Ron Trott is a cocky, smart and not very likable lawyer. He is also the attorney you would want if the death penalty loomed in your future.
Trott, played perfectly by Victor Garber ("Alias"), is the boss of a law firm that specializes in high-wattage cases in the new FOX drama "Justice," premiering Wednesday, Aug. 30.
"He is arrogant for a reason," Garber says. "He actually knows what he is doing, and he is not very tolerant of people who aren't as smart as he is. He knows how to play all of his cards without crossing the ethical lines. He is on the edge, and that's what makes it fun to play."
The drama also stars Kerr Smith ("E-Ring"), Eamonn Walker ("Oz") and Rebecca Mader ("The Devil Wears Prada"), all of whom play his colleagues.
Garber played a lawyer in "Legally Blonde," but he says Trott is different. "I've not played anyone quite like this before. I am sort of embarrassed to say I either connect with a character from the first time I read it or I don't."
Garber didn't bother shadowing a famed defense attorney to prepare for the role.
"I kind of instantly knew how I would play it," he says. "I am sure I have been influenced subliminally by so many different lawyers I have seen in the media over the years. I am not basing it on anyone or even a compilation of anyone. I am going on instinct and even the script."
The script for the pilot opens with a rich, beautiful woman floating face down in her swimming pool, which is red with her blood. Her husband is the only suspect, though he maintains his innocence. He seems so meek and passionless that it is hard to imagine him married to this bombshell, let alone bashing in her brains.
Yet the district attorney forges ahead, leaking bits to sympathetic cable news stations, and it doesn't look good for the suspect, except he does have this crackerjack team of lawyers.
So do many other shows. The television landscape teems with procedural court shows. The "Law & Order" and "CSI" franchises alone could keep most justice seekers glued to their sets. Incidentally, Jerry Bruckheimer, who produces the "CSI" series, is also the executive in charge of "Justice."
Regardless of the producer's and cast's credentials, a show needs more than a swaggering lawyer. Yet another star, James Woods, assumes the crusading esquire mantle in CBS' "Shark," premiering Sept. 21.
So a show better have a gimmick if it is going to stand out in this crowd, and "Justice" does. At the end of each episode, it reveals what really happened. Whether the defendant goes to jail but is actually innocent, or a guilty man walks free does not matter at that point. The case is resolved, but the last scene will reveal what the lawyers do not know: the truth.
"I practiced law for 10 years," says Jonathan Shapiro, an executive producer on the series. "And I was a federal prosecutor for most of that time. And we always used to laugh about the fact that we never really knew what happened. Sometimes we convict people for the wrong thing. But the one thing even the best lawyer never knows is exactly what happened. So the ending is to sort of give the audience the opportunity to see what our characters can never see, which is the truth."
The drama also reveals how these high-priced attorneys use technology and the media to get what they want -- a win. If justice happens to be served, that's fine too.
In the pilot, a snarky TV commentator on "American Crime" has all but convicted Trott's client and pulled the switch on the electric chair. This take-off on a Fox cable show is so convincing that viewers will have to remind themselves it is fictional.
"Some form of the media will always be part of the show," David McNally, another executive producer, says. "The plans are to use guest hosts on 'American Crime.' Ultimately, we'd love to use real media people. Should the show take off, we'd love to have the Larry Kings and the Nancy Graces of the world want to be on the show. And looking at the print media as well, I think in any way the media affects these high-profile cases, that's what we want to get into."
Upscale defense firms also rely on shadow juries, which watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV and react. Defense attorneys can then switch gears midstream to reflect the shadow jury's opinions.
"There is so much I didn't know about the legal system," Garber says. "That is what is so interesting about this show. Ron Trott says if you tell the jury a good story, you win. You tell the jury a bad story, you lose."
Trott understands juries and recognizes they don't like him. However, the camera loves him. He turns on the charisma whenever he's in front of one, as he does on "American Crime," when he says, "If you've got the right lawyer, you've got the greatest legal system in the world."
Granted, that is hardly justice, but it may well be an accurate assessment of jurisprudence today.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times