David E. Kelley Cop Drama Ordered Straight to Series at ABC

David E. Kelley attends the -Television Game Changers Panel Discussion -Getty-H 2020
Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage

Following The Practice and Boston Legal, David E. Kelley is returning to ABC in a big way.

The Disney-owned broadcaster has handed out a straight-to-series order for the drama The Big Sky, to be written and produced by Kelley.

The Big Sky is described as a procedural thriller and revolves around private detective Cassie Dewell, who partners with ex-cop Jenny Hoyt on a search for two sisters who have been kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote highway in Montana. But when the women discover that these are not the only girls who have disappeared in the area, they must race against the clock to stop the killer before another is abducted. An episode count and premiere date have not been determined.

Kelley will pen the script and executive produce alongside longtime collaborator Ross Fineman and C.J. Box. The project is a co-production between A+E Studios and Disney's 20th Television.

The Big Sky brings Kelley back to ABC following the legal drama The Practice, which ran eight seasons on the network and earned two drama series Emmys, as well as a successful spinoff in Boston Legal. The latter ran for five seasons on ABC and earned Emmys for stars James Spader and William Shatner.

The order makes good on ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke's vow to bring women back to ABC as she hopes to regain the network's perch as the most watched broadcaster for women. The order is a rare straight-to-series pickup for ABC, which has typically only handed them out to low-cost acquired and international programming largely reserved to air in the little-watched summer months. The significant order should be considered in two ways: first, as a nod to Kelley's incredible track record (he most recently won pretty much every major award for the first season of HBO's Big Little Lies and counts Ally McBeal, Picket Fences and L.A. Law among his impressive body of work); and second, as a potential precaution against a Writers Guild of America strike that could allow ABC to get a jump on scripts, casting and hiring other writers and directors before a potential pencils-down moment on May 1 should the guild and the studios fail to come to an agreement over such topics as streaming royalties. This is ABC's first official series order for the 2020-21 broadcast season.

Kelley, for his part, now has two shows within the Disney fold, with The Big Sky joining the Disney+ hourlong dramedy Big Shots, starring John Stamos. He currently is awaiting word on the future of Audience Network's Mr. Mercedes, with the WarnerMedia-owned platform officially exiting the scripted space. This broadcast season, Kelley also scored a production commitment from CBS for an adaptation of Michael Connelly's best-seller The Lincoln Lawyer. The latter has not officially been picked up to pilot at CBS, though that network is far from done with orders for the season.

The Big Sky is Kelley's first broadcast show since CBS' The Crazy Ones, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Robin Williams, was canceled after one season in 2014. His credits include Amazon's Goliath — which he famously exited — and HBO's upcoming Nicole Kidman limited series The Undoing.

Hear Kelley speak about the state of the TV industry in a September episode of The Hollywood Reporter podcast TV's Top 5 here.