“Is this what I wanted to be? When I was growing up? Yes.”
-- Kate Littlejohn, 18 Miles Outside of Roanoke
When I was a young boy with a far away dream of having a television show — I speak now of the summer of 2016 — I told ABC that I wanted to make something big and sprawling and inventive and relevant and humane and funny. Basically everything that my legal career was not. This was the show I pitched and this was the show they bought and this was the show that became FOR THE PEOPLE.
I am proud of this show.
Season one of FTP introduced a cast of talented and dedicated, and sometimes idiosyncratic, lawyers, and judges and courthouse personnel, working in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the highest profile trial court in America. It was a different look at the law — in federal court, stories told from the perspective of both the defense and prosecution — but also a show that didn’t rely on gimmicks or tricks, or cynicism, or darkness. It could be unsparing in how it exposed terrible injustices in our legal system — we did an entire episode about the brutality of mandatory minimums — but it was constitutionally hopeful. Aspirational. Righteous.
In season two, we went deeper, exploring the complicated relationships between these lawyers, on both sides. The conflicts. The challenges. The victories. The searing defeats. We told stories of enormous emotional catharsis, of elation, and deep pain. We tackled big and important legal issues — immigration, false confessions, bail, voter suppression — and we did it with passion and conviction and an unwavering commitment to honesty and fairness. Which is to say we were political — and unapologetically so — but not partisan. Confrontational, but not uncivil. Principled, but never pious.
And funny. We always wanted to be funny.
Because that is life. It is tragic and funny and absurd and heartbreaking, and sometimes all at the same time, in the cramped space between two truck commercials. And that is the space we wanted to be in. That is the show I wanted to make and that is the show we made and last week, after two seasons, and twenty episodes, that show came to an end.
I knew it might not last. Not because I’m morbid — though I can be — but because I’m realistic. It all ends. Life, yes, and certainly anything (and everything) in Hollywood. Walk around Paramount Studios, as I just did, minutes ago, and you see the signs of this everywhere. And I don’t just mean the trucks coming and going, stuffed with sets, old and new, or the packs of fresh-faced writers, starting on their new shows, passing the lonely sad-faced ones (me, in this instance), kicked off their cancelled ones. I don’t mean metaphorical signs. I mean actual signs. Signs that say: This was shot here and now it is not.
Stage 5: THE BRADY BUNCH (1969-1974).
Stage 20: LAVERNE & SHIRLEY (1976-1983).
Stage 8: GOING MY WAY (1944).
Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am...
Stage 1: FOR THE PEOPLE (2017- 2019).
In a note I wrote to the cast and crew when we wrapped production on this second, and alas, final season, I touched on this circle of Hollywood life and death (you can read this note here if you’re interested), but I feel this even more strongly today. The show is over. The show lives. On Hulu (I hope) and every other streaming service now known or ever to be devised, but also in the collective memory of those who made it and those who watched it. And it’s to those folks, here at the toll of the last bell, who I’d like to finally thank. Those who watched it. The people. Because, as the name says, we did this for you.
In fact, the show wasn’t always called FOR THE PEOPLE. For many months, a year actually, it was officially titled UNTITLED PAUL WILLIAM DAVIES project. While I personally thought this had a lovely ring to it — especially the acronym, UPWD — I had a feeling it wouldn’t hold. And it didn’t. We struggled with a new title — the network floated MS. DEMEANOR and GAVELS AND GOWNS and I OBJECT. I objected. To all of them. I kept coming back to FOR THE PEOPLE. Because it worked on so many levels. It spoke, of course, to the work that these lawyers do, on both sides, for defendants and victims, but also to the higher purpose for which they do it, immortalized at Gettysburg. For a great and representative and democratic state.
But FOR THE PEOPLE also spoke eloquently and elementally to what WE do, as writers and actors, and production executives and makeup artists and camera operators and sound mixers. All of us here. Which is to entertain you. Make you laugh. Cry. Feel something. Learn something. To be distracted, and engaged. To be comforted and made uncomfortable. We do what we do — act, write, direct, dance, dress, build, drive, scout, design, edit, score — because we want the work that we do to be consumed. Watched. Binged. Inhaled. Devoured. Loved. We do what we do for you, and we want you to love it, and many of you did.
Is this what I wanted to be? When I was growing up?
Thank you, all of you, for watching and so passionately supporting FOR THE PEOPLE — and for making this (still little) boy’s dreams come true.