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‘Fairly Legal’: Interview with Creator Michael Sardo

by Lynn DeVries on January 7, 2011 · 0 comments

in Fairly Legal,Interviews

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USA Network has a very cool new show called Fairly Legal that will premiere on Thursday, January 20 at 10 pm ET. The series revolves around Kate, an attorney that works as a mediator. I’ve had the opportunity to watch the show’s pilot and it’s got great potential. I’m looking forward to finding out how the characters evolve over the season ahead. [Learn about the show's cast.]

To help us get ready for this new series, the show’s creator and executive producer, Michael Sardo, sat down to answer some questions about hwo the show was conceived and what we can look forward to on it.

Q: We were wondering if you could just tell us a bit about coming up with the idea for the show and the development process.

Michael Sardo: Coming up with the idea for the show. Let’s see, 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 the genesis of it began six years ago. I had a number of friends getting divorced. All of them would start off very amicable, “You know we’re just going to divide up the stuff; there’s really no problem here.” Then somehow or another in the process, once they got lawyers, it was war. Then I saw a couple friends go through divorces with a mediator, and 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 thing, this mediation thing.

I developed a pitch for a half-hour comedy about a male mediator, a divorce mediator who at heart was a hopeless romantic and spent more time trying to put the couples who came to him to break apart he was trying to put them back together instead of getting them apart. Pitched it 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 kind of 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, but 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, and we went out and fortunately, USA bought it, and that’s it.

Q: Then can you tell us about the casting process and finding the leads on the show?

M. Sardo: The casting process, to me, is always see as many people as you can, because things always appear very differently on their feet. I used to perform with the Groundlings, an improvisational comedy group in Hollywood, and it’s amazing; writers don’t always know what changes from script to speech.

So the first 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.

It was right then I knew that she was Kate, because you cannot solve conflict by moving away from it. That’s what most of us want to do intuitively, the counterintuitive thing for the person who is Kate Reed is to move toward it, because you solve it by getting in close to the people and to the problem. Right in the audition, it was apparent to me right at that moment that she was Kate Reed, and I’ve never had a doubt about it.

Q: Can you tell us kind of what you think will bring in viewers, like who will be attracted to this type of show?

M. Sardo: Oh that’s a good question. I’m always amazed by what people watch. Like when you meet someone and you say, “What do you watch?” and it’s so rare that I can predict what that person watches. You meet someone who’s sort of a little dry and stuffy and you say, “Well what are you watching right now?” “I love Jersey Shore.” And I go, “Really?” It’s interesting, because the audience is so rarely who you think it is.

So I go from the point of view of let’s create the most interesting, vibrant environment, hopefully one that you’ve never seen before, and see who’s interested in that. Some people want comfort food; they want the same thing delivered the same way every week, and this would be the wrong show for them. We’re trying to tell stories that we haven’t seen before that are very human, that engage us.

When you pitch stories when you work in entertainment, there’s always this idea of raising the stakes, and so the stakes it always become about a murder versus a robbery. But I don’t think, myself, that the stakes are necessarily higher because it’s a worse crime or something. It’s a matter of how well you draw those characters, how relatable they are, how much we see ourselves in them, and how closely you engage with that particular story being told.

So I think we’ve told very engaging, relatable stories, and as to who will be interested I’m kind of curious to see myself. I hope lots of people.

Q: Can you talk about some of the guest stars you have this year?

M. Sardo: We’ve been really fortunate; we’ve had a lot of great people. Gerald McRaney, who plays a judge on the show, he was in the pilot, who we’ve had back several times is just such a fine actor and a joy to have. He’s the kind of actor that you can say, “Gerald can you make that three degrees warmer,” and he goes, “Yes, sure.” “Could you move it half a beat to the left?” “Yes, no problem,” but such a clear characterization of the character.

Richard Dean Anderson comes on a little later in the run as a very interesting person in Kate’s life playing a character that you haven’t seen him play before. We have Ken Howard in the pilot, who just gives this very powerful, wonderful performance. Paul Schultz from Nurse Jackie who plays Eddie the pharmacist is in an episode that gives just a heart wrenching performance. We have now people going out, just as you asked people are going out of my head, my list of guest stars. But those probably the people that you would most know, but we have some just really, really fine actors. Now I can see their faces and not their names, because I got up at 6:00 to take my kids to school this morning.

