At today’s TCA panel on Amazon’s new legal drama Goliath, series creators/executive producers David E. Kelley and Jonathan Shapiro had much to say about the decline of the American legal process: “Twenty years ago, litigators were heroes—now it’s slumming,” Kelley said, a former attorney. The theme (of the show) is like Bernie Sanders (says), the system is rigged… Truth has no currency in law anymore.”
Shapiro, a former federal prosecutor and law professor as well as a long time collaborator of The Practice and Boston Legal creator Kelley, said he’s observing more attorneys struggling with depression and alcoholism than in his years in practice. He added that jury trials have declined in number. “Nobody’s talking about that… It raises the question: Can a David [take on] a Goliath anymore?”
The EPs — who appeared on the panel with cast members Billy Bob Thornton, William Hurt, Olivia Thirlby, Maria Bello and Tania Raymonde — were more enthusiastic about the creative process at Amazon.
Goliath went directly to series, rather than starting as part of Amazon’s Pilot Season, when pilots for potential news series are released free for viewers to rate as a determining factor in whether the show goes to series. However, the veteran producer said he would have been willing to follow this process: “Sure—at the end of the day you’ve got to bet on yourself,” Kelley said. If you don’t believe viewers will support your series, he added, “you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
The producers also said Amazon allows freedom to explore characters that are not either good or evil. Said Thornton of his character, described as a “down and out lawyer” seeking redemption: “The thing that appeals to me is (this is) a guy whose sense of justice is not exactly what’s legal, it’s what’s fair… you can’t just make a guy (all) milk and cookies.”
And who is the target audience for Goliath? Shapiro said “Amazon won’t tell us.” But Kelley added that producers should not be “leading with their market hats” in trying to capture a particular demographic anyway. The story, he said, should represent “a scream in your belly” that must be written.
Kelley said that, unlike the network TV model, the streaming process allows producers to tell the story without worrying about catching viewers up in each episode or writing around commercial breaks. When asked if he could ever go back to networks, he laughed and said: “I don’t think so.”