We continue our interview with Bill Chais, co-creator of Franklin & Bash. So far, Bill has worked as a writer and producer on many successful shows and is finally getting a much-deserved opportunity to show viewers his vision of a law firm buddy dramedy.
Read on for what it feels like to actually sell something in the room, what sold the networks on Mark Paul Gosselar, and the secret to a successful career.
(Check out part 1 before you read on.)
That brings us to Franklin & Bash. It’s a TNT buddy legal dramedy or comedy-drama, how would you describe it?
I think you kind of nailed it. At its essence, it’s two things. It’s about two buddies and it’s about the cases. There are decisions one makes with a procedural show. Do you go home with them? On Law and Order you don’t. On our show we spend a lot of time at home with these guys. What Michael Wright, head of TNT, really responded to about the pilot was the kind of aspirational writing, sort of how I was talking about how all I ever wanted was to write about buddies. They have to go to court, but they spend a lot of time throwing the football around in their crappy Los Feliz home and just talking shit and having beers and some how the job is over, the day is done. I think that’s the way a lot of people wish they could be and making their living
Getting paid to hang out with your buddies and talking shit. Sign me up.
That is, at it’s best, what I love about this show, the relationship between the two guys, but the cases are every bit as important.
How did the show get made? Take us from idea to show?
It’s a little bit like how I became a writer. Sometimes it’s really good to get lucky, but I believe luck will only carry you so far and then some people are given an opportunity and make the best of it and some people don’t. So I was developing with my co-creator, Kevin Falls, he’s my close friend, so it’s like history repeating itself. So I came up with idea, he wasn’t sure about it at first. We wanted to develop something together, he was having lunch with a TNT executive, and she said we are getting the rights to a bunch of Apatow movies and the way that I pitched to Kevin and ultimately TNT, I said its “Superbad” at a law firm. That’s how I saw it in my head. It turns out its not that show, but that’s how I saw it in my head.
But they’re not 13-year-old lawyers, right?
No. But I did see them as sort of the dorky Jonah Hill/Michael Cera types. So Kevin was out to lunch with the TNT executive, and she said they just got the rights on TBS to a bunch of Apatow movies, 40 year old Virgin, etc, and Apatow-esque movies, like Wedding Crashers and were really looking for a fun Apatow-esque procedural, maybe get a law show to go with it. Kevin was like “me and my buddy have a show for you.” We came in, and with the help of our studio, Sony, pitched it to them. You always hear this myth about selling something in the room. And we did.
You had never had that happen before?
In fairness, we pitched it in the room and we knew we sold it, but we were in the parking lot when we got the call.
I think that still counts. What did you guys do? I’m picturing lots of dancing and screaming?
Yeah, Sort of jumping around like idiots. So that’s how it came about. It’s really nice. Pitching to networks is hard. They hear twenty pitches a day and they’re often twenty variations on the same thing. It was really nice that they already knew what the pitch was and they were already kind of on board with it.
But wait, I thought TBS picked this up first?
Yes, originally TBS picked it up as a straight up hour comedy, I think they really liked the show and because TNT is a bigger platform for them right now, they decided to move it to TNT. It’s the same company and same executives, so it was the same people we were dealing with.
So they were just like were going to put you in this other basket?
So our reaction was twofold. One was, great. The second was, wait a minute; the slogan for TNT is “we know drama.” So if we are lucky enough to actually be ordered to series, we asked how are you going to require us to change the tone of the show?
They were emphatic about saying there were no changes. We love the show the way it is. They actually pushed the comedy and really pushed us to be out there, and in a way, that made us feel really comfortable. They said if you go too far we will tell you.
So you must be a fan of law shows. How do you guys see your show in relation to past legal shows? Is this along the same continuum or is this a new genre of legal shows?
I hope this is a new genre of legal shows. There are familiar things about this show, hopefully in a good way. I can’t think of a show that has this particular tone.
What was the search like for your lead actors, was it a short list? Did you have an idea when you were writing; did you have these guys in mind?
No, I literally didn’t have any actors in my mind. The people that they were don’t exist, but in my mind it was Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, but 10 years older. It was helpful for me to write the script imagining those guys. Then you go out and you cast this big wide net. It’s a tough process. You start off by wasting your time going after people who aren’t interested in doing your TV show.
So Tom Cruise said no?
Literally . . . almost. That’s where you start. It’s a silly process.
Lets talk about Mark and Breckin, how did you choose those guys, you must think they have a great bromance?
Mark Paul came onboard early and first. Partly, because TNT had worked with him and I was a big NYPD Blue fan.
I was a big Saved by the Bell fan. Didn’t know he was on anything else. Kidding.
Ha. I would say on Twitter, 3 out 5 comments we get are Zach Morris references.
People my age have a hard time not calling him Zach Morris. We are excited to see him do comedy again.
NYPD Blue and Raising the Bar were serious shows and we were concerned that Saved by the Bell was twenty years ago.
So you were worried Zach Morris couldn’t do comedy. I thought Zach, err, Mark Paul, just kind of wanted to be taken seriously.
