Notorious is ABC TV’s newest entry into primetime drama. Laid against the world of a 24-hour news channel magazine program, Notorious looks at the tangled relationship between news-as-entertainment and the criminal justice system. The lead characters, a driven TV producer (Julia George) and an ambitious criminal attorney (Jake Gregorian), are based on real-life producer Wendy Walker (Larry King Live) and criminal law attorney Mark Geragos.
On September 10 the Paley Center for Media screened a preview of the first episode of Notorious, followed by a panel discussion with series creators and cast members. The event was part of their ongoing series of PaleyFest Fall TV Previews.
Host for the evening was TV Guide West Coast Bureau Chief Jim Halterman. The rather large panel consisted of actors Sepideh Moafi (Megan Byrd), J. August Richards (Bradley Gregorian), Kate Jennings Grant (Louise Herrick), Ryan Guzman (Ryan Mills), Aimee Teegarden (Ella Benjamin), Kevin Zegers (Oscar Keaton), Daniel Sunjata (Jake Gregorian), and Piper Perabo (Julia George), with series creators Mark Geragos (Executive Producer), Wendy Walker (Executive Producer), Allie Hagan (Co-creator), and Josh Berman (Co-creator).
In Notorious the audience is plunged into the behind the scenes intrigue at the World Cable News network flagship program Louise Herrick Live. Producer Julia George finds herself dealing with a petulant star, an eager assistant, and ambitious lawyer Jake Gregorian, a guest on that evening’s broadcast. As audiences will come to expect, all is not as it seems, with many plot twists and surprises before the end of the hour.
Host Halterman first asked how the program was conceived. As it is based on the lives and careers of two of the executive producers, Wendy Walker and Mark Geragos, they immediately volunteered that it was their idea. Walker recalled telling Geragos, “There should be a show about this.”
Co-creator for the series, Josh Berman, explained that he did not want to do another crime procedural program, but look at much of the same material from a fresh perspective. He was intrigued by the idea that a news program could take a morsel of information and blow it up in ways that that would make it into ratings-driven news. He said that working with the real-life counterparts of the fictional characters gave the writers and producers a wealth of material. Geragos joked that he was grateful to have another job in television after Larry King Live left the air. For her part, Walker stated that she was glad the producers cast her counterpart with an actress who was absolutely beautiful.
The actors were asked how much they consulted with Walker and Geragos in playing their roles. Piper Perabo had read Walker’s book about her years as a producer and found the author very open to discussing her life and career. The pilot was actually shot in Atlanta, where Larry King Live had been produced. While in Atlanta, they took a tour of the CNN newsroom.
When Walker stated that Perabo could easily be a real TV news producer, co-star Daniel Sunjata added, “She’s the Tom Brady of Stage 12.” He added that he had not spent as much time with his counterpart, Mark Geragos, as he was usually at a trial while the actors were on set. Geragos helpfully suggested, “You need to get arrested.”
When asked if the series would address contemporary news items in addition to fictional stories, the producers said that Geragos and Walker would guide them. The pilot episode did include references to and even glimpses of contemporary newsmakers and personalities. Berman revealed that P. Diddy would appear in the second episode. Kate Jennings Grant said she was surprised at some of the performers she had seen on set.
In casting the series, Berman said that initially they hoped they could get someone like Piper Perabo, but didn’t think they would be able to get Perabo herself. After casting the two leads, he said that everyone else came on very quickly. Sunjata recalled that he had worked in a play in New York City with Kate Jennings Grant, who is cast as Louise Herrick.
Discussion turned to the first day on set. Sunjata knew of Perabo from her work on Broadway, describing her as awesome, gorgeous, and married. That led to the question of romance between the two leading characters. Sunjata shot back, “Save it!” Berman said that the very first set up on the first day, in which Julia pulls Jake into an elevator showed instant chemistry between the characters. But, he added, there would be no romance right away, pointing out that the characters were, after all, working professionals. But audiences would want to see some romance, Halterman concluded.
Kate Jennings Grant plays Louise Herrick, the complicated host of the Louise Herrick Live show-within-the-show. She does not come off well in the first episode (picture an alcoholic cougar behind the scenes), but Grant assured us that in future episodes we would “get to look under the hood,” adding, “She is so dangerous and surprising and delightful.” She admitted, “I was really surprised by some of the character developments.”
The discussion then turned to the Gregorian brothers, Jake and Bradley, who run the law firm depicted in Notorious. J. August Richards said that his character, Bradley, was devoted to protecting the honor and reputation of the family name. Sunjata noted that, while he had played lawyers in the past, this was the first time he played a defense attorney. He added ha it was great to be on the other side f he aisle, and that defense attorneys wore much better clothes.
Career and romance are two themes that will figure prominently among the supporting cast of Notorious, according to the show’s creators. At least two of the secondary characters are interested in each other in the first episode, and this will be explored further in future episodes.
One of the supporting players, Aimee Teegarden (playing Ella Benjamin) spoke of shadowing Mark Geragos to study for her role. She said some of the things that she saw couldn’t be believed on television. She said that Notorious was particularly topical, especially in depicting the ways truth is presented in order to manipulate an audience.
Sepideh Moafi (playing Megan Byrd) was asked if her character, the assistant to Julia George, had her own ambitions. Moafi volunteered that the characters are close, very loyal, but that Megan does aspire to be another Julia George.
When Kevin Zegers (playing Oscar Keaton, a character who figures prominently in the show’s first major story arc) was asked to talk about his character, he could offer only a few guarded comments. He worked away from most of the cast for his scenes, spending most of his time with Sunjata. He did say it was great to play the scenes.
Story arc was the last subject examined during the panel discussion. Rather than treating each story in a single episode, or even wrapping them up neatly in a series of episodes, it is anticipated that each story will evolve in its own way, and that new stories will rise, or fade, as the season progresses. This is intentional, as it emulates the actual new cycle at a 24-hour network. Everyone will get their “fifteen minutes,” but most stories will last anywhere from two to four episodes. Co-creator Berman concluded with the observation that ABC realizes that viewers have come to expect a certain formula in dramatic series. Notorious aims to shake that up.