Bull (CBS) pilot preview: This is NOT The Good Wife’s successor

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Created and executive produced by Paul Attanasio (Dr House, Homicide, Donnie Brasco, Disclosure) & Phil McGraw (Dr Phil, The Doctors). Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (In Treatment, Big Love, Six Feet Under). Also executive produced by Jay McGrawJustin Falvey & Darryl Frank (The Americans, Under The Dome, Extant, Terra Nova). For CBS, CBS Television Studios, Stage 29 Prods & Amblin Television. 65 pages.

Description: Based on Dr Phil McGraw’s early days. Dr Jason Bull, a psychologist on top of his game, head of Trial Sciences, Inc., one of the most prolific trial consulting services of all time, provide with his team of experts the best help you need to prove your innocence or defend your case… 

With Michael Weatherly (NCIS, Dark Angel), Freddy Rodriguez (The Night Shift, Ugly Betty, Six Feet Under), Christopher Jackson, Geneva Carr, Jaime Lee Kirchner (Mercy, The Mob Doctor)…

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This year, CBS has apparently decided to put a drama pilot against one another and pick-up the best (or the easiest one to market). For their police procedural needs, it’s probably Nancy Drew against MacGyver; on the action side, it’s Training Day against Four Stars; in the medical genre, it was supposed to be Bunker Hill against Sensory, but the latter has been pushed to a fall shooting, so now it’s more of Bunker Hill against a possible Code Black season 2; and in the legal department, to succeed to The Good Wife, it’s Doubt –rolled from last year with a new pilot– against Bull. It’s writers from Grey’s Anatomy against the so famous and beloved Dr Phil. It’s Katherine Heigl against Michael Weatherly, who’s just departing from hit NCIS. There’s still a chance CBS orders both, especially since both are said to be well regarded, but if they have to choose just one… I’d say Bull has the upper hand. One thing’s for sure: none of them is the next The Good Wife. None of them is that good. They are both very different and they both bring something to the table. But not something new. And not something people are craving for.

Bull is kind of a nightmare to me, as a reader. It’s one thing to watch a procedural, it’s another one to read a procedural script, especially when it’s a pilot. Trust me. It can get very boring very fast. You’re thrown into this world where you have a hundred of characters, most of them already know each other, there are the lawyers, the consultants, the clients… Their personnality is described in one sentence. You don’t get to learn much more about them as the episode progresses since they are not here to talk about their problems and fears and god knows what else but to solve a case, help other people. So you tend to confound them. You even have a hard time remembering their names. And there’s this hero you are forced to like by the writers, because he has a sense of humor and because whatever he says or does he’s a good person inside. And the show is co-wrote by the person who inspired him so it means the grey areas of the character are not that grey. And the whole thing is just not pleasant to read. Bull‘s script is certainly not a page turner, but as the case evolves, with some twists and turns on the way, it becomes interesting. The closing argument part is really strong, for example. Too late probably. But it’s better later than never, I guess.

Bull is not your typical legal drama though, and for one good reason: the heroes are not the lawyers but the people helping the lawyers decide which strategy is the best, based on complex psychological analysis and mock trials. The TSI headquarters are a giant place with fake courtrooms, focus-group rooms with a one-way glass, a graphic design studio, a computer reasearch room… And all they do all day is analyse the jurors. Imagine the outcomes. And of course, sometimes, they are the ones who investigate and discover the truth. Because the show has to resemble to a police procedural at some point, whether it’s accurate about this job or not. Come on, we’re on CBS! I thought it was all very exhausting in the end. It’d be great for a special episode of a legal show. Or if it was just one department inside a firm with a larger story. But following these people doing this load of work every week? Nope. Then again, maybe it’s just me…

And you know what else I didn’t appreciate? The overwhelming writing. It overflows with details and ideas. People are too often talking at the same time, in front of the camera for “interviews”. Too many split screens. Too many montages, of Instagram photos for example. One montage in particular I hated: Bull having “moments” with his team. Bull laughing with someone. Bull hugging this other someone. Bull lunching with her and her. Bull smoking with him… The writers may have thought this montage was enough to show us how close Bull is with his team members, how cool a person he is. But no. It’s so lazy and so fake! We don’t really care about him, except if you’re a huge fan of Dr Phil, maybe. That’s where casting Weatherly is a brilliant idea. Not that he is an exceptional actor, but people love him, presumably, so the character suddenly sounds more interesting than he is on the page. The other characters are all the same for now.

Is CBS capable of rejecting a pilot with Michael Weatherly as the lead? I don’t think so. To bank on NCIS success, they will order it no matter what. Does it make sense? Do NCIS fans can be interested in Bull? I don’t have the answer since I don’t get why they watch NCIS in the first place, for 14 years! But I’m pretty sure Bull is not that a solid legal drama and shouldn’t move further in a better world. But it will. So all bets are off!

17 comments

  1. Di says:

    This site reviews scripts. If you aren’t interested in script reviews or find them pointless, why are you even reading them?

  2. V says:

    Actually, I was never in a closet. As a matter of fact, I am so excited about this pilot, that I have formed a facebook group for fans of the various members of the cast to follow its progress. I would surmise that I am pretty solidly “out”. But what that has to do with anything is beyond me. It is *my* interest which garnered your site hit$, am I right? If so, my interest in NCIS and/or Michael Weatherly is in your best interests, unless I totally missed how this whole internet entertainment rag thing worked. 😉

    Besides, what is there to admit? We aren’t the one presenting a slanted article to the interwebz. LOL!

