Interview With Aaron Korsh Creator & Showrunner of ‘Suits’

CDL Exclusive: Interview With Aaron Korsh Creator of 'Suits'

Aaron Korsh serves as executive producer, writer and creator of SUITS, the ongoing hit that was last summer’s hot new drama series. In creating SUITS, Korsh relied on his experiences at The Wharton School and on his subsequent career as an investment banker in Manhattan during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In fact, SUITS was originally set in the world of Wall Street, until USA redeveloped it, placing the original characters in the often rigid world of procedural law. Korsh recently talked to Celeb Dirty Laundry about how this show came to be and what viewers can expect in season 2 of SUITS.

How did you come up with the idea for Suits?

It was around the time of the writers’ strike. It was just ending. I think it was like 2007. And I’d been a writer’s assistant, I’d been staffed a few times in the comedy world but I was struggling. It was hard to make it and my agent suggested to me that I write a show about my time – I worked on Wall Street as an investment banker for about – in New York for about five years. So he said I was always telling him stories about those times, why don’t I write something about that? Basically just to write a spec pilot to try to get a job. I originally thought it was going to be a half hour, very fun type of thing, almost like Entourage on Wall Street. When I sat down to write it, it kind of just came out the way it was as an hour long show with more dramatic bent to it than comedic and that’s, you know, that’s kind of what it was. I don’t know if it’s widely known or not but my first boss’s name was Harvey. I was 21. He was about 26 but he seemed like so much older than me. So that’s where the impetus for the show came from.

What has helped you to create the character of Mike? He is brilliant but has such empathy towards people.

I was a kid, I grew up. I just did well academically. I had an excellent memory. I did not have a photographic memory. I couldn’t read and (recite) it to you. But I was able to do very well academically with little to no effort and it was both I would say a blessing and a curse. Like in some ways I could do really well but it put this pressure on me to do really well without trying. Or I kind of put that pressure on myself because – to impress people and show them how smart I was. But that’s where Mike’s thinking, you know, when Harvey in the pilot says you’re not as smart as you think you are and that’s his biggest fear is that he’s not really as smart as he thinks he is. So that kind of comes from my biggest fear. Growing up I had that kind of past. In addition to that I – since this call is being taped I’m going to say I may or may not have done a lot – smoked a lot of pot in my life. And because of that, you know, even though I ended up, you know, going to a good school and I did work on Wall Street and everybody at that first firm that I worked at, it wasn’t like a dictate but everybody either went to Harvard, Yale or Wharton the Harvard guys hired Harvard guys, the Yale guys hired Yale guys and Wharton guys hired Wharton guys. But, you know, I was like smoking pot while I was working there and I always felt – I felt like a fraud. Now obviously I went to Wharton and I graduated but the Mike character is based on feelings that I had of feeling like a fraud and using drugs and just being dissatisfied with my situation in spite of being able outwardly, to do well and keep up the job so to speak. So that’s where the Mike character was born. Now I feel like – I don’t know that I have the empathy that Mike does but, you know, we grew up in a town that had people of all different – it was just outside Philadelphia and it was all different socioeconomic backgrounds and all different (kids). And you just – you weren’t allowed to get away with being too above people, right? You were just living with a lot of different people of all kinds. And it kind of taught me that when you have a person in front of them they’re a person. They’re not above you. They’re not beneath you. They’re just another person so you relate to them. So I think that’s where Mike’s empathy comes from. But I – we amped that up because, you know, it made him – if you’re going to have someone that’s cocky it helps that they also care about other people I think. when I first started working on Wall Street I was 21. I had this mentor Harvey, and to me everything was so important back then. Like I was only 21 but it’s your first job and it seems so important.

Will you ever base this show on real cases?

We try not to use real cases just because, you know what, we don’t – our depiction of the law – my rule has always been it doesn’t have to be real, it just kind of has to seem real because sometimes the way it would be, you know, in reality is just not as interesting or exciting. So we try to stay away from real cases. Sometimes obviously we’ll know about a case or about something that will inspire us to, you know, use a little piece of something. But for the most part we just make them up.

What do you think it is in this show that viewers’ find so relatable?

I think what people tend to like is they seem to like the banter of most of the characters but in particular, Mike with Harvey. And then as the show grows people seem to love Donna and they root for Mike and Rachel and Jenny and, you know, to kind of see who he’s going to end up with. I think people love Harvey. You know, I think everyone seems to find a character, who is a fan of the show at least, finds a character that they relate to and that they see some part of themselves in. I think that’s probably the success of the show.

Since Suits is truly your baby, your idea, etc. is it hard to hand it over to a full creative team?

