News & Politics

Supreme Drama

NBC aims to make a new TV series out of the life of a Washington lawyer.

TV shows based on the Supreme Court don’t exactly have the best success rate—anyone remember the 2002 flop The Court? Sally Field played one of the justices, but even her star power couldn’t save the series from cancellation after just three episodes.

NBC is attempting to break the high court’s Hollywood losing streak. As reported by Variety earlier this week, the network has picked up a series based on the career of Washington lawyer Tom Goldstein, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and author of the popular Supreme Court Web site SCOTUSBlog.

Variety referred to the series as Tommy Supreme, but Goldstein says that’s likely just a working title: “It makes no sense, so I’m sure it will change. . . . It can’t possibly be real.”

Goldstein, 39, was approached about the series two years ago. The idea, he says, “struck me as both flattering and crazy. My life isn’t the stuff of dramatic television, as I’ve experienced it.”

The folks at the production company Circle of Confusion apparently disagreed. They contacted Goldstein with the idea for the show after reading a New Republic profile of him and his unconventional foray into Supreme Court advocacy. Barry Schindel, a former public defender who has worked on shows such as Law & Order, signed on as writer and executive producer.

Unlike many of his peers in the private Supreme Court bar, Goldstein didn’t get his start by going to an Ivy League law school and landing a prestigious high-court clerkship. As a fourth-year lawyer at the litigation firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, the American University grad simply decided he wanted to argue at the Supreme Court. He quit his job and started a Supreme Court practice out of his home. He looked for cases in the lower courts that had high-court potential and volunteered his services pro bono. To date, he has argued 21 times before the nine justices. He now cochairs the litigation and Supreme Court practices at Akin Gump, where the average partner took home $1.4 million last year.

In sum, his career follows the classic underdog story that Hollywood loves.

Goldstein says NBC bought the rights to the show last spring, and a script for the pilot episode is in the final stages. He expects that a more detailed pitch of the pilot will be made to NBC by mid-January. So far, no actors are attached to the series, and Goldstein swears he hasn’t given “one second’s thought” to who he’d want to play him.

Los Angeles entertainment lawyer Peter Grossman negotiated Goldstein’s contract as a creative consultant on the show. Goldstein says part of the contract stipulates that the character based on him not share his name. “This character will likely do some things that are a little closer to the ethical line than I did,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot of daylight between this guy and me.”

The show still has plenty of opportunities to die before it ever hits the air. But if it does make it to prime time, Goldstein says, the bar is set low. Referring to Sally Field’s attempt at a high-court drama, he says, “It’d be hard to be worse.”

More>> Capital Comment Blog | News & Politics | Party Photos  

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.