Q: In watching the first episode you can see that Kate has somewhat strained relationships in her life, particularly with like Lauren and Justin, who are involved in both here personal and professional life. How important are those going to be to her character as the series goes along?

M. Sardo: Crucially important. Kate is someone who no matter how obtuse the conflict that someone may have in a mediation Kate can find a way to get to the center of it and to get people to see both sides of the problem and to join them in creating an equitable solution. What she struggles with is doing the same thing in her personal life. She’s such a passionate person that her passions overrun her when it comes to the relationships she’s closest to.

Her relationship with Lauren is a very complicated one, and we worked on the show, and with Virginia Williams who plays Lauren, very hard to create a character that I don’t believe we’ve seen before. On the surface, if you just looked at her stats, you would think she’s a trophy wife, but she’s not. She had true love with Kate’s father, and she’s a woman who believes in truth and justice as strongly as Kate does, she just approaches it very differently. She believes in the letter of the law and in following that, and that’s where all truth derives from. Kate believes in questioning everything. So they are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of how you find truth and justice.

Justin, Kate’s ex-husband, who is an Assistant District Attorney for the city of San Francisco, is equally committed to the law, has a more obvious heart than Lauren in terms of his approach to the law, and a very open heart when it comes to Kate. But he also believes in the system itself, and Kate is always questioning the system. So her relationships with them and her breaking free from that system, because she was an attorney previously, she worked with him and one of the things that blew up her marriage was she kept questioning the law. Ultimately, the only person she could question it with at night was Justin, who took it as a personal indictment, and sometimes it was. How could you keep doing this, this system that I don’t believe is the best for people, and I want to do something else.

So those relationships, Kate’s relationship with Lauren and Justin, are actually going to define her as a person as she enters this new phase in her life.

Q: Why San Francisco? Why was that chosen as the setting for the show?

M. Sardo: There were a lot of shows set in New York, but I wanted a place I thought in what kind of city what would be the crucible in which a character like Kate is formed. It had to be a place where you weren’t spending your life in a car locked away from people, like I’m sitting in my car right now doing this interview. I grew up in the Bronx in New York, and you bounced off of people all the time, which makes you have to confront them and yourself. There’s no road rage, there’s rage that you express instantly to the person jammed in next to you on the subway platform.

So I wanted a city that was multicultural, that had a wide range of economic strata so that you could have people from all walks of life, all cultures bouncing off each other. That’s where you get conflict and interesting stories, and I just thought it was a great environment for Kate, as well as a very picturesque one.

Q: I know you’re filming in Vancouver but you’re set in San Francisco. How hard is it to make one city look like the other, and do you do some filming in San Francisco? I know I saw the Transamerica building in the background, I think, in the pilot.

M. Sardo: That’s a good question. We shot in San Francisco for the pilot, as well as Vancouver. We shot both, our interiors in Vancouver and our exteriors in San Francisco. We shoot the series in Vancouver. Vancouver is an amazing city in terms of how it has a great selection of old buildings, it has hills; it has a lot of things that San Francisco has, so we worked very hard in our exteriors to give as much of a San Francisco look as we can. Then, in addition to that, we go down to San Francisco and shoot our intermediary pieces, the little pieces between scenes that give you a sense of Kate going from place to place; those are shot in San Francisco. Our interiors, a lot of them, are on a stage in Vancouver, our practical location is in Vancouver, but we do shoot all those intermediary pieces in San Francisco.

Q: One thing I kind of noticed, obviously, is the Wizard of Oz theme with the cell phone. Can you talk a little bit about that and how that comes into play with Kate’s cell phone and the characters on there?

M. Sardo: Sure. At this point in Kate’s life, when we meet her as the series begins, she is very much Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in that everything she knows, all her touchstones of her life, have been swept away from her. She was a lawyer at her father’s law firm, who is the towering figure in San Francisco, as well as in her life and in the firm. He just died, her marriage just broke up, she just left the law; everything she knows has been swept away.

