January 08, 2012 9:00am PT by Philiana Ng
'The Firm': Producer Lukas Reiter, John Grisham Preview Mitch McDeere's TV Return
It's been nearly 20 years since we last saw attorney Mitch McDeere, but come Sunday, he's back -- this time on NBC.
Premiering just days after a pithy session at the Television Critics Assoc. press tour in Pasadena, The Firm takes place a decade after the big-screen adaptation of John Grisham's novel end. Mitch (this time played by Josh Lucas) and wife Abby (Molly Parker), out of the federal witness protection program, assume their old identities and begin running their own firm in Washington, D.C.
Grisham admitted that a "painful" experience with The Client, a shortlived television show in the mid-1990s adapted from his book and movie, deterred him from believing The Firm would be a good fit for the small screen.
"I was not excited about The Firm, didn't really think about The Firm as a TV show until [executive producer] Lukas Reiter appeared on the scene and showed me a script," the writer told reporters during a conference call in December. It "got me excited about the idea of a weekly drama." (Interestingly, during the TCA session Jan. 6, Reiter noted that Grisham "really didn't" have any reservations about the project.)
Grisham said his involvement with the series, which at the time of the call was shooting episode 10 and readying 11 out of a 22-episode order, isn't as intensive as one might think, though Reiter would say otherwise. "My involvement has been, so far, to talk to Luke, pass along big ideas about where the series might go," Grisham offered, adding that he's seen the pilot but hasn't watched any subsequent episodes.
Cementing the overarching mystery was a team effort. "The central conspiracy was very much a collaboration in concept," Reiter shared on the call. "We are working hard over here in the writers' room every day to carry out that vision." Part of the makeup of the writing team include a former federal prosecutor, a USC Law professor, Chief of Staff for the Lieutenant Governor of California and someone who has handled homicide cases from the side of the defense in New York.
When The Firm launches on NBC on Sunday, "some things [have] happen[ed]" that Mitch does "not anticipate, that make him and his family the target of the Moralto family's rage and desire for revenge," Reiter said. (At the end of the 1993 film with Tom Cruise, Mitch "felt he was free and clear, that he had come up with an ingenious solution that assisted the feds in taking down the law firm but did not incur the wrath of the Moralto mob," Reiter explained.)
With two previous properties (the book and the movie) to be used as possible jumping off points for the series, Reiter emphasized that the decision to follow the path set up by the movie was due to several factors, including references that Mitch was starting his own business. "That allowed us to tell a story about a Mitch McDeere that was still an attorney, still interested in practicing law and we could move forward from there," Reiter said.
Reviews thus far have been lukewarm, though The Hollywood Reporter's chief television critic Tim Goodman offers this point to ruminate on: "The Firm is a franchise that NBC believes still has legs a couple of decades on. And television never has enough law series to satiate the public, so maybe with 22 guaranteed episodes, people might take a chance on reinvigorated nostalgia."
In any case, could The Firm, the TV show, potentially drive book sales? "[Publisher] Doubleday is, to say the least, very enthusiastic. There's a lot of optimism," Grisham acknowledged, adding that when The Client debuted on TV, there wasn't a spike in books sold.
The Firm premieres Sunday with a two-hour launch at 9 p.m. on NBC, before airing in its Thursday at 10 p.m. home beginning Jan. 12.