We knew we loved him but we had to be convinced he had that light touch we were looking for. Then I saw him on Fallon, Jimmy is obsessed with Saved by the Bell. Everyone should go look it up on Youtube. Mark Paul comes on and it’s a little creepy and sad because he comes on as Zach Morris and Fallon was like “ok I get it” and he didn’t break character at all, he was like “I don’t know what you’re talking, about. It’s me, Zach. Everything is going great at Bayside.” And you don’t know whether to laugh or think its weird.
I was laughing my ass off.
We showed that to the studio and network and they were convinced. So we were like it’s done, let’s get him on board. We met with him and loved him.
So you now you only have half a bromance?
So then there was the other part. We were looking at people and Breckin’s name came up. Everyone just knows he’s great, a real pro. I didn’t know how smart he is, though. He has such an intuitive sense of comedy and a lot of the better moments of his character on the show are things he found. So we brought him in with Mark Paul, they knew each other a little. So we brought them in to do a test in front of the studio and networks, a chemistry test. And the two of them walked in and hugged each other.
That’s pretty funny visual, a chemistry test between the two male leads.
By the way, this is very much a love story between buddies, they hugged each other to say hello and physically they’re very funny together. I looked around and the in that moment everyone was kinda sold, so there was no looking back.
Tell us about their characters?
Mark Paul’s character is more intuitive, less of a naturally brilliant lawyer. He’s more charismatic. He knows how to play it: whether it’s a client a judge, or especially a jury, he knows how to be all dreamy and knows how to play people and win cases through sheer force of his confidence and charisma.
Breckin’s character, Jared, is more of a guy who jumps into a situation, and through sheer force of his brilliance, knows he’ll kind of get out of it.
The one thing they both share is this love of having fun and share this great desire to buck the system and win the right kind of cases their way, having fun.
What can we see this season?
What we’ve done, and I’m glad I’m talking to lawyers, I assume, because you’re going to see stuff you’re just not going to see in a courtroom in the real world. When I started writing for TV as a lawyer, I had a high bar, this is bullshit, this would never happened in a courtroom, but that’s not what this show is.
So you had your lawyer eye on for what passes the smell test.
At first, but the bar kept going lower.
Because you realize most of your TV audience is not lawyers?
Also we’re not making a documentary. So I don’t really apologize in advance, but I acknowledge in advance, you will see things that you will not see or experience in court.
So I’ll tell our readers not to post on the message board complaining or calling bullshit.
So we have kind of reverse engineered things. By that I mean, we said what would we like to see in court, realistic, not realistic, we try to tether it to some semblance of reality then we come up with certain things and work backwards from there to try to justify them. I’ll give you an example:
So in the pilot episode, very early on a beautiful woman takes her top off in court on the witness stand—
Just set my DVR to record. I swear I was going to watch anyway. Topless witness definitely is a bit of stretch for court, though.
Guilty as charged, I practiced for 10 years, never happened to me in court, but you could say that’s funny haha, Apatow-esque, she’s hot. But if that’s all you’re doing its ultimately not that satisfying when you’re done laughing.
I think I’d be ok with it, but you’re saying the witness taking her top off—isn’t just gratuitous?
Believe or not, people can chime and tell me if I’m full of shit the next day, she takes her shirt off and then later they use that fact to win the case. So the main objective of the show is to be fun and sexy and aspirational, but it’s always in service of the client.
Best part of the day as a show runner?
Being with the writers.
Worst part of the day?
When everything f*king breaks down. It happens, especially when you’re on set. As a writer/producer, most of the work I do is handled before we start shooting, in theory. Usually when I’m on set, I’m just minding the shop. But inevitably, stuff breaks down, sometimes literally and then you’re running around like your hair is on fire. It’s stressful, but it’s the job. It’s fine.
Three things you cant live without?
My wife and kids go without saying…so my guitar, my sports teams (my alma mater, Cal Bear football, Lakers and Dodgers) and Diet Coke
Book your reading right now?
Swamplandia by Karen Russell—A John Irving type, totally dysfunctional family/fantastical thing about a family that runs an alligator farm in the Everglades.
What does it take to be a successful TV writer/producer?
Maybe this is a dumb thing to say but this is the same thing I’ve been telling my kids, for anything you do, not just for being a writer, it’s the easiest thing to do. As a writer, obviously, you have to work really hard, but at the end of the day for what we do in TV, we spend 14 hours a day in a room like this with 8 or 9 other people, so I better like them and they better like me. So it starts with being nice. Also, listening and working hard.
One piece of advice for those bitter lawyers dreaming of jumping ship to do what you did?
You know what, as someone who—I mentioned earlier—was in court recently, I miss it. I forget how much I miss it until I go back. The day-in and day-out grind of being a lawyer can be difficult. But the day-in and day-out grind of anything is difficult. Think long and hard about leaving this profession. It’s a wonderful profession. My wife is a lawyer, so are many of my closest friends, my sister is a prosecutor. But if you’re serious about getting out of the law to be a writer: Write first! Don’t make this big decision and then say ok, now I’m going to write a script.
Remember to tune to the premiere of Franklin & Bash on TNT, Wednesday, June 1st at 9/8c.