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David E. Kelley’s broadcast television days are seemingly behind him.
The famed writer and executive producer behind network dramas such as L.A. Law, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal lamented the current state of network television when he appeared Sunday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour to tout his upcoming Amazon drama Goliath.
“[I] don’t think so,” Kelley said when asked if he would ever return to broadcast television.
The news is not completely surprising, given that both of Kelley’s projects are on other outlets. Goliath will launch on Amazon in October, while his Little Big Lies adaptation starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon is set for HBO.
Kelley went into detail about the “burden” on broadcast television writers “of constantly having to bring your viewers up to speed in case they missed that last episode.” Whereas on Amazon, “you have no such burden here,” he continued. “You’re trusting that your audience is going to sit down and maybe watch the whole series in a week. You don’t have to remind them what they saw an hour and a half ago. You can be more efficient in your storytelling and you can just go deeper.”
Kelley also spoke about having to craft stories around commercial breaks. “Even if you’re fast-forwarding through it, it’s very onerous,” he said. “In this, we’re doing one hours and we don’t have to take those breaks and we don’t have to craft episodes with those obstacles and it’s a much freer and richer way to tell stories.”
Goliath centers on a David vs. Goliath battle fought in the 21st century American legal system. Billy Bob Thornton plays Billy McBride, a down-and-out lawyer on a quest for redemption. His one shot depends on getting justice in a legal system where truth has become a commodity, and the scales of justice have never been more heavily weighed toward the rich and powerful. William Hurt plays Billy’s former colleague-turned-nemesis, Donald Cooper. The first season will run eight episodes.
“One of the things that always appealed to us is, wouldn’t it be great to really do an anatomy of a trial and be more myopic of the pieces of the trial,” said Kelley. “Mining it over eight hours was something I was never able to do on broadcast television and I quite enjoy doing it here.”
Formerly called Trial, the drama was the first project to earn a straight-to-series order at Amazon Studios. The company has become known for putting their pilots online and allowing viewers to vote on what should and should not go to series. Goliath bypassed that process thanks in large part to the impressive names it drew both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
However, Kelley said he would have been open to going through that process if it had come to that. “Sure,” he said. “At the end of the day, you gotta bet on yourself.”
When asked if he thinks Goliath could air on broadcast TV, Kelley said there would have to be several changes to the current format before he would consider it.
“I haven’t seen anything on broadcast that is like it, so I think it’s possible but we have some pretty deep and dark character arcs within this series that really require a lot of patience with the audience, patience that I’m not sure a broadcast regime is going to give you,” he said. “I guess it is possible. If broadcast gets rid of commercials and changes their storytelling form, then yes. … But I do think that the form of storytelling that we’re engaging in on this show is not currently thriving in broadcast.”
For all of his issues with the current state of the Big Four, Kelley also sounded slightly cautious about Amazon as well, particularly when it comes to the reach and accessibility of the platform. “I am a little bit daunted by the fact that Amazon shows aren’t the easiest to watch — that’s getting better. I’m a dinosaur, I just like to turn on the remote and want to see it come on the screen,” he said. “They need to get better at that. They are, but it’s a concern.”
Although Kelley has seemingly ruled out a return to writing broadcast television, he did welcome the news that Fox is developing a reboot of L.A. Law.
“I think it’s a great idea and I’m told Billy Finkelstein is coming back to write it and take charge of it. He’s a brilliant writer, so I’ll be watching,” said Kelley. “It’s not something I would want to go back and do again myself because I felt I’ve done it, but I think it’s actually a good idea. It was a great show in its time. I don’t think they will endeavor to just repeat what they did before. I think they will try to make it more current.”
Goliath is set to premiere Oct. 14 on Amazon.
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