Aaron Korsh has his theories about why his legal dramedy Suits, which originally aired for nine seasons on USA Network before wrapping in 2019, is suddenly smashing viewership records on Netflix.
For one, the series, which stars Patrick Adams as Mike Ross, a genius slacker who lands a coveted legal gig working for high-powered attorney Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) despite not having an actual law degree, has an “inherent optimism to it,” says the creator. He believes people either see themselves in his characters or see who they wish they were. Korsh also cites the show’s tone, which was never darkly dramatic — as so much else on television was and continues to be — but rather drama with comedy mixed in. Though he doesn’t use “Blue Skies” as a descriptor, that was very much the “brand filter” that USA shows like Suits, White Collar and Royal Pains were run through at that time.
More from The Hollywood Reporter
Korsh credits Netflix’s reach, too, along with that of TikTok, where a clip from the Suits pilot became hugely popular earlier this spring. Then there’s the Meghan Markle effect, which, as far as Korsh is concerned, is hard to deny. When he cast Markle in his show, where she plays a paralegal (and later, a lawyer) and the love interest of Mike Ross, she was a relatively unknown actress — and certainly not yet attached to Prince Harry and thus a figure of global interest. The latter occurred over the course of the series’ run, with Markle ultimately marrying Harry in 2018 (Korsh and many of Markle’s Suits castmates attended the royal wedding) and leaving the show, along with Adams, after season seven.
Over an hour or so this summer, Korsh, who got his start on Wall Street before ultimately segueing to Hollywood with Suits as his first creation, opened up about the idea he initially sold to USA and the piece of dialogue that the royal family had removed from a script, much to his momentary irritation.
Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part interview (read part one here), which was coordinated through Korsh’s personal representatives, in accordance with a WGA ruling after the writers strike that began May 2.
If I’m not mistaken, Suits was an idea you cooked up after the last writers strike, and it was initially envisioned as an Entourage-style half-hour set on Wall Street. Do I have that right?
Yes. People always talk about how they’re going to write their own stuff during a strike, but both last time and this time, my brain doesn’t work that way. I can’t really think about writing. But when the last one was over, my agent at the time, Dennis Kim, who’s now my manager, said, “You’re always telling me these stories about Harvey, this guy you worked for on Wall Street. Why don’t you write something about that?” I was a comedy writer at the time, and I wanted to be a comedy writer, so I sat down to write something in the tone of Entourage that took place on Wall Street.
What emerged when I was finished was an hourlong show. I wouldn’t say it was a thriller, but it was much more dramatic, with these plot twists and turns. And we ended up using a lot of it in that first half-hour of the Suits pilot, though Mike was an investment banker, not a lawyer — all of them were bankers in that original script. At the time, no one was going to buy a Wall Street show, but that didn’t matter as much to me. I’d only been staffed for two seasons on a show, and [coming off a strike,] I didn’t know if I was ever going to work again. I certainly didn’t think in a million years that anybody would buy this show. I was just trying to write a sample that someone would maybe read and hire me off of, so I wasn’t constrained by the sort of requirements of the marketplace. But Dennis read it and loved it, and he said he could sell it, to which I said, “Shut the fuck up and get me a job,” because, again, I really didn’t think we could sell it.
And then he sold it …
It’s a longer story, but he had a very good relationship with an executive named Alex Sepiol [at USA] and he called him and basically said, “You guys don’t do ensembles or serialized shows, and this isn’t a case of the week [show], but you’re going to love these characters.” And Alex read it and he did. But Dennis was right, USA didn’t do Wall Street, they didn’t do serialized, they didn’t do ensembles, and they needed it to be a franchise. So, we decided we could make them lawyers, and then, since USA also only did two-handers, we pitched it so that Harvey and Mike were going to quit and start on their own.
So, no Jessica? No Donna?
No nobody, but only because I thought that they wouldn’t buy it if I didn’t do that. But then we’re in the pitch, and Jeff Wachtel, who was president of USA at the time, was like, “Well, why are they leaving?” And I was so inexperienced, I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to be like, “Because you guys told me they had to leave!” Instead, Dave Bartis, my producing partner, said something like, “They’re leaving because you don’t do ensembles, you do two-handers.” And Jeff said, “You’re right. We don’t do ensembles, but maybe we should?” And then he pitched that they stay at the firm, which was, of course, music to my ears.
This may be a naïve question, but you were told that nobody would buy a Wall Street show. What was the rationale there?
Oh, I think there was a show in, like, 1914 about Wall Street that failed, and so the conclusion was, “You can never make another Wall Street show.” (Laughs.)
Ah, of course …
I think it was actually a  Darren Star show called The Street. And after that, you couldn’t make them, which is just crazy. But that’s what happens. I wrote another show [more recently] and there was an agency aspect to it, and I was told, “No one wants to do a show about inside Hollywood.” And I was like, “What was Entourage?” None of it makes sense to me. But in this case, I feel like we benefited greatly from moving [Suits] from Wall Street to lawyers because it raised the stakes. Mike wasn’t just lying to his employers, he was committing a crime, and the law also gave us opportunities for all kinds of ethical dilemmas.
Suits was far less serialized in its first season. I assume that was more about the network getting comfortable with a different style?