Yes. But there are only so many hours in the day. And it’s not possible, you know one of the things – I went to a show runner training program that the Writers’ Guild has. It’s an excellent thing. I went to it last year. And you – it is not possible to maintain control over every aspect of a show. It’s just – it’s not humanly possible. Editing, writing, casting, you know, it’s no way. So you have to pick and choose where you’re going to be at any given time. And the good news is, is that the writers are amazing. Like when I go in there the things they pitch me I’m just like that’s amazing. Let’s do that. So, you know, obviously would I love to be able to have more of an impact on everything? I would. But what I try to do is the final write of every script, you know, kind of – I have a big impact on that obviously, which impacts dialog and jokes and quotes and things like that. And then in the edit phase I make a lot of choices about what we’re going to do. The writers just do so much and you know I need them.

How do you decide which stories running through your mind are really worth telling?

Most of the time – at the beginning of the year I’m in the writers’ room with the writers and we’re all thinking together. I’ll go home and I’ll literally just close my eyes and just start imagining things and I’ll come – at some point something will hit me and I’ll say this is what we’re going to do for the beginning of the year. And then we’ll, you know, we’ll kind of arc out the season together. But it’s usually like people are pitching me ideas and I just try to synthesize them and kind of say this is what feels right to me. But then as the year goes by I am able to spend less and less time in the writers’ room because I’m rewriting the current episode or casting or editing or whatever and then the writers take over and they really pitch me, you know, the current, you know, they’ll pitch me a few episodes in a row. And then I’ll respond just with a gut feel to which of the things I like and which of the things I don’t. Most of the time I like it all. It’s more a matter of just, you know, we can’t do it all so we just have to pick and choose. And then I’ll give them feedback and then they’ll, you know, work with that. And I’ll come back in and that’s usually how it works. And then I’ll just say once we get into the rewriting of the individual episodes we sometimes, you know, really make – we don’t make huge changes but we’ll sometimes say look, I don’t like the ending of this. I don’t want it to be like this. I want to change it. So that can always happen and then that’ll have to ripple through to the next, you know, several episodes.

Was it important to create really strong female characters to help balance out the machismo at the law firm?

You know, it’s funny, I have been told time and again, you know, how awesome our female characters are. And for me – and I love them all. I don’t think in terms of do we need male characters and female characters. I just feel like we live in a – I just feel like it’s a natural thing. That you live in a world, you interact with men and with women and you want to have a rounded out world with people of all genders. And I want all of my characters to be strong and interesting and funny. So I didn’t really say I need to specifically make these, you know, great female characters. I just wanted to populate a realistic world and these are the women that came out. But the one exception I guess now that I’m thinking about that I will say to that is I don’t even know if Gina Torres knows this but originally, in the original pilot the Jessica character was a man. The studio encouraged me to make it a woman. And at first I resisted only because I don’t like change and they were trying to dictate some change to me. And I was like but this is who it is. And then I embraced it and I loved it. Then at some point they questioned it and thought maybe we should put it back to a man. And by then I loved it so much as a woman I thought it was such a great idea that I was like no, we need this character to be a woman.

Looking back on season one, what were some of the things that you wanted to improve upon or do differently in season two?

Oh, that’s a good question. Well, you know, season one – I’ll say, when I originally wrote the pilot they were not lawyers, they were investment bankers. And it was intended to be much more, for lack of a better word, of a – it was like a serialized drama. It wasn’t going to be a case of the week type show. And it’s very difficult to make shows like that on TV these days and USA at the time, did not do that. They needed a procedural element, a case of the week that could be closed ended. So we made – that’s why we made it – that was the impetus for making them lawyers. And in the first season I think we were, you know, encouraged to play the procedural element and what I’ll call the puppy of the week. That’s kind of how they think about it sometimes. So we had – the outside cases were much larger in scope and therefore each episode had – it was more of a stand alone episode. There were certainly serialized elements to it but less so. And in the second season what we wanted to do and with the network’s encouragement was to diminish the procedural aspect, not to make it go away, but to make it, you know, change the percentage so to speak, of it. And I think we’ve, you know, been able to do that, done a good job with doing that. And therefore we’re able to kind of dwell on the character dynamics a little bit more.

So the in the second season, was it always planned to have Mike’s secret revealed in the premier or did you struggle to make the right decision with that?