Just sort of fancifully, without a lot of conscious thought, she doesn’t go, “Oh I’m Dorothy,” she just one day put in her phone she thinks of Lauren as the Wicked Witch. It just came to her one day. Then she started populating her phone, making her ring tones the rest of the characters of the movie, which just sort of fell neatly into place. At this moment when we see her, she’s Dorothy and she’s trying to find her way back to a comfortable spot.

That’s a lot of her evolution throughout the show and what we’re going to see from her. We don’t hit the Oz theme as hard every week as we do in the pilot, but it’s an idea that’s there so you get a sense of who Kate is when we first meet her. She’s very much far from what she thought of as home, and she’s going to make her way back and we’ll see how she defines that and where she winds up.

Q: I’ve had a chance to watch the pilot, as well as the season finale, and I have to say that the development of the relationship between Kate and Justin is really well done. Was it more difficult to write a romantic relationship for a couple that already had such a complicated history?

M. Sardo: It was difficult, but it was fun, because so often you see a show you see a will they/won’t they sleep together, and I was just interested in they already have and what’s left when a relationship breaks apart. In seeing this relationship the middle parts of it, you saw the pilot and the season finale, have some interesting beats where it’s not the partner you expect who’s dissatisfied with the way things are going. They switch the expected roles several times in the course of what you’d expect from a man, what you’d expect from a woman; they switch several times in the course of the season.

Kate in general is not about neat, so I was interested in a relationship that wasn’t neat, because I’m always amazed when someone says I was married and now we’re divorced and we don’t talk. Wow, can you make that clean a break; do you think about her, do you think about him, do you want to be with them? So theirs is a complicated relationship, and it doesn’t work on some levels but on some very primal levels it works perfectly, and they struggle with that. I was interested in, I guess, the way I see relationships around me, and my own, they’re never neat, and Kate and Justin’s certainly aren’t. So it was difficult to write, but it was quite a lot of fun I think they play it beautifully the two of them.

Q: Is it difficult to find the right balance between the drama and comedy? Because even myself I saw myself tearing up one moment and laughing the next. Is it difficult to have such a great balance of the two?

M. Sardo: 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 what 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? Because she is a mediator, but in a sense I could tell when she was leaning forward she was almost motherly like. Was that an intention for you or what inspired that?

M. Sardo: 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.

That just seemed to me, I guess maybe parts of it, 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, is actually my other son’s name, Vince Justin Patrick Sardo, and there are strong aspects of both the characters in them.

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: How is the relationship between Leo and Kate going to develop? They seem to have quite an interesting relationship, too.

M. Sardo: The interesting thing about Leonardo is that he is the only person at the firm who is not of the firm. In other words, Leonardo has this Watchmen-like graphic novel he’s been working on forever, his magnum opus. What he loves about it he actually gets a lot of inspiration from Kate; she’s almost like a superhero character to him. She trusts him completely, and having Leonardo keep her center, tell her where she is at any given moment, is what allows her to have that freedom to hurl herself off in any direction because she knows ultimately she has Leonardo there to bring her back to center. So it’s a relationship that if you asked either of them do you really care about this person. No, I just work for her, no, he works for me, but they actually care very deeply for each other and respect each other tremendously, though they are reluctant to show it overtly.

Q: Now you mentioned Kate and Lauren and Justin and Leonardo. I wanted to know how will the recurring character of Richard Dean Anderson impact the series, because he’s apparently somebody with a lot of secrets about Kate’s father.

M. Sardo: Yes he is. I was interested in the idea that Kate has this figure of her dad, and the idea he is this very important figure in her life. So when he dies she starts to learn some other things about him. Because I don’t know if people on the line have children or not, I do, and it’s hard for them to imagine that you were ever anyone other than their parent. But of course we had lives before then, and they may have been markedly different from the life we’re leading now. It’s always hard for, “Oh Dad, is this you from college? What the heck were you doing at this party? Can I have that picture?”

