Creator Michael Sardo Teases FAIRLY LEGAL


FAIRLY LEGAL, the latest addition to USA Network’s “Characters Welcome” line-up, premieres January 20 and centers on Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi), a former lawyer turned mediator who can find the solution to any problem–at least in her professional life. The show also stars Virginia Williams as Kate’s “wicked” stepmother and boss, Michael Trucco as her almost ex-husband, and Baron Vaughn as he irreplaceable assistant.

Daemon’s TV was there when Fairly Legal creator and executive producer Michael Sardo answered questions about how Sarah Shahi was cast as Kate, what we can expect from Kate’s relationships with her step-mother and almost ex-husband, and why there’s a recurring ‘Wizard of Oz’ theme.

On how Sarah Shahi was chosen for the role of Kate

According to Michael, the casting process is “to see as many people as you can,” so ninety actresses read for the role of Kate. The audition scene was one from the pilot where Kate is getting coffee in a convenience store and an armed man comes in to rob it. Michael said that during auditions, when the casting director mimed being the robber taking out his gun, “every one of the ninety women did the exact same thing at that moment. They said, `Whoa’ and took a step back. Sarah Shahi came in and when the gun came out, she said, `Whoa, hey,’ and took a step in.” It was at that moment that Michael realized Sarah was Kate because “you cannot solve conflict by moving away from it.”

On setting the show in San Francisco

Michael said, “I wanted a city that was multi-cultural, 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 because that`s where you get conflict.”

San Francisco also allows Kate to live on a houseboat, something Michael wanted because it would show that “she was something different. it would symbolize her otherliness.”

On Kate

Kate is a complex, flawed character who is so talented at getting to the heart of conflicts in her work but much less so in her personal life. Michael explained, “Kate is someone who, no matter how obtuse the conflict that someone may have in a mediation, can find a way to get to the center of it and get people to see both sides of the problem and join them in creating an equitable solution. What she struggles with is that she’s such a passionate person that her passions overrun her when it comes to the relationships in her life.”

Michael called Kate someone with “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 in every step, but that you’re willing to be lost at times during that process. She’s not self-righteous at all, and she knows she’ll get there and she’s comfortable making missteps along the way.”

Kate’s bitterness toward the legal system and lawyers is evident almost from minute one of the pilot and while we know that she was once actually a successful litigator, we don’t know exactly what happened to make her switch to mediation. According to Michael, we will learn more about that down the road as she talks about specific cases, but he didn’t want to address it too early on because “I wanted to make sure in the first batch of shows that we didn’t have a character who was looking backward too much.”

On the ‘Wizard of Oz’ theme

Michael explained, “At this point in Kate’s life, when we meet her, she is very much Dorothy in `The Wizard of Oz’ in that all the touchstones of her life have been swept away from her. Her father just died, her marriage just broke up, and one day because she thinks of Lauren as the Wicked Witch, this just came to her and then she started populating her phone and making her ring tones the rest of the characters of the movie, which sort of neatly fell into play. She’s Dorothy and she’s trying to find her way back to a comfortable spot, and that’s a lot of her evolution throughout the show that we’re going to see from her.”

This theme won’t be stressed as heavily in every episode as it is in the pilot, but it will remain present throughout the season.

On Lauren

Kate’s relationship with her stepmother Lauren is front and center, and while Kate works to keep their relationship simple, Lauren herself is anything but simple. Michael said, “We worked very hard to create a character that I don’t think we’ve seen before. On the surface, if you just looked at her stats, you would think she’s a trophy wife and kind of a bitch, but she’s not either of those things. 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.”

Michael noted that “Kate’s relationships with Lauren and Justin are actually going to define her as she enters this new stage of her life.” He also said that one of her specific reactions to Lauren–telling her she hates her because it’s simpler that way–“I think the attitude of that sums up Kate so well. She’s a bundle of contradictions, each of which she’s very confident of and which shouldn’t be able to live in the same person.”

On Justin

Kate and Justin have a fairly undefined relationship. They aren’t yet divorced, but they aren’t really together. Nor are they completely apart. Michael said, “So often you see a will they-won’t they sleep together. Ours is more they already have and what’s left. And seeing this relationship they have some interesting beats where it’s not the partner you expect who is unsatisfied with the way things are going. Kate in general is not about neat, so I was interested in a relationship that wasn’t neat. Their’s 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.”

On Kate’s father

Kate’s father looms large in the series, even though he has died. “I was interested in the idea that Kate has this figure of her dad,” Michael said. “He’s this important figure in her life and when he dies she starts to learn other things about him.” Michael explained that Richard Dean Anderson will be playing a friend of Kate’s father who tells Kate, “`Maybe your father wasn’t who you thought he was, but at the same time, maybe what’s important is not living in his shadow or thinking about him too much. What you think he is–leave it at that, and become the person you want to be.'”

On Kate and Leonardo

Michael called Leonardo “the only person at the firm who is not of the firm,” something that would make him a natural ally of Kate. He’s writing a graphic novel and so gets a lot of inspiration from Kate because she’s a superhero character to him.

For her part, Kate “trusts Leonardo completely and having him keep her centered and tell her where she is at any given moment allows her to hurl herself off in any direction because she knows she has Leonardo to bring her back.”

Not that either of them will admit to caring for each other. They do deeply care for and respect each other, but Michael said they are “reluctant to show it overtly.”

On guest stars

Gerald McRaney recurs as a judge with whom Kate shares a contentious relationship.

Richard Dean Anderson joins the show later in the season as “a very interesting person in Kate’s life, playing a character we haven’t seen him play before.” His story will develop “over the course of more than one season.”

Ken Howard appears in the pilot and Paul Shultz from Nurse Jackie “gives just a heart-wrenching performance” in one episode.

Fairly Legal premieres on USA Thursday, January 20 at 10pm eastern/9pm central.

You can read all our Fairly Legal coverage here.

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