Yeah, exactly. The network wanted a case of the week, every week, in the first season. I had a fundamentally different view of the show than they did, I think. They had this notion that the client of the week was going to be “the puppy,” the thing that the audience was going to care about. My view was, if you want to call someone a puppy, Mike is the puppy. No one cares about the schmo of the week, people care about Mike. But in many of the episodes in that first season, we’d get notes to add one or two scenes with the client, or “the puppy.” It was their metaphor.
And how would you respond?
Oh, we’d add them and shoot them and then I’d cut them out of the edit, and no one ever said, “Put them back.” No one noticed! The next year, they were like, “You know what? You don’t need a case of the week.” But again, I’m not sure it was a bad thing to be a little bit more procedural the first season. It wasn’t my taste, but it wasn’t a terrible idea. I will also add that some people say that the reason that Suits is so successful is that you don’t have to pay attention — it’s a case of the week and you can have it on while you’re cooking a chicken or whatever. But no one who says that has seen Suits after the first season because it becomes a highly serialized show. And look, I don’t think that we’re Mad Men, but we’re not … I don’t want to insult another show, but we’re not just a straight-up procedural.
You suggested that Meghan Markle intrigue has fueled some of the recent interest in the show, so I have to ask about it. Presumably, you knew she was dating Prince Harry before the rest of the world did, which must have been wild — and come with all sorts of security and privacy requirements. What do you remember?
Oh, I was as excited in some ways as everybody else.
And that was before you knew that you’d be going to the royal wedding …
Yeah! I mean, your initial reaction is, like, “We’re dating a prince!” (Laughs.) But the security and all that stuff, we shot in Toronto and the writers room was in L.A., so other people were dealing with that. I will say, and I think Harry put this in the book, because I heard people talking about it — [the royal family] weighed in on some stuff. Not many things, by the way, but a few things that we wanted to do and couldn’t do, and it was a little irritating.
What kinds of things are we talking about here?
I remember one was a particular line of dialogue and, look, I’ll just say what the line was. My wife’s family, when they have a topic to discuss that might be sensitive, they use the word, “poppycock.” Let’s say you wanted to do something that you knew your husband didn’t want to do, but you wanted to at least discuss it, and in just discussing it, you wouldn’t hold him to anything he said, you’d be like, “It’s poppycock.”
So, in the episode, Mike and Rachel [Markle’s character] were going to have a thing, and as a nod to my in-laws, we were going to have her say, “My family would say poppycock.” And the royal family did not want her saying the word. They didn’t want to put the word “poppycock” in her mouth. I presume because they didn’t want people cutting things together of her saying “cock.” So, we had to change it to “bullshit” instead of “poppycock,” and I did not like it because I’d told my in-laws that [poppycock] was going to be in the show. There was maybe one or two more things, but I can’t remember.
Again, this may be a naïve question, but how was the royal family getting or reading scripts?
I don’t know how they got ’em. I was aware that they were reading them because I got the feedback, but I don’t remember the process by which they got them.
And who calls to tell you Meghan can’t utter the word “poppycock”? Or does Meghan herself make that call to you?
No, Meghan did not call me. I can’t remember. It might have been the directing producer at the time, or her agent. Whoever it was, they didn’t like having to tell me any more than I liked having to hear it. But listen, when they explained it that way, and I’m pretty sure it got explained to me that it was about that [splicing potential], I had some sympathy because I wouldn’t want somebody doing that to her either. And the thing is, I didn’t think anybody really would, but also I don’t know. People are crazy.
The other thing that I’ll say is when you’re making and running a show, any time that anybody tells you that you can’t do what you want to do, [being irritated is] your initial reaction. People will often ask me who I most relate to in the show, and I relate to all of them, I’ve had moments of all of them. But Harvey was a dick when he didn’t get his way, and when I didn’t get my way, my reaction would be to be like, “This is bullshit!” But then five minutes later, I’d be like, “Well, OK, it’s pretty reasonable. Whatever.”
You spend a fair amount of time on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, reading and responding to fan reactions. How have the responses to the show and its storylines changed in the years since it originally aired?
Oh, that’s a good question. The difficulty is that when it was on live, everybody was reacting to the same episode at the same time. But that’s no longer happening, so it’s less easy to tell if reactions are the same. I will say the Donna (Sarah Rafferty) and Harvey fans [who were passionate about the pair getting together] seem less dominant on social media now than they used to be — partly that could be because the fact that they do get together in the end is potentially already known.
That makes sense …
One of the things that I did love about the show at the time, and it is still true, is that every one of the six original characters is somebody’s favorite character and somebody’s least favorite character and there’s not, like, a uniform like or dislike. But it does seem like people are responding to Louis [Rick Hoffman] more positively than they did when the show came out. People were always entertained by him, but they’re more loving toward him now. And some of it may have to do with the fact that when everyone’s watching at the same time, there can be a kind of groupthink that doesn’t exist now when everyone is watching on their own timeline. The other thing I’ll say is that some fans are enjoying watching it again, and I think some of the people who are rewatching are having a different experience with it the second time because they know what’s going to happen. It just relieves them of the burden of being angry when something doesn’t happen that they wanted to happen.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Best of The Hollywood Reporter
Click here to read the full article.