Executive producer Shonda Rhimes gives ABC a new law drama
Television mega-producer Shonda Rhimes has told tales about the law, but now, she’s coming at them from a different angle.
“How to Get Away With Murder” has taken a specific approach to the legal profession, and – fueled by series creator, fellow executive producer and former litigator Paul William Davies – Rhimes tackles another by following young lawyers on opposing sides of federal cases in “For the People,” which ABC debuts Tuesday, March 13. Public defenders (played by Britt Robertson, Jasmin Savoy Brown and Wesam Keesh) and prosecutors (Ben Rappaport, Rege-Jean Page, Susannah Flood) clash regularly in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York … also known as “The Mother Court.”
Davies reasons that in recent years, “Entertainment has focused on the process of the law and understanding the system, as opposed to more of a ‘Perry Mason’ who-did-it. And that really interested me, and I think that interested Betsy (Beers, a longtime Rhimes producing colleague) and Shonda in trying to give kind of a fuller picture of the law and what people who are involved in the law go through … the lawyers, the clients, the judges, the clerks, the entire system. I feel like we’re a part of that, and that’s a good thing.”
Actress Robertson, who’s been busy in both TV (“Under the Dome,” “Life Unexpected”) and movies (“Tomorrowland,” “The Space Between Us”), allows that working on “For the People” is giving her “a very different point of view” on the world of law.
“I just always assumed if a guy’s being prosecuted, he did something wrong. And what I’m learning – specifically through my character, Sandra, because she’s such an advocate for people and it’s a big part of her passion – is finding out (about) whoever she’s defending and their story and why they’ve been put in this position. That’s at the core of what drives her, finding unique and creative ways to defend these people when the odds are stacked against her.”
The “For the People” cast also includes stage and screen veteran Hope Davis (“American Crime”) as the boss of the defense attorneys, Ben Shenkman (“Billions”) as the prosecutors’ chief, actor-director Vondie Curtis-Hall as the judge who rules in what both sides present, and actress-playwright Anna Deavere Smith as the court clerk.
“I was lucky enough to follow around the public defender of Los Angeles,” Davis says, “and I was so inspired by how committed they are to their job, whether the odds are stacked against them or not. They’re fierce and they’re fighters. They are so passionate about it, and they wouldn’t trade their jobs for anything. So that’s kind of the way I’m approaching it.”