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Suspenseful 'The Firm' picks up where movie, book left off

by jmaloni
Wed, Jan 4th 2012 01:40 pm
`The Firm.` (NBC graphic)
"The Firm." (NBC graphic)
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Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

On the run from a would-be killer, Mitch McDeere calls his wife and says, "Abby, it's happening again."

Twenty years after acclaimed author John Grisham released his novel, "The Firm," NBC is writing a new chapter. Mitch McDeere (Josh Lucas) is 10 years removed from risking his life - and his wife - to take down a corrupt Memphis law firm and evade the mob - not to mention the FBI. Upon news the man who sought to kill him is dead, Mitch and Abby resurface. But, as we see in the beginning of the pilot (Sunday, 9 p.m.), the McDeeres are not out of the woods. They find themselves at the center of a new and nefarious plot.

"At the end of that (original) story, Mitch felt that he was free and clear, that he had come up with a fairly ingenious solution that assisted the feds in taking down the law firm, but did not incur the wrath of the Moralto mob," said executive producer Lukas Reiter ("Law & Order"). "And what you find out at the beginning of our story is that, while Mitch thought he was free and clear, some things happened that he did not anticipate that actually make him and his family the target of the Moralto family's rage and desire for revenge."

In the book, and in the 1993 movie starring Tom Cruise, Mitch was unwilling to relinquish his life and enter witness protection. As we see in the TV series, however, the McDeeres were forced into that lifestyle.

"Mitch is an incredibly independent guy; you know, his autonomy is incredibly important to him," Reiter said. "There's that great moment at the end of the film where Terrence (Ed Harris) says to him, you know, 'Why did you do all of this? What did you get out of all of this? You know, you didn't get anything.' (Mitch) said, 'Yes, I did, because you don't run me and they don't run me.'

"And so that autonomy was always such a part of the character as we try to continue the story, and so he naturally wouldn't have wanted to go into witness protection, but there are some things that make that a necessary decision for him."

As Reiter explained, "The family, for the last 10 years, has been on the run and what's happened now, where we find them, is the head of the Moralto family out of Chicago, Joey Moralto Sr., has recently died in prison. Mitch now believes the threat is behind him, that perhaps this is the event that should be the impetus for his family to come out of hiding to reclaim their lives - to reclaim their future."

As Mitch and Abby relocate to the Washington, D.C., area, they "find that some of the past dangers are still out there and there are a series of new complications ahead of them that we unfold over the course of the season," Reiter said.

While the series sounds intriguing, Grisham wasn't immediately sold on bringing "The Firm" to television.

"I was not excited about 'The Firm'; didn't really think about 'The Firm' as a TV show until Luke Reiter appeared on the scene and showed me a script," Grisham said. "When I read Luke's script a couple three years ago, I thought it was very good and kind of got excited about the idea of, you know, a weekly drama."

"The central conspiracy was very much a collaboration in concept between John and I, and we are working hard over here in the writers room every day to carry out that vision," Reiter said.

"All that action, all that suspense, all of the adrenaline rush that people have come to love and expect form a great John Grisham novel, we're trying to incorporate into the stories that we're telling every week both in the stand-alone cases that begin and end in every episode, and in the big central conspiracy that arcs over the first season," Reiter explained.

Grisham said the show is "very well done."

"It's very entertaining," he said. "It's, you know, I love suspense. That's what I write; that's what I like to watch; that's what I think about. I'm always trying to create a story that will keep readers up all night turning pages, skipping work, skipping meals, calling - you know, that's what I strive to do whenever I have a good suspenseful story. The TV show pilot is very much the same way. It's a lot of action, but also a lot of good drama where you see the characters stop and think and reflect and, you know, they're real people.

"And it's a really good cast. Josh Lucas is terrific. He's got all the makings and mannerisms and charisma of a real star. He's very, very good in the role, and it's been a lot of fun watching somebody else's sort of vision of these characters 10 years after we last saw them. And that's where the story picks up.

"A lot of good legal intrigue. A lot of courtroom stuff; lawyer-client problems; big law firm intrigue; all the stuff I love to write about."

Following Sunday's premiere of "The Firm," the show moves to its regular timeslot: Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC.

Follow the show online at www.nbc.com/the-firm.

Paging John Grisham. ... Paging John Grisham

More than 250 million copies of John Grisham's books have been sold, while movie adaptations of his work have netted a total of almost $650 million at the box office. Surprisingly, then, he isn't approached very often by television networks, which, let's face it, are desperate to find audiences these days.

"How often? Not that often," Grisham said. "I would say maybe a couple times a year. I mean, there are always a lot of phone calls. Most of them, you know, I don't even know about. But when something fairly serious comes across, we'll sit down and look at the idea and I'll give it some time. It almost always goes away. I mean, this is the only TV series. There are a lot of proposals floating around, but most of them I just don't want to pursue.

"Occasionally somebody will do what Luke (Reiter) did, have the idea and then write a really good script. That's rare, because I take a look at a lot of bad scripts. I don't finish them but, you know, it was a really unusual moment when this idea was pitched to me and then it was followed up with a very well written, solid script.

"I would say this is very unusual and ... it doesn't happen that often."

If "The Firm" works at NBC, Grisham may find himself fielding a few more phone calls.

And the Peacock Network may find that winning drama it sorely needs.

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