"The things she found most comfortable in life: Justin, her boat, some of her work, we've pulled that out from underneath from her," Shahi says. "She doesn't have a security blanket anymore. She's being forced to become an adult a little bit."
Why? Because after averaging an OK 3.2 million viewers during its first season on USA, the network renewed the show while simultaneously demanding some creative changes. In May, USA Co-President Jeff Wachtel said he thought the show could do better. Series creator and showrunner Michael Sardo soon made his exit and Peter Ocko (Pushing Daisies, The Office) was installed, ready to rock the boat, literally and figuratively.
"I came to them as a viewer. I said, 'Look I've watched the show. There are things that I love. And there are things that I feel we can shake up a bit,'" Ocko says.
One change viewers can expect: cases are going to take a back seat to character development. There will be a sharper focus on the mediator herself, and the rest of the main cast. "I'm somebody who has never liked procedurals. So at the end of the day, I try everything I can to make this not a procedural because I just can't stand them," Shahi says. "I think the way to make that work with this show is that the other actors have more screen time than they did last year." Kate's fellow lawyers Lauren, Justin and Ben will be the focal point on cases, not the guest stars they're representing and/or prosecuting.
There will also be plenty of personal drama along the way — Justin will pursue the district attorney's office and Lauren and Kate will become roommates — but this time mixing in many more laughs. "I started out in comedy and it's always been something I love to do and love to watch," Ocko says. "What I love about the show is that we can do both and it doesn't feel jarring. The tone of our show is, it's a funny show but you believe that it's really happening."
To that end, they've recruited new cast member Ryan Johnson to play Ben, the firm's new ruthless wise-cracking hire and the polar opposite of Kate. "They are both extremists in that the sense that they are both very passionate about what they believe in — but Ben believes in money and Kate believes in what's right," Shahi says.
Ocko fondly remembers when Johnson came in to audition for the role. "Every time in the scene, he would call her 'Katie' and she would correct him and say, 'It's Kate.' For 99 of those 100 guys, they would all go, 'OK, Kate' and move on," he says. "Ryan said, 'OK, Karen' and then he grabbed her bagel and started eating it. It was just natural for him."
Ben will also turn Justin and Kate's will-they-or-won't-they dance into a full-blown love triangle. "It just felt like we needed to put some new challenges in front of Kate and test the Justin relationship," Ocko says. "As much as they were going back and forth, it's nice to have someone come in who really makes them re-evaluate what they have."
Ocko is confident fans both new and old will like what they see. "This has just been a real exciting chance to take everything that was great last season and add to it," he says. "[In terms of tone], we are a different show. But if you liked last season, I'd say you'll love this season even more."