So he is the person who starts to say to Kate that maybe your father wasn’t who you thought he was. At the same time, maybe what’s important is not living in his shadow or thinking about him too much, but what you think he is leave it at that and now become the person that you want to be. Then she’s also going to develop a separate relationship with him.

We’ve had a lot of fun with Richard; he brings so much to the screen in so little time. It’s what we were looking for with him is that there aren’t a lot of people who you can say come in and we want you to do a scene, and we want that scene to resonate over the course of a couple of episodes and have it be memorable, and Richard’s that. There’s a reason he’s been on television for decades; he has that gravitas that can carry over. So I don’t mean to be coy about what we’re doing with him, but it’s kind of complicated and it will develop over the course of more than one season his relationship with her.

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about your decision to go with a mediator instead of just a straight up lawyer show? Was part of the reason to open that world to the public, because I’ve never heard of a mediator before?

M. Sardo: I was sitting in a coffee shop and these two lawyers, retired lawyers, they were gentlemen in their 60’s or 70’s, were talking about a legal show they’d seen the night before. They were furious, because on the show, the prosecutor spit at the defense lawyer and the defense lawyer was yelling, and he said you would be in jail for any of those things. They were decrying the fact that on law shows, in general, the boundaries have been pushed so far in terms of what could actually happen in the courtroom, because, of course, each new law show you’re trying to create drama that hasn’t been seen before.

Now I was just on jury in downtown Los Angeles and what you do there is very circumscribed and very controlled; there are no outbursts. The judge runs the courtroom very tightly. But again, we’re drawn to that arena because there are these really important moments in people’s lives that take place, there’s a reason why you go to court.

I was interested in this. When I stumbled on to this area of mediation a few years ago, I started talking to mediators and saying, “Well could you do this? Could you do that,” and they’d say, “Yes.” There are no rules; it’s all about the personality of the mediator. I thought that makes for very interesting drama.

I mean it’s scary in a way. As I said earlier, essentially the show is two people have a conflict, put them in a room, close the door, send in Kate Reed, and I just thought that was a great fundamental challenge for a dramatist of how do you make something happen with that. I also was interested in the fact that on a law show very often what you’re waiting for is that revelation that comes in act four when everything is stripped away and it’s pass the verdict of guilty or not guilty, and you find out what was really going on when those two people pass in the hallway. That’s the moment the whole show has been building towards.

I thought what if you could start with that—that moment where those two people are together and having to confront each other. Strip away all the artifice. In other words, I have a conflict with you, we go to court, someone speaks for me and someone speaks for you, and then the judge tells us what it all means so you’ve diluted all the conflicts between the two of us. I thought let’s just take that head on and find an interesting character to guide us through that process. I thought it would make some great drama and some great comedy, and I hope it does.

Q: I want to talk a little bit about the title of the show, Fairly Legal. I know it went through a couple of incarnations before it finally ended up with Fairly Legal. Kind of talk about that process and your dealings with USA and kind of how you felt about how that title situation was coming along. I know the original title didn’t make it kind of. What was your kind of take on that, about how that process went along, and finally how it ended up with Fairly Legal and if you’re happy with that title.

M. Sardo: 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, which 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, “Yes, 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 a little too 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, and I said let’s have a cheeky picture of Sarah on the poster and have 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.

But it’s a tortuous process to get there, trust me. I cut out a couple of months of thought process in there and a lot of work with the marketing people in New York and going back and forth on things. Just talking to friends and saying, “How do you react to this title; is it interesting, is it this?” Then ultimately, you want it to fit really what the show is; you don’t want the title to be something that the show is not. But I do think that this encapsulates our show very well.

Q: Going back to titles, Michael, how would you say how important the title is to a show, to the success of a show? Can the title make or break a show? A bad title can that kind of ruin a show that might do fairly well, but for marketing purposes people just don’t connect the title to the show?

M. Sardo: How do you feel about Terriers?

Q: Well that’s a perfect example. FX will say it didn’t have anything to do with it, but other people will say that the marketing campaign with the dog wasn’t a fair representation of the show and that was one of the reasons why the show failed.

