“Characters Welcome” is the slogan for USA Network, and it has done an outstanding job of living up to that with its slate of critical and popular series. So many viewers have welcomed characters such as Michael Westen, Hank Lawson, Neal Caffrey and Annie Walker into their homes that USA is the No. 1 network in all of basic cable. The network welcomes a few new characters to its mix in the new series Suits, premiering June 23 and Necessary Roughness, premiering June 29.
Originally titled A Legal Mind, Suits comes from Doug Liman (the Bourne trilogy) and David Bartis (Heist), two executive producers of another USA success, Covert Affairs. As that show offers a unique twist on the CIA drama, so does Suits present a tweaking of the legal drama genre. It is also similar to another USA show, Fairly Legal, in that it never loses focus on its characters, and legal cases do not overshadow human relationships. In fact, with its quirky characters and combo of humor and drama, it’s somewhat hard to consider Suits a straight-out legal show.
“I almost don’t even think of it as a legal series anymore,” laughs Patrick J. Adams, who plays Mike Ross, one of the unique characters introduced in the series. “We’re doing a really good job of keeping it to the characters, as USA is so known for. It’s all there to service these people and characters.”
The character of Mike is a brilliant but unmotivated college dropout with both book smarts and street smarts. He inadvertently finds himself hired as an associate at a top law firm by the unconventional Harvey Specter.
“I think [Mike] is a guy who’s just beginning to understand he’s the only person standing in his way,” Adams says. “By that I mean that he’s sort of in that quintessential state that everybody finds in their life when they have to decide to have faith in themselves and really follow through on the things that they said they always dreamed of doing. … And because he meets this incredible, strange man — Harvey — he’s put in a position where he really has to make that choice for himself.”
“What I found to be more helpful [than researching lawyers and law firms] was going in the other direction and watching a lot of movies and television about people not wanting success, having a tough time owning their own success. Characters that don’t want to step up to the plate, like a Good Will Hunting, or like somebody who has an amazing gift and is squandering it because to use it is almost more scary.”
Gabriel Macht (The Spirit) plays that “incredible, strange man” Harvey, whose swagger (sometimes bordering on arrogance, and almost seeming a defense mechanism to keep people out) offsets Mike’s earnestness.
“He’s got a lot of flash,” Macht says about Harvey. “He thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, and from the scripts, it’s almost like he is. He takes a lot of risks. He’s a finisher. I think he sort of has some irrational ideas of how to close a case, but in the end he will close a case, to everyone’s benefit, in an honest and moral way. Sometimes he makes immoral choices along the way, but it’s all for the right reasons.”
Macht agrees with Adams that this series is focused more on character than on legal drama.
“There are a lot of procedural elements to it, but I think what USA does best is they really deal with the characters, they really drive the plots,” says Macht. “I think that what we respond to is the chemistry between the really unique characters that are up there.”
Both Adams and Macht see the mentor/student relationship that is begun between Harvey and Mike in the pilot.
“I think [Harvey's] a total mentor in many ways,” Macht says, “and I also think Mike reminds him of his youth, and I think he likes that he’s got this young guy who’s got balls and doesn’t mind taking some risks. He wouldn’t tell him to his face, but I think he knows that Mike can teach him a thing or two.”
“[Harvey] definitely sees something in Mike,” agrees Adams. “As the series goes on I think it will reveal more about Harvey’s past as well as Mike’s, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff that can come out there that [Harvey's] always been different than most people in his field. He’s always been a little more ‘street,’ his tactics are always a little more devious and he thinks outside the box. And I think, for the first time, he really sees that in Mike.”
“And I think Mike has some things to teach [Harvey] about compassion, and being a little more gentle to people that need it, and maybe not always seeing things from a bottom-line perspective. That will be a hard thing to sell to Harvey, but I think there are definitely moments where it’s Mike’s bigger heart and willingness to deal with people in a different way that’s going to force Harvey to see the world a little bit differently.”
As Harvey and Mike are gaining new perspectives on the world, so are Macht and Adams, in a way, regarding their work in television. Macht says that he hasn’t done television in about 10 years, “so it’s a new thing, and you sort of have to rely on a great group of writers. I see the grind coming. We shot 18 days on the pilot. This is going to be seven-day episodes we’re working on, so it’s really going to shift.”
