The upcoming Season 7 finale of USA Network’s Suits will serve as a backdoor pilot for a potential spinoff starring Gina Torres and centered around her Suits character, the powerhouse lawyer Jessica Pearson. The offshoot, which, unlike the mothership series won’t be a legal drama but set in the world of Chicago politics, hails from Universal Cable Prods. The pilot will be written and executive produced by Suits creator and executive producer Aaron Korsh and executive producer Daniel Arkin, and will be directed by Suits alum Anton Cropper (House of Lies). Suits executive producers Doug Liman, David Bartis and Gene Klein of Hypnotic will also serve as executive producers on the spinoff.
In the Season 7 finale, which will air in the first quarter of 2018, Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), Donna Paulsen (Sarah Rafferty) and Rachel Zane (Meghan Markle) with reunite with their old boss and friend Pearson as she adjusts to her new life in the Windy City. When she is forced to enter the dirty world of Chicago politics, Pearson must rely on her legal wits and valiant relationships from Pearson Specter Litt to navigate this unknown territory.
“The powerhouse character of Jessica Pearson, expertly brought to life by the incomparable Gina Torres, has won the hearts of television fans everywhere,” said Chris McCumber, President, Entertainment Networks, NBCU Cable Entertainment. Added Jeff Wachtel, Chief Content Officer, NBCU Cable Entertainment, and President, UCP. “We felt we owed it to the audience – and ourselves! – to follow her journey beyond the original show.”
Casting is about to begin for actors to play three new characters that will be featured in the backdoor pilot with the goal of them continuing on the spinoff series. (The original series’ casting director, Bonnie Zane, will also be casting the spinoff.) Korsh did not have details about the characters because the Suits finale/spinoff pilot has not been written yet; he and Arkin are slated to start writing the episode in a few days.
What Korsh could reveal is that “Jessica is going to get in a tangle and a tussle with some Chicago politics players. They will be of different levels, from the Mayor on down, and maybe not all will be directly involved in politics, we may have a real estate developer or someone of that type, and some power brokers within the city and maybe further a little down the rung in that world. As we go though the spinoff episode, at the end hopefully you’ll have a great idea of what her future is moving forward and who’s a potential ally and who’s a potential enemy in her world.”
There had been rumblings that the new lawyer character introduced on Suits this season, which is played by Dule Hill, may migrate to the spinoff, though there has been no decision on that yet.
Torres, an original Suits cast member, exited the series as a series regular in the Season 6 summer finale last September. The departure stemmed from a personal request by the actress who wanted to spend more time with her family in Los Angeles. (Suits films in Toronto).
But when she’d settled back in Los Angeles last fall as everybody else went back to work, “I thought, ‘I miss her, what would she be doing, what’s going on’,” Torres said about Jessica. She does not regret her decision to leave the show “at all, and even less so now.” “It really helped to mother this notion of a life beyond Suits for Jessica,” Torres said.
She pitched to UCP and Korsh an idea for a Jessica-centered spinoff that would “have her move away from the world of law and into the world of politics. Especially given the climate now, I thought that was certainly a timely concept. And with this woman, whom you’ve seen for six seasons walk a razor-thin line between legal, not so legal, good, bad, whatever she had to do to survive and save her firm, and she did it quite brilliantly, I think those are qualities that lend themselves to good storytelling.”
Additionally, “moving into politics was a way of differentiating the show from Suits,” Torres said. “I didn’t want it to be Suits 2, I wanted it to be its own entity, and so moving it away from a glossy attorney show, I wanted it to be darker, a little more reality-based, a little grittier and to reflect what it is that we are going though in the country.”
Korsh recollected again how it was network executives that helped make the spinoff possible by vetoing his original idea how to write Jessica off the mothership series. “We creatively wanted to create a big bang for Suits. maybe have Jessica die and thank god we didn’t do that, I’m very grateful to all,” he said.
While Torres’ original spinoff idea was slightly different, “the core of it I thought was fantastic,” Korsh said. Additionally, “Gina was on the show for a number of years, and obviously everyone knows she is an amazing actress but not only that; Gina is the most professional person I’ve ever worked with; she always approaches everything from the standpoint of making it as good as it can possibly be. When people behave that way, you always want to be in business with them.”
Korsh quickly decided to get on board the spinoff. And “once I decided to do it, my first thought was to involve Daniel Arkin who is my longtime number two on Suits.”
Torres made a surprising return to Suits in the season six finale last spring. Her character has appeared multiple times this season and is expected to continue to do so, culminating with the season finale that will introduce the spinoff.
While Jessica’s exact line of work has not been addressed on Suits this season, she has not transitioned to politics just yet, Korsh said. “Within the confines of the show, she left to go to work in Chicago to continue to be a lawyer but in a different capacity, not be a corporate layer anymore but try to help people and do mainly pro bono work. From our perspective, we haven’t seen that, but that’s what in my mind she’s been doing in Chicago. We will get a little bit better idea of what she’s doing there but she has not yet made that transition, that’s what the spinoff episode does, introduces her new life.”
Using a season finale of Suits to usher in a spinoff is tricky, Korsh admits.
“The challenge of the spinoff is to make it work both as a fresh new episode that launches a series and to make it work as an episode of Suits. So we try to create a situation where Harvey is torn between two worlds, between helping Jessica with the problem she has in Chicago and his own law firm he’s inherited from her, and he’s got to choose between helping Jessica and helping his own firm. The idea is, Harvey would go to Jessica’s aid, battling against political forces in Chicago, and the people on Suits would all step up and try and help Harvey with the situation he is in back home. We will be bouncing back and forth between Chicago and New York.”
Like Torres, Korsh too did not want to do a show about Jessica as a lawyer in Chicago. “I thought that would be a little bit too similar to Suits, I thought that we would be doing the same show again, and I wasn’t interested in that. If she goes into a new field, she is still just as intelligent and powerful and commanding and strategic as she always has been, but it’s a new world for her so it allows you to see a different side of her, it allows her to have a learning curve and allows us to introduce different tones and dynamics and just to see new, different things.”
Asked about possible parallels to CBS’ The Good Wife, which featured a storyline of a female Chicago attorney, Alicia Florrick, getting involved in local politics as she ran for State’s Attorney, Korsh said. “Though I loved The Good Wife, I never saw that storyline, so I can’t answer other than say that both shows are very personal and specific to their characters and obviously Jessica Pearson and Alicia Florrick are not the same.”
Torres is repped by Domain and Framework Entertainment, Korsh is with ICM Partners.
Suits‘ seventh season is currently airing Wednesdays at 9 PM on USA.