M. Sardo: It was a terrific show, and it’s always hard to find out, to do the autopsy. I think a show a title is very, very important, and I think that the poster is important and the marketing is important. I didn’t always know how important that was, and I was always mystified why does someone who is the head of marketing become head of a movie studio; that doesn’t make any sense. Until you go to Blockbuster or Netflix and you see so many great movies that you say let me take a look at this. The movie is fantastic and you say, “How come I didn’t hear about this when it came out two years ago?”

I think it’s extremely important that you do two things. One, give people a sense of the show and a reason to want to come into that environment, and two, that you’re representing with that title and that poster and that marketing campaign what the show actually is; that you’re not doing a bait and switch. That you’re not advertising. It’s one thing and then people say oh I want to see that, and they see it and you bring essentially the wrong audience when you might have been able to bring the right audience who would have been happy with the correct title and campaign. So I think it’s crucially important.

Q: How do you feel Fairly Legal will perform in the USA line up? How does it fit within the network?

M. Sardo: Wow. See you’re asking me a question above my pay grade. Thank you for that compliment. I think it will perform very well. I think that we have the right time spot; we’re very fortunate to have Royal Pains as our lead in. They have a fairly sophisticated audience, and a big audience, and we’ll get a good sample.

I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve seen shows that I’ve been mystified are a hit and I’ve seen shows that miss that I’m mystified by, and so I know USA is taking great care in terms of when to release us and rolling us out at the proper time after the proper lead in. So everything has been perfectly positioned for us to succeed. It’s going to be up to the audience; it’s their turn to vote, so I’m kind of curious to see what they say. I think we’ll do well, but let’s have this conversation again in a month.

Q: What is it like being a creator of a show as opposed to working on an established show like Wings?

M. Sardo: 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. Now hopefully, as 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 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—hopefully, if you saw a transcript of the show you would know which lines were Kate’s and which were Justin’s and which were Lauren’s and which were Judge McCasto’s or Leonardo’s to make sure that it’s on the continuity. Everything has to run through my computer so that the voices … out in the same way.

So 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: This past fall season had a fantastic line up of shows, but quite a lot of them struggled in the ratings and were eventually cancelled. With Fairly Legal coming in mid-season do you feel any extra pressure to perform when you’re going up against established shows?

M. Sardo: The pressure for me is all during the season while we’re shooting them. Now it’s sort of this other thing that exists. The network will have their own expectations for the show, their own metric on which they measure it against, and I actually don’t know what those are in terms of what makes them happy. My job is to make the best show that I can and the most interesting show, and if I think too much about those other things, who we’ll be against or who is watching it, it seeps into the show in a bad way. So I have to section myself off from that a little bit.

As I said earlier, I don’t always know why people watch what they watch or if a show that they viewed to enormous success two years ago would have done the same thing this year or last year. You hope that people respond to that character at that point in time. But the pressure for me is off, because the things I’ve done are wrapped and done. So I’ll be sitting at home watching the show with everybody else.

Q: How do you see the tone of the show compared to other legal shows?

M. Sardo: I tried to keep the tone of this show, again my own experience in life, which is that moments of great drama and great comedy happen very close to each other and sometimes simultaneously, especially at moments when something personal is at stake. When I say personal at stake, our stories are not about— I mean in my own life, I don’t know about everyone else on the call, but I’ve never been abducted by aliens, I’ve never met a serial murderer, I’ve never been kidnapped; a lot of things that people have been through, but our show is about I think you’ll see a lot of things, issues and stories, that are very relatable and yet very dramatic. So I think in terms of the relatability of our show for the characters, the people who are coming to Kate for help, there’s a big difference in terms of the type of storytelling and the reasons for the stories.

Q: In your ending, you say, there’s a lot of good shows with wonderful one liners, for instance such as Psych or Bernotas. My favorite one from the pilot is the one that Kate tells Lauren, “I hate you; it’s simpler that way.” What your favorite one liner?

M. Sardo: That’s a good question. I think you and I, Guillermo, have the same favorite one liner from the pilot, because that line sums up Kate’s both her self-knowledge and her acceptance of herself and the antagonisms that exist within her. “I hate you; it’s simpler that way,” she gives a speech which says I know it’s ridiculous to hate you, because I loved my father and my father loved you, and yet you’re everything that I don’t like so therefore I hate you, it’s simpler, I’m moving on.

