On a Saturday night in Beverly Hills, Paste Magazine had the chance to attend a PaleyFest Fall TV preview event for the ABC drama Notorious, a mashup of the media and legal genres, inspired by the relationship between criminal defense attorney to the rich or (in)famous, Mark Geragos, and veteran Larry King Live executive producer Wendy Walker.
Notorious offers viewers a behind-the-scenes look at how TV news is sometimes created—not reported—thanks to the demands of nonstop deadlines and network suits driving shows to deliver the ratings. Leading the cast as stand-ins for Walker and Geragos are Piper Perabo, playing Julia George, the executive producer of Louise Herrick Live or (LHL), and legal eagle Jake Gregorian (Daniel Sunjata). All four were in attendance at the PaleyFest Preview and were joined by showrunner Josh Berman (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Bones) and co-creator Allie Hagen. Rounding out the panel were castmembers Kate Jennings Grant (Louise Herrick), Aimee Teegarden (newbie lawyer Ella Benjamin), J. August Richards as Jake’s brother and law partner Bradley Gregorian, Sepideh Moafi as LHL producer Megan Byrd, Ryan Guzman as show intern and network president’s son, Ryan Mills, and Kevin Zegers as a tech mogul-turned-murder suspect Oscar Keaton.
Because Notorious is a sexy drama on primetime, you can bet there’s an extra emphasis placed on the news slogan, “If it bleeds it leads,” so we can’t wait to see how the salacious storylines unfold. Here are five interesting tidbits we learned from the Notorious red carpet and panel (a few spoilers ahead):
1. Life imitates art… or is it the other way around?
Law & Order’s storylines were ripped from the headlines, but the Notorious plots are ripped from the headlines that Geragos and Walker helped “create.” As Larry King’s executive producer for nearly two decades, Walker had an hour to fill each day for Larry King Live. The two, now executive producers on Notorious, offer notes and feedback on scripts. Walker, especially, can be found on set and in the writers room. “When we found [a story] we couldn’t write, like O.J. Simpson or a Scott Peterson, then these trials became supersized,” Walker said during the red carpet. “And that’s what I wanted to capture and people to understand: What happens behind the scenes and how you decide which one of these trials will become such a huge sensation.”
Geragos adds, “[Notorious] is the bastard stepchild of The Good Wife meets Newsroom, except on steroids. You’ve got elements here that draw from a lot of different places, but this is the first I’ve seen [a show] capture what accurately happens in these high-profile cases.”
In a case of jaw-dropping coincidence, perceptive viewers might notice a scene in the pilot episode that’s eerily reminiscent of Chris Brown’s recent standoff with police. Geragos, Brown’s attorney, was the first person on the scene when the LAPD was surrounding the singer’s mansion, and it plays out the same way on the show, which was filmed months ago. “It’s life imitating art, and art imitating life,” Geragos said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
2. On capturing the spin cycle of TV news
The plot twists abound on this show: Everyone’s lying to someone, and the truth is stretched to the snapping point.
“When [Walker and Geragos] started telling me about their lives, and one day it’s O.J. Simpson, and the next day it’s something else, then it’s 9/11 and Winona Ryder… the constant churn of the news really inspired the pace of the show where it never lets up,” Berman told us before the panel. “I think the idea that we can follow the pacing of a news cycle really speaks to what you’re saying to the twists and turns of the show.”
Berman mentioned that he has ADD, which also influenced the show format. “I don’t think I could stand another series, where it’s one murder over a whole series. So we end and start something else, and we end it in unexpected ways. It’s a different way of storytelling, because I wanted it to feel like real news and not a TV show. So suddenly you could be in episode 5, and they catch the real killer, and it feels just like reality. You don’t know what’s coming next.”
3. Piper Perabo: news producer?
Perabo took full advantage of using Walker and her book, Producer: Lessons Shared from 30 Years in Television, as dynamic source material.
“She was very generous, opening up about her job and the experience and working on CNN,” Perabo said during the panel. “Then we shot the pilot in Atlanta, which is where CNN headquarters is, and Wendy got us into CNN where we could be in the actual newsroom, control rooms and see what happens when you go live.”
Walker added that the actor was a natural in the newsroom. “Piper could be a producer. She’s super smart, but she can also juggle several things. She’s a very serious study of the art.”
4. Aimee Teegarden ditches Friday Night Lights for Thursdays at 9.
Teegarden’s Ella is the new hire at Gregorian & Gregorian, and to prove her mettle, the young lawyer isn’t afraid to get down and dirty. The role might be the actor’s chance to finally shake the vestiges of teen Julie Taylor from the beloved Friday Night Lights series (she was 17 when FNL started).
“This was just another opportunity to create this other character that‘s so different—a departure from Julie Taylor. Ella’s been amazing. She’s very driven, she’s an attorney, and it’s based in Los Angeles, a whole different world.”
To prepare for the role, Teegarden studied Geragos at work. She remembers getting an email from the lawyer one night that read, “What are you doing tomorrow? Come down to the Criminal Courts Building at 8 a.m.” The job-training that followed included exposure to blue- and white-collar crimes, and learning the justice system, from intake interviews, or watching cases argued in court.
“I ended up shadowing him for two weeks, going to New York, and met with an extortionist. I got to see some of the most interesting things in the law world that you’ve ever seen.”
5. Keep an eye out for surprises and special guests throughout the season.
To blend reality and fiction even further, viewers will be treated to various real-life personalities guesting on Notorious.
“We’ve got P. Diddy coming in,” Berman revealed during the panel. “What’s so wonderful about Mark and Wendy is all their connections to real-life people, the people that Larry King has interviewed. We wanted an authentic feel, so when watching the episodes, we won’t necessary do full storylines for these actors, but someone might be passing in the background taking Kate out to drinks.
“That was my first day on set,” Grant interjected. She’d just moved from New York to L.A., and “a very surprising person ripped my shirt off. [I] go on a date with him, and I thought, ‘Wow, my life has changed a lot.’”
Notorious airs Thursdays nights on ABC, at 9/8c.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.