In the fast-paced world of ABC’s new drama series NOTORIOUS, there is a fine line between reporting the news and making the news. Looking to exploit their access to broadcast news and behind-the-scenes information, a television news producer and high-powered attorney team up and spin what is reported — to give them both the best possible position in breaking news and using it to their own advantage. Starring Piper Perabo, as Julia George — the television producer with a crack news team — and Daniel Sunjata, as Jake Gregorian — the attorney willing to do whatever it takes to get favorable press for his clients — NOTORIOUS delivers just the right amount of Thursday night sizzle with a dash of scandalous shenanigans.
While attending this past summer’s Television Critics Association tour, executive producer and creator Josh Berman talked about bringing the NOTORIOUS world to life for the television.
It feels like Julia’s team has been assembled with careful precision. Can you just describe a little bit of how that came together?
Josh Berman: Yes. The character of Megan (played by Sepideh Moafi) — we mention in the pilot that she was a former call girl and that’s based loosely on Wendy’s real number two, who she called the “hooker booker” — because in real life the “hooker booker” was a former hooker that Wendy found and she had a questionable list of Johns and those Johns provided a lot of access to great stories. So while we’re not going as literal there, we are saying that what it was is Wendy felt that somebody in a completely different world could add a lot more and because you don’t want to hire a clone of yourself. I think our instincts as managers are often to hire people that are just like us, but to be the best manager I can be, I work to try to find people that have different skill sets to make me look even better. And I think that’s what Piper’s character Julia George has done.
Will we get to see what kind of inspired Julia to team up with an attorney (Jake Gregorian played by Daniel Sunjata) to kind of manipulate things for their both mutual benefits?
Josh Berman: In terms of their backstory, we seed it in slowly. It’s not like I don’t want to do the big flashback episode in the first season, but I want people to get a sense that there is “history” there. They’ve been working together for 8 years. In real life, when Mark Geragos lost the Scott Peterson case and Wendy was the one constantly saying that he was guilty the first place, Mark went to Wendy’s home and they had a drink together. So they are each other’s biggest advocates and biggest adversaries.
Is Marc Blucas a series regular?
Josh Berman: He’s recurrent. He recurs. He’s actually back for the first and third episode, at least.
As a BUFFY and ANGEL fan, were you aware of that you cast Riley (Marc Blucas) and Gunn (J. August Richards)?
Josh Berman: [Laughs] No, that is great! I didn’t even know!
Marc was series regular on BUFFY and J. August Richards was a regular on ANGEL, so you’ve got the two of them on NOTORIOUS now.
Josh Berman: That’s fantastic! So we’ll have to play with that. That’s amazing! I love J. August, he’s amazing.
This is J. August Richards’s fourth or fifth attorney role. Did you cast him based on that?
Josh Berman: No. The great story there is we were looking for a very different actor. We were looking for somebody that was older and a more seasoned attorney. And then he came in and I go, “He’s not what we’re looking for.” But then he did the audition and he blew us away and we rewrote the part just for him.
How did you cast Aimee Teegarden for her role as Ella Benjamin?
Josh Berman: Aimee was fantastic. You know — FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS — she’s a natural. You should interview her. She has the greatest story where she called and she’s like, “I really want to learn more about being an attorney. How do I do that?” I said, “I’ll set you up with Mark [Geragos].” Mark was in the process of flying to New York on his private jet to do something – someone was blackmailing his client. Mark flew to New York with Aimee on the plane and when they got to New York, she acted as if she was an attorney working for him and helped organize the takedown of the blackmailer. So it’s a great – and I’m only giving the story ten percent service. If you get her to talk about it, which she will, make sure you ask her about it, because you just can’t believe it.
Was that before or after you’d hired her?
Josh Berman: No, after we hired her. After we were already picked up to series. We havethe nicest group of actors I’ve ever worked with and they’re all taking their parts super seriously. So Piper, Sepideh, Kate (who plays Louise), they’ve all gone to real newsrooms. Those who play lawyers, like Aimee, have actually gone and shadowed Mark [Geragos] for a week.
How was it decided to make Louise Herrick (Kate Jennings Grant), who is an anchorwoman of a certain age, someone who likes dating younger men?
Josh Berman: By episode three, you’ll understand why she is who she is today. It’s a much more surprising and complicated backstory. For me, I love writing women. I wrote DROP DEAD DIVA for 6 years. I understand professional women of that age I think as much as possible and I really enjoy the complexity that a gorgeous brilliant woman can bring to a show. And the fact that she starts off as someone that you think is a little two dimensional and by the third episode you understand exactly why she is who she is and that she’s a lot more complex than you would ever imagine by her boy-toy exterior.
And Louise seems very happy to have Piper Perabo’s character Julia running everything.
Josh Berman: Absolutely. And that is what we delve into. Why does somebody who at the pinnacle of her career surrender part of it to someone like Piper? And you understand that. I don’t want to give it away because it’s such a great moment but they have tremendous conflict quite quickly and in their conflict you’ll understand why she behaves the way she does.
Why should people watch NOTORIOUS?
Josh Berman: You could ask the same question as a writer. Like when I left THE BLACKLIST to write this show. I worked six years on CSI. I worked four years on BONES. I loved that experience, but I wasn’t interested in writing another procedural. For me, to tackle a new project it had to feel different. It had to feel fresh. I had to get excited about it. I hadn’t seen a show that dealt with the veracity of the news, the intersection of media and the law. For me, it’s almost like my whole life was building up to this show. I am a lawyer and yet my first job was working as an intern at NBC. And I wrote screenplays while I was passing the bar. Like I had these two parallel tracks and I never thought I could actually work in both fields and I figured out a way to do it in a way that I think is captivating and not on the air.
If you were on a one-on-one pitch with just a fan saying “persuade me to watch your show,” what would you tell a potential viewer?
Josh Berman: Haven’t you always wondered if what you see on the news is really the news. Is the truth objective or subjective? Here’s how I would tell fans. This is the first show that tells the story behind the story, you know. The story behind the headlines. It’s exciting. It’s dynamic. It’s loosely based on reality. It’s different than what’s out there. It’s not a crime show. It’s not THE NEWSROOM. But it’s got the best of both worlds.
You said, whether they should or note, people used to really believe the news. Do you feel the show has any responsibility to question this or do you feel like you’re just presenting what happens in the news and we should just accept this is what news has turned into?
Josh Berman: No, no. I hope people talk about the show. I hope people talk about the moves within the show. I question everything and I think that in a day and an age where sound-bites are often the story ,instead of the story being the story, I hope this will get people talking and thinking. I mean we’re not a documentary, by any means. We’re entertainment. I’m not approaching the show as a responsibility, but if the show gets people talking about the issues, fantastic.
To see how entangled things get on and off the air as Julia and Jake strive to use each others’ unique skill sets and access to their mutual benefit, be sure to tune in for the premiere of NOTORIOUS on Thursday, September 22nd at 9:00 p.m. on ABC.