I think that really the attitude of that sums up Kate so well. She is often a bundle of contradictions, each of which she’s very confident of and none of which should seem to be able to live within the same person, and that’s what makes her such a fun character for me to write, and hopefully for everyone else to watch. But nice choice on the one liner, by the way.

Q: I thought it was interesting that you had the main character, Kate, living out on a boat. How did that idea come about?

M. Sardo: 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 in thinking about it 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 otherliness, so she is not quite what everyone else is.

It just seemed like a very beautiful, interesting, unique environment to put her. As I said, as someone who goes down to his boat every day and writes when we’re not in production, it’s a pretty interesting breed of people who live in and around boats, so it seemed to really fit this particular character.

Q: I’m wondering are we going to learn more about Kate’s career as a litigator; how she became so disenchanted with the system and what made her transition to a mediator?

M. Sardo: Yes we are. We have some really good sections of speeches in the pilot, and I love to write speeches and I love to hear Kate give them. I wanted to make sure in this first batch of shows that we didn’t have a character that was looking backwards too much; I wanted to make sure we saw what she does and how she does it without referring to the past. I didn’t want her to feel stuck at all, because Kate’s not someone who would feel stuck for too long.

But we will see more of her talking about specific cases and specific things that happened. Because essentially, to give you the broad view, is to be a good lawyer there’s a certain amount of things that happen in any large system that you have to look at as just that 5% of things that don’t work; that conviction wasn’t a good one, but that law will be overturned so no one else will get convicted that way, or that guy was innocent but on appeal he’ll come out. So there’s a lot of ancillary damage that you accept as part of the practice for all the good things that you do.

Kate was someone who could no longer look past that ancillary damage; she saw that as the whole problem, and so that’s the thing that she’s trying to solve. But we will see a little bit more of her, get more of a sense of how she was a lawyer and the things that she knew there that she brings to the mediation to make her a more effective mediator.

Q: You said earlier that the most pressure that you’ve had on the series this year creating it and getting it into production. So what are you looking forward to as the series finally premiers on USA Network?

M. Sardo: Besides the party at my house? I can say “aw shucks it doesn’t mean anything”, but when you drive down Sunset Boulevard and see giant posters for your show it’s pretty exciting, getting pictures from friends in New York of here’s the poster on the subway, and having these kind of dialogues, talking to you people about what the show is.

I was talking to someone who has a law blog yesterday, and he said what do you hope that people will get out of the show. I said I think they’ll have a great time, I think they’ll be moved, I think they’ll laugh, and I think they’ll also see that in our extremely off the charts litigious society that there are other ways to go about solving your problems. Without being too high and mighty about it, I do think that there are some good lessons in there for us. I’m excited that those ideas and some things I feel really strongly about are going to get up there in the ether and get to be seen and discussed by people. It’s very exciting.

Q: What’s your favorite part about working on the show?

M. Sardo: Oh that’s such a good question. 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.

Q: You never get bored. That’s good.

M. Sardo: You know what, if you’re bored just wait a minute or two and you’ll be doing something else. Not to worry.

Q: There was one scene in the pilot where Kate calls her father’s cell phone just to hear his voice. I just kind of wondered where that came from; was that a personal experience or was that just something you thought up?

M. Sardo: It was just something I thought up, and it comes out of that general theme of in my own experience life is not neat. Sometimes when someone you care about passes away the hard part is actually after the funeral. You’re in kind of handle mode then, and everyone is around you, but it’s a week a later. And I know for family members that I’ve lost it’s that moment, even a year later, when you say oh you know what, I should call Aunt Jean and tell her about this. Oh wait.

It doesn’t just end right there, and so it seemed to me that that moment where she just keeps wanting to reach out to her dad, and no one thought to shut off his phone service; who thinks of that in the wake of a funeral. It just seemed like the best expression of how human and fragile and sloppy our lives are, especially in moments of grief.

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