Television is full of successful lawyers, but what happens when the lawyers just can't resolve a dispute to anyone's satisfaction? In some cases, that's when you call a mediator, a person tasked with talking to the two or more disagreeing parties and trying, by whatever means available, to bring them into fair and equitable agreement.
Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that the mediator is good at solving problems in her own life.On Thursday, Jan. 20, USA Network premieres "Fairly Legal," a lighthearted drama that centers on Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi), a former lawyer working as a mediator for her stepmother at her late father's San Francisco law firm (the show actually films in Vancouver, Canada).
Separated from her husband, prosecutor Justin (Michael Trucco), Kate relies on her geeky yet effective assistant, Leonardo (Baron Vaughn), to deal with stepmom Lauren (Virginia Williams), a parade of disputatious clients and -- for three episodes in season one -- an unforgiving judge (Gerald McRaney).
The idea originated in the experiences of series creator/executive producer Michael Sardo as he watched the originally amicable divorces of friends turn into snarling cage matches as they proceeded through the legal system.
"Then I had a friend," says Sardo, "who got divorced using a mediator, and it was as pleasant as such a thing could be."
Over several years, Sardo considered using the mediator idea for a half-hour comedy but later turned toward drama.
"Over the course of the years researching it," Sardo says, "I just thought it expressed the fundamental nature of drama -- which is to put two people in conflict in a room and close the door."
Out of that research and thinking about what sort of a person would do the job came the character of Kate Reed.
"She's someone who is very comfortable in conflict," Sardo says, "even though she can't necessarily solve the conflict in her own life. And when there is no conflict in her own life, she creates it."
Shahi agrees with Sardo's assessment.
"I'm pretty much allowed to do anything as the character," she says. "Anything is justified with her; she's so crazy and whimsical. It was awesome."
She's also fashion-forward, which is something Shahi didn't get to explore playing a buttoned-down police detective on the NBC series "Life."
"There's a huge fashion element to the show that no one's really talked about yet," she says, "because we don't want it to be a fashion show. It's not 'Gossip Girl,' by any means, but she's a very stylish character, for sure."
A new mom, Shahi wasn't able to meet with a real mediator before filming began, but she doesn't consider that a problem.
"I had to make sure I had the character's heart," she says, "because what drives this show is Kate's heart. It's the reason why she couldn't be a lawyer anymore, because she takes this so personally. She wants the best for everyone, (no matter what) the law says.
"She doesn't care about that. She's incredibly passionate about people, and I want that to come across more, so that this character is actually a believable mediator."Kate is also not able to quite resolve her on-and-off relationship with Justin.
"Michael Trucco is a wonderful human being," she says, "and we love working with each other. For Kate, Justin is like that nice, cozy sweater you put on that you know is always going to be there and always feels great.
"That's how she views Justin, that he will always be there, no matter what. I think it's OK to say that, at some point, she's wrong."