EXCLUISVE: This is a shocker — CBS is not proceeding with The Lincoln Lawyer, its high-profile legal drama from The Practice creator David E. Kelley, based on Michael Connelly’s series of bestselling novels.. The project had a massive series production commitment.
I hear The Lincoln Lawyer‘s studios, A+E Studios and CBS TV Studios, were informed on Friday of the network’s decision. This is believed to be the first official pass on a project from the 2020 broadcast pilot season.
More are expected to come from all the broadcast networks as they are trying to make decisions on pilots that have not been shot because all production was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. CBS is expected to step up its series pickup, renewal and cancelation activity next week as it prepares for the network’s May 13 video Upfront special that will replace its upfront presentation this year.
Even in the context of a highly irregular pilot season decimated by the pandemic, the pass on The Lincoln Lawyer is a jaw-dropper as it is a well known title, comes from one of the top legal drama creators in the business, Kelley, and had a huge commitment.
I hear no force majeure has not been invoked yet but the two sides are yet to get into the nitty-gritty of settling the big series penalty. It is unclear yet whether leading studio A+E Studios would shop the series elsewhere; it is a likely scenario.
A lot has changed since CBS preemptively bought The Lincoln Lawyer exactly a year ago with a series production commitment. The network’s parent company CBS Corp. merged with Viacom, and the combined company has been facing big financial challenges that have resulted in waves of layoffs. There also has been a change at the top of the CBS-branded assets, with George Cheeks assuming control as President and CEO of CBS Entertainment Group a little more than a month ago.
When production on all CBS pilots was shut down on Friday, March 13, The Lincoln Lawyer was in final stages of pre-production. The cast had been assembled, including closing a complex deal with Logan Marshall-Green for the lead that took weeks of negotiations.
With production suspended, the project’s executive producer/showrunner, Ted Humphrey, was given the go-ahead to open a writers room with three other writers and Connelly closely involved. At the time CBS made the decision not to proceed with the show, the network brass had received two scripts, the original pilot script by Kelley, and one by Humphrey and his team, with two more in the works. A+E Studios had been working on possible production schedules for when Hollywood filming resumes under new safety guidelines.
It is standard practice for projects with 13-episode commitment to film a pilot episode and take a break for the network and studio to assess it creatively before filming on the remaining episodes commences. Under the extraordinary circumstances this year, other broadcast projects with similar commitments to The Lincoln Lawyer’s, which also were planning to film a pilot during the regular pilot season, are moving straight to series production. The list includes another hourlong project from Kelley, The Big Sky at ABC, as well as comedy Call Me Kat at Fox.
The Lincoln Lawyer centers on Mickey Haller, an iconoclastic idealist, who runs his law practice out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car, as he takes on cases big and small across the expansive city of Los Angeles.
Kelley executive produces with Connelly, Humphrey and Ross Fineman.