“It’s the thrill of a lifetime,” says Rancho Santa Fe resident Wendy Walker about “Notorious,” the new legal drama she’s executive producing for ABC this fall.
Those are big words from a woman who spent 32 years at CNN – 18 of them as the Emmy Award-winning senior executive producer of “Larry King Live” – and who has covered pretty much every major news story and A-lister of the past couple of decades.
What makes this show so special to her is that it’s based on her professional relationship with famed criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, who worked closely with her as a consultant to Larry King Live for many years.
“I thought it would be interesting for viewers to go behind the scenes and see what really goes on when we’re producing a show about a high profile murder trial,” says Walker. “I’ve always wanted to get into scripted TV and, after leaving the news business, this was the first idea I had.”
Walker discussed the idea with Geragos, who loved it, and after pitching it and shooting the pilot, ABC picked it up.
“As if this wasn’t exciting enough, we then learned we were being given the 9 p.m. time slot on Thursday nights, between ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder,’” said Walker. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack! You can’t get better than the spot where ‘Scandal’ used to be.”
“Notorious” will focus on one big murder trial each season. Although the story will be fictional, Walker says that many of the details will be taken from actual events.
According to Walker, “When a murder trial becomes high profile, it’s a dance between the media and the justice system – and a lot of the time, the justice system does not prevail. Really, it’s who plays the game better.”
She cites the O.J. Simpson trial as a good example. “The guy killed his wife and got off,” Walker said. “His team did a better job than the prosecution.”
Walker claims that the interplay between criminal law and the media is a key element of a high profile case, and she looks forward to exploring the issue in depth in “Notorious.”
“Just look at the movie, ‘Gone Girl,’ and how Tyler Perry’s character manipulated the press to get what he wanted,” she points out.
Walker says a lot of that was based on the “Larry King Live” coverage of the Scott Peterson case – a local San Diego story that gained international attention.
“Mark went on air and said, ‘This kid is in trouble and his attorneys are going to have a hard time,’” remembers Walker. “Well, Scott’s parents called Mark and said, ‘You don’t know our son. He’s innocent. What you say is really important and sways a lot of opinions.’ They ended up hiring Mark as his attorney. The man plays the press like a violin.”
The show explores just how calculating live TV can be, and it’s an especially timely subject right now.
“Don’t get me started about the election,” warned Walker.
In “Notorious,” Wendy and Mark become Julia George and Jake Gregorian, and are played by Piper Perabo (“Covert Affairs”) and Daniel Sunjata (“Rescue Me,” “Graceland”).
“Piper is darling, and I describe her as looking in a really really good mirror,” Walker laughed. “Both characters are young and sexy as opposed to, um, being our age. Mark loves that he’s played by a really handsome man.”
Walker and Geragos are such a fascinating pair because their personalities are polar opposites. “I’m Type A, prissy and organized, and Mark is very charismatic and arrogant,” says Walker. “He defended Scott Peterson! I mean, he obviously knows this guy killed his wife! Mark and I have this banter and we go back and forth but when push comes to shove, we’re really good friends.”
Although she describes the show’s depiction of their relationship as “us on steroids,” she’s excited that her character will get to do some things that she never did.
“I took standards and practices very seriously at CNN, and I did everything by the book,” says Walker. “Julia takes license where I didn’t. It’s kind of like Olivia Pope on ‘Scandal.’ She was based on Judy Smith, a real person who I worked with during the Bush administration. Unlike Olivia, though, she never killed anyone!”
After a career of live TV, Walker is looking forward to the slower pace of a series.
“It’s so different,” she marvels. “This is a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’, unlike the immediate gratification of live TV. The process of shooting is very tedious, doing take after take after take. It’s been fascinating to watch.”
Walker’s also looking forward to shooting the show in Los Angeles, where both of her children will be in school.
“I hope everyone in San Diego will get behind their hometown girl, spread the word and watch the show,” she said. “It would be great if ‘Notorious’ became as big a hit as ‘Scandal!’”
You can watch the trailer for “Notorious” on YouTube and follow the show on Facebook and Twitter.