'Suits' Creator on How Spinoff 'Pearson' Almost Didn't Happen

SUITS S01E01 Still - Publicity - H 2019
Scott Everett White/USA Network
As Suits, now the longest-running original drama on the USA network, heads into its ninth and final season, spinoff series Pearson is hoping to hold onto its viewership by shifting focus from slick legal maneuvering to ruthless political fixing.
Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), who ruled the roost on Suits through its first six seasons, is now disbarred and newly relocated to Chicago, where she’s navigating the morally murky waters of a new gig as right-hand woman to Mayor Bobby Novak (Morgan Spector). Treacherous though Jessica's new chapter may seem in comparison to her old life, showrunner Aaron Korsh originally had a much darker ending in mind when Torres first left Suits in 2016: Jessica was going to be killed.
“I’m very glad I didn’t do it,” Korsh told The Hollywood Reporter. The inspiration for the idea, he said, came out of the iconic M*A*S*H* episode in which Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) dies offscreen moments after making a triumphant exit from the show. “It was an incredibly funny, touching episode, and you think he’s going home to freedom and you’re so happy for him, and then 10 minutes later, his assistant comes in and tells everyone his plane was shot down. It gives me chills right now, just thinking about it.”
Korsh envisioned a similar gut punch of an exit for Jessica, who would ride off into the sunset only to be killed offscreen by an unstable defendant. “I think it would have been an incredibly powerful and moving thing. But the network was like, ‘Please don’t do this,’ and they were right," he said. "If Jessica had died, what would that have done to the show? It would have cast a pall over everything.”
It’s almost impossible to imagine how Suits could ever return to its largely escapist and frothy tone after such a jarring tragedy, he added: “You’d have to do a time jump or something, and I didn’t want to do that. I was very glad I decided not to do it.”
Though Jessica is likely safe from serious harm as the lead of her own show, real violence and danger feels much closer at hand in Pearson than it ever did in Suits.
“The worst thing that could happen in Pearson is much worse than the worst thing that could happen in Suits,” Korsh said, noting that the central tension in the original show was built around Mike Ross’ (Patrick J Adams) lack of a law degree, and the fraudulent career he’d built in its absence. “The worst thing that was going to happen [in Suits] was that Mike was gonna get caught. No one’s getting killed, it’s white-collar crime versus blue-collar crime, and the stakes are in many ways a lot higher for Jessica now."
Torres was instrumental in shaping the tone of Pearson, Korsh said — in particular, the show’s exploration of Jessica’s Cuban heritage, which was barely touched upon in Suits, and relatedly the character of her fiery assistant Yoli Castillo (Isabel Arraiza). Yoli, and the mentor-mentee relationship that blossoms from her initial tension with Jessica, came out of a suggestion Torres originally made for Suits.
“Gina had pitched the idea of a Hispanic assistant to me early on, because Jessica never had an assistant,” Korsh recalled. Though there wasn’t room for the character in that show, “it always stuck in my mind. When we started talking about Pearson, Gina was again very passionate about that idea, and it made a lot of sense to introduce a character of that nature.”
The final episodes of Suits will act as lead-ins to the first episodes of Pearson, with both seasons premiering Wednesday, July 17. Korsh acknowledged that Suits has already run far longer than he first imagined it could, but says that he had no particular end point in mind. Following the departures of Meghan Markle and Patrick J. Adams (who will make a return in the final season), Korsh said the additions of Katherine Heigl and Dule Hill helped “rejuvenate” the show.
“I would never have choose to write off Mike, or Rachel, or Jessica for that matter, but being forced to [incorporate] those things gives it a new life to some degree,” Korsh said. Still, when USA suggested that season nine should be the show’s last, he was on board: “Each year is a challenge, and I’ve always embraced it, but at some point the challenge is how to end it, not how to keep it going.” 
Though some crossover between the shows is a possibility — Gabriel Macht’s Harvey made an appearance in the Windy City to help out Jessica, his onetime mentor, in the show’s backdoor pilot — Korsh doesn’t anticipate bringing too many now-free Suits castmembers over to Pearson.
“I would not rule out anyone showing up, but the tone of Pearson is not the same, and [showrunner] Dan Arkin and I both agreed that it needs to find its own footing for the first season," Korsh said. "It doesn’t mean there might not be a surprise or two, but we wanted to establish the tone before we start mixing tones.”