Ellen Gray: 'Firm' producer learned the law at Temple

Callum Keith Rennie (left) and Josh Lucas star on the show.
Callum Keith Rennie (left) and Josh Lucas star on the show.

Reiter switched to writing

Posted: January 12, 2012

* THE FIRM. 10 tonight, NBC10.

PASADENA, Calif. - You might not think of a TV show about a lawyer who's on the run from the mob - and possibly his own partners - as showcasing the benefits of a legal education, but a Temple law degree's worked out pretty well for Lukas Reiter, who developed an update of John Grisham's The Firm for NBC.

And Reiter, who's spent more years working as a writer on shows such as "The Practice" and "Boston Legal" than he did as a prosecutor in Queens, N.Y., should probably do commercials for Temple, where he studied from 1992-95.

He's that enthusiastic about the place.

"I really enjoyed my time and benefited from the amazing program at Temple University law school in trial advocacy," Reiter told me at an NBC party last week, a couple of days before "The Firm's" two-hour Sunday premiere (a debut that drew just 6.3 million viewers on a night in which the biggest draw had been an earlier football game on CBS).

And though he's far from the first law student to end up giving up the law to write - David E. Kelley and Grisham have probably inspired many a career switch - Reiter said that wasn't his intention when he started.

"Not when I went to law school. I went to law school because I was genuinely interested and passionate about the law. I thought for sure that I would end up a trial attorney," he said.

Temple had "amazing professors, an amazing trial advocacy program - as you know from its ranking - and I left there sure that I was going to spend my time in a courtroom, and so I went to a district attorney's office out of law school and became an assistant district attorney in Queens County, N.Y., for Richard Brown," Reiter said.

"It was only after doing that for a little while and getting a little exhausted - I often joke that probably I only needed a long weekend, but instead I decided maybe it was time to move on - and I wrote a script about my experiences as a prosecutor that got the attention of an enterprising agent at CAA named Peter Micelli who is my agent to this very day, and a very good friend. And Peter got it some attention from David E. Kelley and the folks who were doing 'The Practice,' " he recalled.

Reiter was beginning law school when Grisham's The Firm became a phenomenon - and then a blockbuster film starring Tom Cruise - but remembers reading the book only after graduation, during his daily commute to Queens, where his duties in the homicide investigations unit included "riding" - 24-hour on-call shifts where an assistant D.A. would respond to any death that occurred outside a hospital setting.

He'd always wondered what became of Mitch and Abby McDeere, the couple from The Firm, who in NBC's version, which moves into its regular time slot tonight after a two-hour premiere on Sunday, are played by Josh Lucas and Molly Parker. It's 10 years later and they're newly emerged from the federal witness-protection program.

And unlike most fans, Reiter was eventually in a position to at least try to find out, getting in touch with Grisham and ultimately working with him to find a way to explain that the book and movie's original happy endings - which weren't the same - hadn't worked out the way we thought, after all.

That Grisham signed off on a show that might conceivably change the way people think of the ending of his most famous book "tells you something about his character, his integrity, that he was so generous, so gracious," Reiter said. And indeed, Grisham last week appeared on NBC's "Today" to endorse "The Firm."

Ellen Gray is covering the Television Critics Association's winter meetings. Send email to graye@phillynews.com, follow her on Twitter at @elgray or check www.ellengray.tv for updates.

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