NBC back in business with David Zabel

'ER' showrunner sets legal drama at network

"ER" executive producer/showrunner David Zabel is back at NBC with a new drama project.

The network has handed a put pilot commitment to the Sony TV-produced show, described as a legal drama with a big family component.

On the surface, it appears Zabel is moving from one classic procedural genre, a medical drama, to another, a legal show. In reality, though, the new project was inspired by his family.

"I come from a family that has a long history in the legal community of New York and New York state," Zabel said.

Zabel's grandfather was a judge, his grandmother was one of the first women to graduate from University of Michigan Law School, his parents and uncle are lawyers, and his brother is an assistant district attorney.

"I grew up in a family where law was in the air we were breathing," he said. "I grew up hearing fascinating and unique legal stories, which I'd never utilized."

Zabel was considered the black sheep of his family when he strayed from the legal career path to become a Hollywood writer.

"So many times, my mom would say, 'It's not too late to go law school,' " he said.

While Zabel is consulting with relatives on the legal aspects of story lines, they will not find their way to his show as characters.

"There will definitely be echoes but nothing autobiographical," he said. "A lot of things will be different for dramatic reasons and for reasons of self-preservation."

The untitled series will be set in New York and reflect challenges for lawyers there who have been affected by shake-ups in the financial system.

The NBC show, a part of a two-script deal Zabel inked with Sony in April, will balance elements of a closed-ended legal procedural with the ongoing stories of a family soap.

The WME-repped Zabel joined "ER" in 2001 as an executive story editor and rose through the ranks to showrunner during the venerable medical drama's last 4 1/2//fraction// years. His credits also include "Dark Angel" and "JAG."