Fairly Legal Creator & Executive Producer Michael Sardo Interview

January 17, 2011

Ever wonder what it takes to get a show off the ground or how new ideas are created? Well thanks to an interview with Fairly Legal creator & executive producer Michael Sardo I now I have a better insight on that and you can too when you keep reading.

Michael Sardo

Michal Sardo is the creator and executive producer of the new USA show Fairly legal which premieres this Thursday January 20th at 10 PM EST. Last week I had the great experience of being involved in a Q&A with Michael. I have nothing but great things to say about this unbelievably talented man.

Q. Could just tell us about coming up with the idea for the show and the development process?
A. I tend to approach my TV pilots from a feature writer’s perspective in the sense of letting them find their own way. I started writing fiction and then gradually came to television, so this particular idea began six years ago. I had a number of friends getting divorced. I saw a couple friends go through divorces with a mediator. They just talked it out and found a solution, little bumps along the road, but it was fine. I got interested in what was this mediation thing. I developed a pitch for a half-hour comedy about a male divorce mediator who at heart was a hopeless romantic and spent more time trying to put the couples who came to him back together instead of getting them apart. Pitched it to this producer, Gavin Pallone, and we didn’t sell it. Cut to four years later. I was developing a movie and it wasn’t going so well. I said, “I really love that mediator idea.” With the executive, we broke what I thought was a great movie about a divorce mediator who runs into the woman of his dreams during this mediation. We pitched it to the head of the studio, who didn’t buy it. Still the more I researched the area the more I thought it was great fodder for drama, because essentially you take two people in conflict, put them in a room, and then send someone else in. I thought who is that other person, and gradually over the course of the next couple months Kate Reed came to me. I have a sailboat I use for my office, which is why Kate lives on a boat and kind of conjured her up there. Who would it be that was comfortable in that environment with that much conflict and how would that work. I spent a couple months working it out, and talked to some friends about it. They said, “Oh, it’s a good idea. Let’s pitch it.” I said, “I’m just going to write it.” So I sat down and wrote it, we went out and fortunately, USA bought it, and that’s it.

Q. Can you tell us about the casting process and finding the leads on the show?
A. The casting process, to me, is always see as many people as you can, because things always appear very differently on their feet. We looked at maybe 90 women for the lead, and some great actresses, did a really nice job. Every one of them when they auditioned the robbery scene at the beginning of pilot when the robber took the gun out, which at this point was just the casting director moving their finger, every one of the 90 women did the exact same thing at that moment; they went whoa and they stepped back. Sarah Shahi came in, and as soon as the gun came out, she went, “Whoa, hey,” and she moved in toward the reader just instinctively. That’s who Sarah is as a person, and that’s who Kate is. Right in the audition, it was apparent to me at that moment that she was Kate Reed, and I’ve never had a doubt about it.

Q. Is it difficult to find the right balance between the drama and comedy?
A. It is, because even in terms of finding the right directors for the show. When people talk about the hybrid form of drama now, of one-hour dramas, I understand but I don’t understand what they mean in the sense that if you’re writing from life in my life I never have an hour of straight drama or a half hour of straight comedy. It’s always a mesh up of both. It’s what we’ve all experienced when you’re laughing at the funeral because something just strikes you as funny. A lot of times, what people are comfortable with is a scene of drama followed by a scene of comedy, and I was curious as to what would happen if you had them both happening within the same scene. Again not being neat, if there’s no delineation of okay here comes our comic scene or here’s our dramatic scene that they just slam right on top of each other. I just find in life there are very few pure moments, and I wanted to represent that on the screen. So it was a challenge both to write and to bring it to the screen in the appropriate way.

Q. Where did you draw the inspiration for Kate?
A. I think that I was interested in someone who had an unbreakable confidence in her own ability to find out what the truth is in any given situation. What that means is not that you’re all knowing and confident of every step, but that you’re willing to be lost at times during that process, again which is a more complex character. She’s not self-righteous at all. She knows that she’ll get there and she’s comfortable making missteps along the way. When you write characters there’s always a piece of you in every character that you write. She reminds me a bit of myself, she reminds me a bit of my son, whose name is Nick Reed, his middle name is Reed, and Justin Patrick, who is Michael Trucco’s character. But I started with that initial idea of someone who just would throw themselves into this question of truth, even if it were ugly along the way. It was a marriage of that idea with the way Sarah Shahi plays Kate, because when I met her I knew. There were other actresses up for the part, who were really fine actresses, and as I said to the network each of them will play 100% of what’s on the page, but Sarah will do 125%. I’m not quite sure what that 25% is; it scares me a little bit, but that’s where the excitement lies, too. So marriage of that initial conception and what Sarah does is how we arrived at Kate.

