'Notorious' Walks a "Moral Tightrope" to Make Viewers Root for a Criminal Defense Lawyer

The drama's leading man is inspired by defense attorney Mark Geragos.
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Mark Geragos has represented convicted wife killers like Scott Peterson and been involved with celebrity defendants such as Chris Brown. So using the famed criminal defense attorney as inspiration for the leading man of a broadcast network drama was a bit of a challenge.

"There is a sense of justice," Notorious executive producer Josh Berman told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour Thursday. "That is not the point of the show and there is comeuppance."

The hourlong ABC drama is inspired by the real stories of both Geragos as well as longtime Larry King Live executive producer Wendy Walker, and more specifically their close working relationship/friendship. Through this, the show examines the unique, sexy and dangerous interplay of criminal law and the media.

"Mark is a master manipulator of the press. Nobody does it better than he does. He really used me and our show to get sympathy," said Walker, who appeared on the panel. (Geragos was in court and unable to attend for fear of being held in contempt.) "I used him and owned that story because of my relationship with Mark, and he owned my show," she continued. "We didn’t do anything wrong or lose CNN integrity, but it was a relationship that really worked well for us."

The same is true for the fictional bond on the show between lawyer Jake (Daniel Sunjata) and TV news producer Julia (Piper Perabo). "Sometimes it's collusion and sometimes they're in conflict. I think it depends on the episodes and their storylines. They use each other for their own ends as much as their common end," Berman said. "I hope that will generate a conversation."

Producers have gone to great lengths to make the Jake character, yes, more likeable. In contrary to Geragos' client list, Jake "is not going to seek out a client that is guilty no matter what the reward would be," Berman said.

(Berman went so far as to emphasize Geragos' own sense of justice despite some of the people he's represented. "Even if he's being honest with us, he will look us in the eye and tell us Drew Peterson is innocent," he said.)

In the series, which is described as a mix between multi-episode arcs and case-of-the-week stories, Jake is also portrayed as a character with a "soft spot for children," according to Berman, and a man who takes an interest in adoption issues because he was adopted himself. He takes a special interest in cases from his hometown and "stuff that sparks to his moral center or his upbringing," Berman said.

However, the ruthless and manipulative tactics Geragos has been known to employ will be on full display. "He's got a real passion and, yes, he will bend that law as far as it will go, but he won't break it," Berman said. "The ends can justify the means if the ends are justice."

There's "a moral tightrope and weaving back and forth," Sunjata said. "Do you believe you're doing good?"

Notorious premieres Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. on ABC.