TV series to focus on mediation
“Fairly Legal” tackles the subject of an alternative to court fights
Published 12:00 a.m., Tuesday, January 18, 2011
By CAROL DEMARE Staff Writer
From The TimesUnion.com website
A new television series about mediation — with all the drama of a young female lawyer heading toward a divorce herself — premieres Thursday and is being hailed by the dispute-resolution community.
“Fairly Legal,” with Sarah Shahi playing the character of attorney Kate Reed, airs at 10 p.m. on the USA Network. The show is billed by the Albany-based New York State Dispute Resolution Association as a drama that will “introduce more New Yorkers to the benefits and advantages of mediation,” association spokesman Michael Seinberg said Monday.
“We are thrilled because here is a mainstream TV show that shows mediation as a viable alternative for people,” a way to resolve matters outside of the courtroom, Seinberg said.
Filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, the show is set in San Francisco and centers on the attorney’s frustration with the legal system, leading to a career as a mediator. As she adjusts to tackling new challenges, she also deals with a soon-to-be ex-husband.
Seinberg said executive producer Michael Sardo, a Bronx native who works in Hollywood, has been in contact with mediators in New York and throughout the nation as well as dispute-resolution organizations and attorneys.
Although the show is fiction, after seeing the pilot Seinberg said “The underlying theme and basic factual information about mediation were reasonably accurate.” It is hoped that viewers may look at their own lives and problems, and think, “maybe, I can try that,” he said.
Every county in the state provides mediation opportunities, known as Community Dispute Resolution Centers, that are partially funded by the state court system. Residents have access to free or low-cost mediation services at the centers, Seinberg said.
In Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, the centers are called Mediation Matters. Schenectady County has a Center for Community Justice.
In cases that are handled at a center, “83 percent are successfully mediated,” Seinberg said. The number of cases referred to the centers by courts or others grows every year, he said, and is now between 40,000 and 50,000.
If both parties are willing to do it, chances are they will solve their problems less expensively than going through the court system.
Divorce and foreclosure mediation is growing rapidly, Seinberg said, with many states mandating banks enter into mediation before they take title to a person’s home.
Gov. Mario M. Cuomo got the state’s mediation program off the ground in 1985, Seinberg said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo mentioned the significance of mediation in his State of the State address this month.
During the show’s development phase, Sardo spoke with Tara Fishler, a Westchester County-based mediator who is a member of the New York State Dispute Resolution Association’s board of directors. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1985, is made up of mediators and other dispute-resolution professionals and includes the resolution centers, individual practitioners and conflict management professionals.
The show came about because Sardo watched many of his friends go through divorces and found that for those who did so in the courts with attorneys the divorce became acrimonious and contentious while in the case of those who chose mediation, the spouses remained amicable.
“This fascinated Sardo. What is it about this process that allowed people to stay amicable?” Seinberg said. “So he decided to come up with this TV show.”
Reach Carol DeMare at 454-5431 or by e-mail at email@example.com
USA Network To Premier Fairly Legal
By Michael Seinberg
From The New York State Dispute Resolution Association website.
“Take two people, put them in a room and send in a really interesting character,” said Michael Sardo, creator and executive producer of USA Network’s new show FAIRLY LEGAL. Sardo said this was where the character of Kate Reed, the lawyer turned mediator came from. This is the first major TV show to feature a mediator as the main character.
Sardo said he got the idea for the show about six years ago when he saw friends go through divorces. He said ones that started amicably got very difficult once lawyers were brought in but those that opted for mediation stayed amicable. “I wanted to see what this (mediation) was all about,” said Sardo.
Sardo said he started talking to lawyers and mediators (including Tara Fishler, a NYSDRA board member) and gathering information. His original pitch was for a half hour comedy featuring a male divorce mediator who was a hopeless romantic in secret. That didn’t work and neither did a second pitch, but the third was the charm. Using a staff lawyer and another staffer who worked with the ACLU, Sardo has worked very hard to keep the show accurate in terms of ADR terminology and practice. “I asked a lot of people, ‘Could this happen?’” he said, referring to various plot ideas. His staffers have continued to reach out to working mediators and attorneys as development of the show has progressed.
Sardo indicated that his hope for the show is to make ADR more visible to the public. “I do very much hope that (happens),” he said. He indicated that the show’s different characters help to point up the different approaches mediators and attorneys take to cases. “They’re all looking at the world through different facets of the same prism,” he added. Sardo said he has no issue with attorneys or courts. “There are certain things the courts are wonderful for,” he said. However, he added, “We live in such a litigious society, we have to get back to talking to each other.”
The show will debut on Thursday, January 20, at 10/9c on the USA Network. FAIRLY LEGAL stars Sarah Shahi (The L Word) Michael Trucco (Battlestar Galactica), Virginia Williams (How I Met Your Mother), and Baron Vaughn (The Other Guys).
The show is shot on location in Vancouver, BC, but set in San Francisco. The series focuses on Kate Reed (Shahi), a lawyer fed up with the system, who becomes a mediator. Using her legal skills, street smarts, and unique approach to resolving conflict (she resolves an armed robbery on her way to work in the first 10 minutes of the pilot), Kate finds the middle ground for a wide variety of clients, from big companies to a cupcake maker. Sardo said they had more than 90 women audition for the part of Kate and that Shahi was the first one who “got” mediation right off. The scene they used was the armed robbery and involved a man with a gun. Most actresses instinctively backed away from the gun except for Shahi. “You can’t solve conflict by moving away from it,” said Sardo.
After the death of her father, Kate finds herself at odds with her new boss and stepmother Lauren Reed (Williams), and still entangled with her almost ex-husband, Justin Patrick (Trucco), an assistant DA. Helping her keep it all running is her very unique techie assistant Leonardo (Vaughn).
The show moves at a very nice pace, is well written and appears to have done its homework. The scenes where mediation takes place are well acted and pretty realistic in terms of both the emotion and the actions of the mediator. The show is highly entertaining and shows mediation in a very positive light, as far as this writer is concerned.
Recurring guest stars include Richard Dean Anderson (Stargate SG-1) in the role of David Smith, a man with a strange tie to Kate’s late father; Ethan Embry (Brotherhood) is Spencer, Kate’s younger brother and a new father; and Gerald McRaney is Judge Nicastro, who is more than a little difficult when it comes to Kate. Other guest stars include Ken Howard, Peter MacNicol, Clyde Kusatsu and Anne-Marie Johnson.
From Universal Cable Productions, FAIRLY LEGAL is created and executive produced by Sardo and executive produced by Steve Stark.