This fall, Jimmy Smits revisits his L.A. Law days with NBC’s latest legal drama, Bluff City Law. Whether in series regular roles like NYPD Blue and The West Wing or season arcs on 24: Legacy, How to Get Away with Murder, and Dexter, networks know Smits is the kind of reliable star they want to anchor a new fall show.
Bluff City Law is about a father/daughter legal duo who team up to fight injustice. Smits plays Elijah Strait, who reconnects with daughter Sydney (Caitlin McGee) after his wife/her mother’s funeral and convinces her to leave corporate law and join his firm to fight for the very people those companies hurt.
Smits told Rotten tomatoes that being back in a courtroom, even a television courtroom with a script, made him realize his TV law was a little rusty.
“I remembered a couple of things. ‘Objection!,’” Smits joked. “We’re really fortunate because the technical advisers, consultants have been really great in terms of helping us out with all the procedural stuff. It’s important to me. I’m a stickler on that kind of thing, on any type of thing, whether it’s a cop show [or a lawyer show].”
Bluff City Law is the first courtroom drama for McGee, who was glad to have a TV lawyer veteran there to mentor her.
“It was called Smits Academy of Law and Order,” McGee said. “Really, the thing that was most useful to me in my research was when we actually got to watch a case and we got to see how performative lawyers have to be and how important it is to keep people engaged and interested in your side of the argument.”
The case McGee watched was a medical malpractice case where she saw the doctor in question testify on the stand. That just might come in handy for Bluff City Law. So will the jargon.
“The whole thing about the jargon, no matter what area it is, it’s part of what we do,” Smits said. “It’s like learning another language almost, right? If you’re playing a doctor, it’s part of the fascinating thing what we do, the research part, whether it’s jargon, the technical aspects of it.”
In their first case together, Elijah and Sydney team up against a chemical company whose product they believe caused their client’s cancer.
“In terms of the particular case that we were handling, I tried to do the backstory on that and with regards to the real case that it was based on,” Smits said. “Speaking to the people who are the technical advisers on the show, going to cases, it’s all part of what we do as actors. That’s the fun part.”
Bluff City Law is set and filmed in Memphis, Tennessee, which automatically gives it a different vibe than Los Angeles. Smits says filming any show in 2019 is automatically more advanced too.
“Our show looks a lot different and it’s much more cinematic,” Smits said. “That’s not a slight on L.A. Law at all, but it’s really cinematic, and Memphis is a vibrant part of the show. The look is a lot different. You can actually have drone shots, [but] we haven’t had one yet.”
Smits also looks back fondly on NYPD Blue, the landmark ’90s cop show he joined in season two after David Caruso left.
“I was working on the same lot, so I knew when they had written the pilot that it was going to be ground-breaking,” Smits said. “I didn’t know it was going to be the phenomenon that it turned out to be, so it was kind of fortuitous to me it came back around.”
NYPD Blue pushed broadcast standards for language and nudity in order to show what life is really like for policemen and women. Today, a show like that might be on streaming with no restrictions at all.
“A show like that, you could not pitch that show to a network [today],” Smits said. “It wouldn’t happen. It just wouldn’t happen. The landscape of television is much more niche-oriented now. Certainly, edgier topic matter is something that we’ve gone for [on Bluff City Law], but I don’t know if you’re going to see naked butts on our show. That’s not going to happen.”
McGee was ready to show Sydney’s love life explicitly, though.
“You might see a back though, a naked back, maybe some abs,” McGee joked. “Hopefully it’ll be Barry Sloane’s.”
Sloane plays Jake Reilly, another lawyer at the Strait firm. Josh Kelly plays Sydney’s ex-husband Robbie, a detective who is still broken-hearted over Sydney. And while the legal drama is one focus of the series, the Straits’ personal lives will come into play as well.
“We established in the first episode what we’re all about, what the firm is about,” McGee said. “We are a legal drama, but once you really get to know these characters you’re just going to want to know more about their personal lives. You’re going to want to meet their spouses, their exes, see their homes. … You’ll definitely get to see more of that.”
That, said Smits, will make the legal cases even more compelling.
“I think that the audiences will engage more in the legal aspects of the show once they know all of the little character traits that each one of the characters has,” he said.
Bluff City Law premieres Monday, Sept. 23 at 10 p.m. on NBC.