the stories we want to tell. But we know it’s going to be tough sledding. I mean, for one thing, we have a 60-year-old lead. Not many networks said to me, ‘Hey, give me a show with a 60-year-old lead. I have to believe that even given the 500-channel universe, there’s room in the TV landscape for one or two or three shows that can have an older lead and indulge topical content. But I just don’t know.”
How does it feel being that 60-year-old lead?
“I’m really thrilled to have this opportunity,” Bates stressed. “I’m an actor who is driven to want to play a great character, that’s what attracted me to this from the beginning. This is a terrific character who jumped off the page. I didn’t care if it was big screen or little screen.”
Harry’s Law stars Bates as a crusty, curmudgeonly Cincinnati lawyer servicing drop-in clients from an abandoned shoe store. It was a role originally written for a man. “We didn’t quite find the right actor, so we opened up the casting to women,” Kelley recalls. “It was (fellow executive producer) Bill D’Elia’s wife who thought of Kathy. We got her a script, and fortunately she said yes.”
And what about the role appealed to Bates? “I read in the script where the character had her feet up on the desk smoking pot and watching Bugs Bunny, and after I saw that I was in,” she said. Bates also gets to use some salty language in a clip shown critics at the TCA gathering, calling someone an “asshole” (a word that Kelley admits he couldn’t have gotten away with at ABC during his Boston Legal days). “NBC is very good about content and lenient with dialogue,” Kelley said, “much more so than ABC was. We have broadcast standards battles with every script, but ‘asshole’ cleared.”
Kelley described Bates’ character as “a politically incorrect grump, a person who doesn’t care about being liked by people, who doesn’t care if she offends people.” And for her part, Bates said, “It’s a persona that I come naturally to. And trying to adjust to the long hours on the set moved that process right along…If they’d asked me to play someone who’s bright and optimistic, I’d have freaked out.”
After the session, Kelley talked about his Wonder Woman reboot that is being shelved for now after making the rounds at the broadcast networks last week. “I had a lot of fun writing it, and I’m still optimistic we’ll do it,” Kelley said. “It’s a huge project, and it was probably a bit too much to ask anyone to try to chew on it for next season. But I’m confident it will still happen. It’s a very complicated piece, which is the most fun thing about it.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.