Reality TV is not just taking over airwaves; it’s influencing the scripted shows as well. This fall’s example is “The Defenders,” which was based on a pilot for a proposed docu-series with the same name.
Filmmakers Harry and Joe Gantz (“Taxicab Confessions”) proposed a series on a pair of real life attorneys Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese. Fox had interest in a pilot but ultimately passed on a series. Then NBC picked it up as the basis for a new buddy lawyer show starting this fall starring Jerry O’Connell and Jim Belushi.
The Gantz brothers were retained as executive directors on the show that also includes Carol Mendelsohn of the “CSI” series.
And the two original Las Vegas lawyers remain an inspiration. on a pair of real life defense attorneys.
“After Jim and I had had a couple of drinks, Jim put the documentary on and started acting out what they were doing in the documentary in front of television,” O’Connell said at press tour. “It just cracked me up so much. It was like my friends watching ‘Goodfellas’ for the 50th time and doing their Joe Pesci.”
“I watched it a lot,” Belushi says. “These guys are characters in the original documentary. They are so bright. They have great strategies in the courtroom, and in real life and the rest of their life, they’re kind of not so good. They’re not so good with women.
“There’s a great comic element between them,” he says. “It intrigued me that these guys are so brilliant on the floor, and like our characters, we’re morons with women.”
The two actors met the lawyers to get more inspiration.
“We’ve stayed with them. I mean, I have personally stayed in Marc Saggese’s house for days,” O’Connell says.
“Yeah. They stayed at my house actually. We had them over and a big dinner with the cast,” Belushi says.
“They’re fascinating, and from a professional standpoint, they represent a lot of people that I’m not even sure public defenders would represent,” Belushi says.
“They’re great. We hang out with these guys. They were on the set the whole time. We went to Piero’s in Vegas and drank those big martinis. They can hold their liquor, these guys.”
“It’s also sort of funny that we live in a day and age where, dare I say, reality television is influencing dramatic television,” O’Connell says. “It’s like a life imitating art in the world of television.”
“The Defenders” starts Sept. 22 on CBS.