Adams, who laughingly remembers a Hollywood blog calling him a “perpetual guest star” when he was announced for this project, says that this is his first regular television work.
“It’s a perfect venue for it to be the first series for me,” Adams says, “because this is Mike’s first entry into a world that he’s always thought about being part of that he never quite got there, never quite fit. To be able to be experiencing all the things that come along with also being in a new series while at the same time getting to play somebody who’s wide-eyed in this new world is a real gift.”
Necessary Roughness is — as you might expect from the title — related to football. But it is not a sports drama. It focuses on Long Island psychotherapist Dr. Danielle Santino (Callie Thorne), whose life is turned upside down when she demands a divorce from her husband (Craig Bierko) after she finds out he has been having a number of affairs. To make ends meet for herself and her two children, she takes a job as a therapist for a professional New York football team. In the pilot, “Dr. Dani,” as she is known by patients, tries to help a fumble-prone, arrogant wide receiver named Terrence “T.K.” King (Mehcad Brooks) work through the various issues that are holding him back from realizing his full talent.
Necessary Roughness again uses that distinct USA series formula of combining drama with humorous events, much as real life does. And it is in fact based on real life. The show is inspired by the true story of psychotherapist Donna Dannenfelser (the series was originally titled Dr. Donna in its early development), who worked with the New York Jets and who serves as a supervising producer on the series.
“She had everything to do with the creation of the show, alongside [co-executive producers] Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro,” says Thorne (who can also be seen this summer when the final season of Rescue Me begins next month on FX). “After I had gotten the pilot, I was really excited to be able to meet [Donna]. We got on like a house on fire, which was very lucky, obviously. So not only was I able to meet her just as a woman, but also as this character, though it’s not like it’s a documentary [about her]. It’s much more that it’s inspired by her and the sort of essence of her. She gave me books that she thought maybe I would enjoy in terms of cognitive behavioral therapy.”
“The time that I spent with her also in Atlanta [where we filmed the pilot] because she was with us, it was really wonderful. A lot of the things that are in the pilot are inspired by true stories, so while we were shooting them, before we were shooting and after, it was really interesting to be able to talk to her about the real-life things that happened and why they were important to her and the story. She’s like a rock star, and it very much helped me to begin to create Dr. Dani.”
Thorne was also able to pull some experiences from her own life to help create the character, who uses cognitive therapy and hypnosis to aid patients.
“My research, mainly, for the hypnosis,” Thorne says, “is that I’ve tried in my life to quit smoking via hypnosis, and the last time that I did it, it worked incredibly well. In terms of changing your behavior and sort of negative thought processes, really controlling your present behavior, and just therapy in general, my own research of my experiences going to therapy throughout the years and having really positive results from it and learning things that I take through the rest of my life [helped]. I sort of mixed [that] along with conversations with her.”
Some of the athlete characters that Dani works with also seem to be drawn from reality. “T.K.,” for example, bears a striking similarity to a certain “T.O.” from the NFL.
“I think that’s part of the allure,” says Thorne. “I think there’s also going to be smudging of specific athletes. No one’s ever going to be able to say, ‘Oh, my God, that story must be about so-and-so.’ There are so many different types of athletes and troubles and anxieties and phobias in all the different kinds of sports levels. And whether or not we might see that branch out into other kinds of celebrities with Dr. Dani [remains to be seen]. There’s such an amazing plethora of real stuff to choose from. It will probably be more of a smudge so no one can point a finger, and also to layer things, sort of like a heightened reality of storytelling.”
Heightening the reality even further for Thorne is another characteristic she shares with her character.
“I know very little about sports,” she laughingly admits. “I love to watch games, and I certainly love to be a part of when there’s a Super Bowl party or something. I’m sort of learning, and that’s what’s sort of perfect, because Dr. Dani doesn’t know anything about sports. She might play it like she does for a second, but it’s she and I learning at the same time, for sure.”
Photos: Suits-Frank Ockenfels/USA Network; Necessary Roughness-Justin Stephens/USA Network