Q. The original title didn’t make it, what was your take on that? Can you talk about how it ended up with the title Fairly Legal?
A. It’s a very interesting process. Titles are so difficult. You’re trying to encapsulate in a couple of words what this thing that you’ve worked hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on. Our original title was Facing Kate. One of my partners had made a list of possible titles, and after a while, they all start to blend in. My son, who was 12 at the time, was going over the list with me and he said, “Dad, I think it should be Facing Kate.” I said, “Why is that?” He said, “Well, because everyone has to face her to find out what’s true, and she’s also trying to face herself to find out the truth.” I thought well that’s a good reason, so we made the title Facing Kate. I’d like to say that I had more thought into it than that at the time, but that’s the truth. It seemed like a very appropriate title. As we developed the show and starting shooting episodes, it started to feel like it was a more limited version of what was going on. Because the show became bigger than that, the issues became bigger, and Facing Kate started to feel it was about a woman’s self-exploration when that’s one tiny part of a much broader canvas that we’re painting on. Ultimately I pitched the title Fairly Legal, because it encapsulates so much. It puts you in the legal arena, but you’re not quite there, you’re almost there. It says that she is fair, which she is. She’s fairly legal, in other words she’s working the legal arena, but she’s going to tilt it to be advantageous to the goal that she has. So I thought it hit all the things that we needed to hit, and I like it a lot.

Q. What is it like being a creator of a show as opposed to working on an established show like Wings?
A. The difference is when you work on an established show your job is to write in the voice of that creator; it’s already established, the character is established. On Wings, for example, I did 76 episodes of Wings, the ones that I wrote in my voice would start to creep in more and more. Hopefully the episode would have a slightly different flavor and that it would be mine, but still you’re working within the template that’s established. When you are the creator, the rest of the staff is writing in your voice. They bring in a script that has their sensibility, and you very much want that, you want a staff that’s bringing in their own points of view. But then, ultimately, those little things that are so specific it’s my job to put those in so that you’re always knowing. Everything has to run through my computer so that the voices come out in the same way. It’s a much different job, but they’re equally challenging, actually. It’s not that easy to write in someone else’s voice either, but it’s a lot more fun to write in your own.

Q. Kate lives out on a boat. How did that idea come about?
A. Okay, well I’ll give you the truly honest idea. So I’m sitting there on my boat, which I use for my office, with my computer on my stomach thinking what would be an interesting place for Kate to live. And I went through a couple and I looked around, and I said how about here. There are a number of reasons why I write on a boat, but the most important one is I like the fact of being literally disconnected from land. I don’t get the Internet on the boat, I don’t have a TV on the boat, and there’s nothing on the boat that says anything about entertainment or television or film. So when I go to the sailboat I’m connected by four little ropes to the dock, but I can just sit there and say what’s a good story; not what’s a good story that will sell, not what’s a good story that the networks are looking for this year, but just what’s a good story. That’s how I like to proceed with my writing. Kate, I thought it fit Kate not only because I was on the boat, that’s sort of a trite reason, but I wanted to show that she was something different. People who live on boats tend to be a different breed. She takes the ferry over to San Francisco, but she’s not part of it. She works at the law firm, but she’s a mediator. She was married to a lawyer and she was a lawyer, but she’s no longer that. It just symbolizes to me perfectly Kate’s other lines, so she is not quite what everyone else is. It just seemed like a very beautiful, interesting, unique environment to put her.

Q. What’s your favorite part about working on the show?
A. This is going to sound like a complete crap answer, but all shows are different. What I love about this job, I’ll probably end my days writing novels, but right now what I love is that it’s so multifaceted. You start the year in a writer’s room with blank walls and a group of people you don’t know that well, but you like their writing and had a good interview with them. Then gradually you start to populate those walls with ideas and note cards, and those cards become outlines, which become scripts. Then the actors arrive, and then you start talking to them and you start casting all the parts and you start to see how the part changes when someone reads it. Then you get to film it, and everything is different when it’s on its feet; there’s all the interaction with is it the right director for that one and what’s the lighting. Then you go to post production, and everything changes again in editing when you add music. You’re surprised by episodes; you have an episode that’s very good and it stays very good, and you have an episode that’s good but becomes great in post-production, because it’s somehow more responsive to that process. So it’s a crazy making job that is very good if you have some form of ADD, because you’re being pulled in a million directions at once. But at the same time it’s a fantastic toolbox to be able to play with; you have so many things you can access in there and so many ways to tell the story that it would be hard to pin just one. It’s a great process to be part of.

There you have it my interview with Fairly Legal creator & executive producer Michael Sardo. Be sure to check out the show when it premieres on Thursday. I have seen the pilot, my friends, and it is amazing but just in case you might be a little hesitant to believe me check out the below video clip and see for yourself.

Photos: www.wenn.com/Nikki Nelson

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2 Responses to “Fairly Legal Creator & Executive Producer Michael Sardo Interview”

  1. 1
    Sandy Says:

    Great interview, very interesting!

  2. 2
    Miriam Says:

    Awesome interview