Well I definitely – there’s no doubt that I struggled. It was during the finale of – the shooting of the finale last year where I was like are we, you know, up until the last minute I was like are we really going to do this? Are we really going to have Trevor come in and tell Jessica? And I wasn’t sure but we thought we’d film it. We could always cut it if we didn’t want to put it in. And I just wanted to assure myself that we’d be able to resolve it in a satisfactory way because it’s one of my, you know, kind of pet peeves when I watch a cliffhanger and then you come back and they kind of ignore it or change it or something. So I think, you know, I struggled with the decision but I was confident that we – for me that we made the right decision. If I wasn’t going to reveal Mike’s secret to Jessica I would have taken out Trevor coming into the firm because then I would have felt that you got ripped off.

How much of a challenge is it to balance what’s going to happen with Mike amid what could happen to Harvey and Jessica with Hardman in the picture?

It’s a big challenge. We are constantly, you know, I have to say the writers that are in the room, you know, now and much of the day just do an amazing job of coming up with ideas and things to handle. They always come up with more ideas than it’s possible to fit into a season. So we just try to balance like you say, moving forward in a satisfactory way without going so far and so fast that you don’t still have a place to go. So it’s a big challenge and they generate, you know, the lion’s share of the ideas come from them. And then I’ll respond to those ideas and try to shape them as best I can while at the same time working on, you know, the episodes that are kind of about to be shot.

Did something maybe happen between Harvey and Donna in the past?

It’s interesting, you know, you’re – we do keep alluding to it. Here’s the thing. I have in my head an idea of their past history if any. But like kind of, you know, I have a story in my head that happened with them in the past that is slowly being revealed over time. However, the story that I have in my head it’s like it evolves. And sometimes as I say, we’re just writing something and something comes out. I’ll say for example we were, you know, kind of doing the rewrite on Episode 9 just a couple of days ago and some more alluding to their past came out. And we keep kind of peeling back small layers of it. But you’re right, we have left open what really happened. I in my head, still have a story that is consistent with everything we’ve said so far. But it’s interesting to me how when we say something different people will watch it and be positive that it means one thing or another. And I’ll sometimes get tweets that say, you know, you can’t – you said this. And I’ll go back and I’ll watch it and I’ll say no, we didn’t exactly say that. But you took that meaning from it which I like. But yeah, in my mind they at least skirted with the idea of having something happen is the best I can say.

What can we expect to see in terms of a back-story between Harvey and Donna and how will it affect the grand scheme of things?

Excellent question. Well I’ll start with the second part first, the relationship playing into the grand scheme of things. It’s a good question. I mean for me I don’t really have – I’m assuming you’re meaning going forward or you mean how does it play into it going backward? Going forward. I don’t have an answer for going forward because as of currently, you know, right now they’re – I mean their relationship as Harvey to Donna, boss to secretary obviously is a pivotal key going forward. We don’t currently have any plans through, you know, the end of the 16 this year to take them in a romantic direction moving forward. I think that would – that will be tough to do in the early seasons of this show because I think it just would. I mean I was a huge fan of LA Law and I know Arnie Becker, you know, when he got together with Roxanne, I think was her name, it had to happen late in the season because what did that guy do once he’s with her? It caused problems for me. So I don’t think in the near future they’re going to be getting together. But as far as shedding light on their past relationships we’ve got a lot of exploration of that in the next few episodes coming up. Their past history is going to be at least danced around. And their feelings towards each other are going to be explored in five, a little bit six, seven, not too much eight and then more in nine. So you’ll definitely get more light shed on their relationship. What tends to happen I will say, and I’m not sure if this is my style because I don’t really consciously mean to do this but oftentimes the more we answer a question the more it just leads to more questions and I like that we do that but I don’t really mean to do that on purpose. And I’ll use for as an example when Rachel and Donna are talking in the finale last year and Donna gives her cryptic answer, you know, because you can never go back, in – when it was originally written it was originally written to communicate they never fooled around. They made a decision one time not to do it and this is why. But the way she played it, it just opened a lot of questions. It was like is she telling the truth or what really happened? So that tends to be how they play it and how it comes out.

Have you been inspired to start working on any future projects?

Somebody just asked me that on Twitter the other day. My answer was I can barely keep my shit together with Suits. You know, I have a lot of ideas for other things but the truth is, you know, I have a two – a just over two year old son. We just had a baby daughter about three weeks ago. And that combined with Suits, I get about five hours sleep a night and I cannot think at this time of doing anything else.

Make sure you tune in tonight at 10/9c to catch an new episode of  SUITS on USA Network!  Tonight’s episode is called –  “Discovery.” On tonight’s show Travis Tanner (guest star Eric Close) rolls back into town, gunning for Harvey. His shenanigans force both Harvey and Jessica to hide the ball from Daniel Hardman (guest star David Costabile). Louis and Mike finally see eye to eye, but will Louis’ paranoia cause him to damage not just his budding friendship with Mike, but his standing at the firm?

Check out the sneak peek video below!