The only thing that ABC's new prison redemption drama For Life has in common with Netflix's Exonerated 5 miniseries When They See Us is that in both cases, the men were wrongly accused, imprisoned, and then eventually had their charges reversed. However, that's pretty much where the similarities end, according to Isaac Wright Jr., the real man whose life inspired the new ABC series. Like the main character, Wright became a lawyer while serving time and worked to have his conviction overturned.
"Money cannot give you back the pricelessness of what you've lost, and the distinction between When They See Us and what happened to me and what I went through, is that I became the system in a way that was triumphant," Wright told reporters at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in January. He is also one of the show's executive producers along with Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Doug Robinson, Hank Steinberg, and Alison Greenspan.
"I was a victim of the system and ultimately became a better part of the system, and so When They See Us is not that kind of story," Wright continued. "And the uniqueness of what For Life is bringing to the audience, that hope and that inspiration that we don't have to continue to be victims of the system, that we can be a part of the system in good and better ways, is going to be a unique experience for the audience."
On the show, which premieres Feb. 11, Aaron Wallace (Nicholas Pinnock) is wrongfully accused of being a drug kingpin and given a life sentence that snatches away his freedom, wife and child. To prove his innocence, Aaron becomes a lawyer while behind bars and not only works to overturn his conviction, but that of other innocent prisoners. For Life also stars Joy Bryant, Indira Varma and Timothy Busfield.
"It's a serialized show with procedural elements inside it," Steinberg said. "You look at the case of the week in the pilot, it's really a three or four beat legal story. It's not a lot of complicated moves, but what it is is incredibly emotional, and that is what is going to distinguish it from any other 'legal procedural dramas.'"
"It's a quest. It's an odyssey, and he's really Odysseus trying to get back home, and that's why it needed to be a show and not a movie," Steinberg added. "This is a hundred chapter novel about this incredible character. There's a defiant element that is running through the heart of the show that I think is what people are connecting to. It's an underdog story."
For Life premieres Tuesday Feb. 11 at 10/9c on ABC
Correction: This story has been updated to include Hank Steinberg and Alison Greenspan as executive producers.