David E. Kelley Knows Nicole Kidman Drama Isn’t “Everyone’s Cup of Tea”
David E. Kelley is a bit masochistic.
For more than three decades, the super producer and television writer has directed legal dramas (“The Practice”); comedies (“Ally McBeal”); and the biting mysteries (“Big little lies,” “The defeat”) on the small screen, winning 11 Emmy Awards to date.
His latest is Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers” (all eight episodes streaming now), which ended its limited airing on Wednesday. Based on Lianne Moriarty’s 2018 novel, the drama follows a group of struggling individuals (including Melissa McCarthy and Regina Hall) who participate in a wellness treatment, led by a mysterious guru (Nicole kidman) with questionable practices.
“There’s a line on the show, ‘People come for suffering,’ and that’s probably applicable with me,” Kelley, 65, said on a recent Zoom call. “I read the book and was drawn to these broken characters. It’s always drawn me into projects, if I can explore characters who are ambitious at heart but broken in functionality. is what happened here: the more you all learn, it adds up to a very affirmative piece about humanity, which in my old age is also what attracts me. ”
“Nine Perfect” marks Kelley’s third collaboration with Kidman, following the limited series “The Undoing” and two seasons of HBO’s “Big Little Lies”. (Then they will produce “Love and Death” for HBO Max.)
“He’s very thoughtful and incredibly brilliant, and he just writes from the heart,” Kidman says. “He’s the man who did ‘Ally McBeal’ and all that drama in court. He only knows television, but he also knows the characters.”
“Should I be offended?” “: Nicole Kidman’s ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ Creepy Guru Was Written For Her
Question: “The Undoing” became an audience and social media phenomenon last fall, with viewers trying to guess the killer from week to week. Were you surprised by its success?
David E. Kelley: I never have any feelings of false confidence because every time you cast it out there you are hiding and hoping that there is (an audience) that will support it. On “The Undoing” I probably felt more confident because the track was pretty tight… and delivered with a certain propulsion that I felt good with. Now, “Nine Perfect Strangers” is over there. It’s wild. It sure won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I felt good in the characters. My feeling was that if you put in the time and paid attention to them, they would eventually come into you and you would be rewarded for that effort. But I braced myself for the idea that people might put that on and say, “What?”
Question: It appears that more and more streamers, such as Disney + and Hulu, have recently embraced the release of episodes week to week rather than all at once. How important is the weekly model in building an audience?
Kelley: They are both valuable. We saw in “Big Little Lies” it was actually social media and the audience connecting between episodes that caused the viewership to increase. Ditto with “The Undoing”: The fact that audiences may have been armchair detectives and trying to figure out who did what fueled the plot and popularity of the series. But “The Undoing” would have been just as good on Netflix or Amazon, as it was a show worthy of a frenzy. “Nine Perfect Strangers” you can go either way. It’s bingeable if you want to continue, but there is something to be said about taking a step back and trying to process the episodes.
Q: ABC’s “Big Sky” (Season 2 premiere Sept. 30, 10 EDT / PDT) is your first network show since CBS’s “The Crazy Ones,” which was canceled in 2014 after one season. Do you see yourself continuing to work in broadcast?
Kelley: Everything is focused on the project. If I thought something would showcase better on broadcast and the network was on the same creative page as us, then of course I would try it. But I would still say that the presumption is in favor of premium (cable) or streaming. Most broadcast projects are designed to be marathons. They become commercially viable from 50 episodes or more, and I don’t want to write that many. The limited series is perfect for me. You can take six, seven, eight hours, which is a lot of time, and move on.
Q: You were a lawyer before you became a TV screenwriter. When did you first become interested in law?
Kelley: I loved law shows as a kid and was fascinated by the idea of law, because it’s our best way to legislate on social and moral behavior. And yet it is very inaccurate and imperfect. I grew up in a family of sportsmen, so life was about winning and losing a lot and the law provided for it. So I went to law school and enjoyed it, but practicing law was a little less exciting than studying it. I was missing the writing and decided to do it for a hobby, and voila, I wrote this project – a law-based story (which became the 1987 film “From the Hip”) – and he became the transition from a legal career to one of being a storyteller.
Q: You started off as a writer on NBC’s “LA Law,” which ran from 1986 to 1994. What is the most important lesson you learned from co-creator Steven Bochco?
Kelley: The best lesson I learned from him was to respect your audience. Particularly in the 80s there was a mentality in some ranks of “Dumb it down.” The public will not understand. Make it really simple. Steven was quite the opposite: “These people are smarter than you think and challenge them to keep up. Never leave a place where you assume you bring a greater degree of intelligence to the project. as your viewer. ” And I never forgot it.
Q: In your opinion, is this what made “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal” so successful?
Kelley: There are so many variables in the equation, and the minute you think, “I have the recipe now,” good luck (laughs). Failures are much easier to quantify; you can see what went wrong. But with hits, there’s so much that goes into the bowl of soup: the chemistry of the actors, the directors, the crew that you put together. If there is one common denominator to these series, it’s that we believe in characters. We all knew we could bleed our noses, but we had a passion for the project.
Q: Your wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, just shot a new Showtime series, “The First Lady”. Have you ever thought about collaborating?
Kelley: We don’t rule it out, but I don’t recommend it. It is good for us to separate professional and private life. But the common denominator is Susanne Bier, who did “Undoing” and did “First Ladies”. I like the idea that (those) kept Susanna in the middle of our lives. But other than that, we sort of travel in separate creative orbits.
Q: You have been married for almost 30 years and have two grown children. What’s the secret of your relationship?
Kelley: I do not know. My theory on success is that it is impossible to quantify. You hit wood and hope that whatever you do, you keep doing it. But 30 years have gone by quickly.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: David E. Kelley on “Nine Perfect Strangers” What Made “Undoing” a Success