By Katherine James
This week’s episode of Bull involves another criminal case – with Dr. Bull and his crack trial consulting team working on the side of the defense once more. This week I was really struck by the fact that we as television viewers are just not used to “the good guys” working on the side of criminal defendants. Dick Wolf and his myriad of Law And Order franchises really have been centered on prosecutors and police officers and detectives as the good guys and the “accused” as the bad guys. As is almost every show that involves the law since Perry Mason. In this episode, Dr. Bull starts out working for the prosecution and then ends up working for the defense (yes, conflict of interest is one of the many OompaLoompas* in this fantastical episode). It allows us to see the M&M* that trial consultants are used in criminal cases by both the prosecution and the defense in real life.
There were two nuggets of truth that I found in this week’s episode that I often work with while helping to prepare witnesses. First, early in the episode, Dr. Bull (the as ever delightful Michael Weatherly asks the unjustly accused defendant (the character of Richard played by guest star Zach Appelman “Do you feel guilty about something?” This particular case deals with a coerced confession. Something that happens often in real life but not so often on Law And Order. However, I find this feeling of doing something wrong when there was no wrong-doing on the part of the witness happens all the time. When working through a story, there is often what I call a “V-8” moment for a witness. I call it this in honor of the television commercial from my childhood where there is some poor deluded person drinking a plain old glass of tomato juice who suddenly hits himself or herself in the head and says to the camera, “ARGH! I could have had a V-8!” I usually uncover it by saying, “I know what you are thinking right now. You are thinking…’if only’….” And sure as whatever day of the week you are reading this has a “y” in it the person will fill that blank in with something he or she thinks that they themselves did wrong. I’ve heard everything from, “If only I had picked him up out of that emergency room and run him to another hospital” (Medical Malpractice) to “If only I hadn’t made a deal with that guy” (Contract Dispute Case) to “If only I hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning” (many, many, many cases). Dr. Bull points out although Richard thinks he should have made a “different choice” (in this case, having a fight with his fiancé who ends up as the murder victim)– making choices doesn’t mean Richard committed the murder.Of course, since he is Dr. Bull and this is television and not real life, he convinces him in a moment. In real life, it takes A LOT to convince a person that his or her own behavior couldn’t have magically prevented the event that led to the lawsuit or the crime. Sometimes no matter how hard the lawyer I am working with and I try, I just can’t convince the person that they have no responsibility for the horrible thing that happened. I think the saddest time for me is even after our side wins, that a witness will sigh and say in the midst of the victory, “If only I hadn’t….”
The other thing that Dr. Bull said in this episode to Richard was, “That’s the Richard we need to see in court – confident – the real you.” I have said often that we have many different personalities and that in witness preparation I am looking for the person within the small repertory company that is inside the witness who is going to be the best witness. Richard in this episode looks a heck of a lot like a guilty, sad, overwhelmed person most of the time. Even though he didn’t kill his girlfriend. When he displays his confident side (while making a gourmet meal in a meeting room in jail while showing off his culinary skills as a young up and coming chef – how can you not love OompaLoompas?) he truly looks like a completely different person. Instead of building “the confident Richard” persona through lots of role playing practice (that is what we really spend several hours doing when making M&M’s) in a subsequent scene Dr. Bull points out to Richard that he’ll never make it as a witness and shouldn’t testify. When I’ve been brought in it is because this witness is going to have to take the stand. And it takes a lot of hard work instead of bullying (forgive the pun) and taking over to get witnesses ready. But…that certainly wouldn’t be interesting television. I get it.
Now…for the Hollywood Insider tip. I was thinking this week about how much of this show is shot on sets that have been specifically designed and built for the show versus standard sets that have been “rented” for the show. When you look at any hour long show, you can see that very little of it is shot on location – and most of the location shots seem to me to be outdoors. The set for Dr. Bull’s fantastical headquarters was clearly built just for this show and is on a sound stage in a studio somewhere.
I don’t know if the shot this week of the dumpster and alley where the crime scene takes place is a real live location (think Law and Order and how many of the streets of New York we know because of that show) or maybe just a spot in the studio where the sound stage with that fantastical Dr. Bull’s Headquarters set lives. Sometimes I can tell what lot on which one of these scenes is shot. For example, when a scene is shot on one of the “streets” of the lot of what was once MGM Studios and is now Sony Studios in Culver City (where we live) sometimes I see a dead giveaway – like the steps where Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn first met when they were contract players at MGM. Of course, that always makes me scream with delight no matter what the show is and whether or not I am on an airplane at the moment (much to the consternation of my fellow passengers).
There are a whole series of courtroom sets out here near Valencia, California – so I don’t know if they built their own courtroom set for Bull or if they just rent one of those. My sister, Caroline James is a television producer. I had a blast once visiting her on the set when she was producing Raising The Bar. She rented those studios out in Valencia. More courtrooms than many courthouses I’ve visited. Or maybe that’s just how I remember that very special day.
Now, for this week’s mystery set for me – the elevator. There is a scene that involves an elevator (and extreme jury tampering by Dr. Bull for those who prefer reality to fantasy) and I can’t tell if it was just built for this episode or if it is a rental. You see,you can’t have a real elevator – where would you put the cameras? You need to be able to configure it so that you can shoot from above (looking down at the heads of all the people – a common elevator shot), from the back of the elevator (looking at the buttons or what it looks like when the elevator doors open) and, of course, from the front (elevator doors closing AND what goes on inside the elevator, which is where the action centers in this episode). There are such sets with set pieces in various sound stages around our neck of the woods. I remember Alan coming home once from a shoot and he was on an airplane in that particular show. There is a cutaway airplane that serves that purpose for many shows and is available for rental right now – unless someone else is using it today, of course.
Next week is Episode 6 – it will be interesting to see yet again “What’s Not Bull About Bull”. This week had a lot of fantasy for those who like a distinct lack of realism in their television viewing – but as always, those nuggets of truth come shining through.
*Remember – an “OompaLoompa” has been defined by me as a fantastical way to get the thin candy coating on a round milk chocolate candy versus the factual way they are made by the Hershey folks at the M&M’s factory. Now, you know I would really much rather see the upcoming musical on Broadway of WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY than visit the M&M’s factory. But I deal in making real live “M&M’s”, as do my fellow trial consultants at The American Society of Trial Consultants.