    I’m merely fascinated at your interpretation of good TV via a sole script, in light of the many contributing factors which go into bringing a show to life. Where have I said anything about any other previews? How do you know where my interests lie beyond this one show? Dismissing me with a snotty attitude only reflects upon yourself. I was not rude towards you. I expect the same respect. You are the one who put your opinion out into the ether to be reacted to, after all, so don’t get cranky now that others find your obvious biases amusing.

    • Lulla says:

      So, who have bias here? Certainly not me! I write on MY webstite MY opinion about a script I read. I’m not saying MY vision is THE vision everyone should have. But I’m not sorry for not liking it and expressing why. As I do the same when I love a script, which happens too. And I know, and people who read should know, that it has to be taken with a grain of salt because we all agree on this: a script is not the actual pilot. And I never said the contrary. All I’m saying is I don’t have any bias about this potential TV show. So stop accusing me of it! That’s pretty simple. Then we can have any debate you want. I don’t have any problem with it. And when I said you were on the closet, I’m talking about in here, in your comments. Not anywhere else. I don’t know you. I don’t know where you come from. There is no website or fan page attached to your name. But it was clear from the get go you’re here to defend an actor. An actor that I didn’t attack by the way. I even said how much he is valuable to CBS…

      When you think about it, do you feel it’s normal creating a facebook fan page about a show you haven’t even seen yet? If you find my review ridiculous, not making sense, let me tell you yours doesn’t either.

      • Ana says:

        Oh wow – still at it I see…

        In case you haven’t heard, part of the ratings system is about to include social media mentions. Also in case you haven’t heard, more networks are attempting to garner support for shows & pilots by generating ‘buzz’ before a pilot airs. Kind of like what people who own websites like to see happen to their sites – especially when they rely on ads being seen to help pay for said sites.

        Having a new show already garners support from the fans of the various cast members can only mean *good* things for both the show & the network. More buzz = higher ad fees. More buzz = better chance of a season pickup since the pilot will have higher ratings.

        Now here’s the payoff question for you. Listen carefully now – how do you think said ‘buzz’ is created? Think about it….

        • Lulla says:

          Ana, you’re becoming kind of ridiculous, trying to teach me things I already know and talking to me as if I was the dumbest person on the planet. Plus, I think you’re going a bit too far and you certainly don’t understand what I’m saying. I’m not gonna repeat myself again and again. It gets tiring.
          In case you haven’t heard, networks don’t decide on their pick-ups whether they have buzz or not. Most of the pilots don’t, by the way. Not so many people, especially those who actually watch pilots, know about those before they are picked-up! It’s better to have some, of course. But their decision is not solely based on that, of course.
          That being said, you can do whatever you want with Bull like create a fan page. It’s okay for me. But just don’t tell me what I can or can’t do. This review is legit. I give MY opinion, and I couldn’t care less if you like it or not. I’m not here to please a fan base. And remember, bad publicty is still publicity.
          By the way, 70% of my previews have been more read than this one. Maybe “Bull” doesn’t interest this much after all…

  3. Ana says:

    HHHMMMM…
    First off, I don’t see the draw of Good Wife. It’s BORING. Been boring since day 1.
    Second off, the bias against Bull for whatever list of reasons is blatant throughout this ‘article’. Not sure if it’s because of the lead or any number of other reasons.
    Third, I’d suggest to be taken seriously the author get an editor before posting. As an editor, I found *many* sentence structure and grammatical mistakes which took away from the ability to read this as well as taking the point of view presented within seriously.

    • Lulla says:

      Good Wife is one of the best show out there, or at least was. Period.
      No bias against Bull. Or against Michael Weatherly. I couldn’t care less about him. But I’m guessing you’re a fan. So of course, if someone doesn’t like this script starring your idol, it’s because he has bias. Stupid thinking!
      Sorry for the mistakes. Doing my best, as english is not my first-speaking language.

          • Ana says:

            No it really isn’t….
            Especially since you most likely would never have gone down that route if I hadn’t pointed out how visible your bias was to a total stranger.

      • Ana says:

        Couldn’t be more wrong….
        Good Wife is clearly your favorite – hence the bias.
        He’s not my ‘idol’. But given your comments about the show he is currently leaving, the bias comment had to be expected because it really was quite glaring.
        The editor comment stands. Everyone who writes can benefit from an editor whether English is their first language or not.

        • Lulla says:

          Whether Good Wife is my favorite or not -it is, among a few others, and it’s my right!- I don’t see what’s your problem with this. I’m just comparing the CBS legal drama which is ending to the one that might start soon. But if Bull was good, i’d have no problem writing it. I just read another bad review of the script. I guess I’m not crazy… It’s just not that good. And coming from someone who apparently didn’t read it, I don’t really get why you’re even suggesting I have bias. Read it and we’ll see who has bias then…

          • Ana says:

            I’d imagine if you read a script from Good Wife, you’d also say it was boring. But then that’s hoping you’d realize that the purpose of the cast is to bring the life & emotion to the written word. Scripts are not supposed to convey any of that.

            As far as reading the script, no thank you. What’s in the script is hardly ever what actually appears in the finished product and that is what ultimately will decide whether a show/movie/episode is successful or not.

            Those who review an entire show premise via script generally aren’t reviewing the actual show but the talent of the writer or their own ability to comprehend what they read.

          • Lulla says:

            Of course I realize it, and of course I know things change sometimes between the script and the actual pilot! But you’re wrong when you say “scripts are not supposed to convey” emotion. They do! When they’re good… Which is not the case here, sadly. And I hear you. Yes, it seems like a strange thing judging a script and not the actual pilot, but that’s the whole concept of this website. Either you like it or not. And remember, that’s what’s people inside the networks have to do before ordering a pilot… There’s a moment when you have to judge the script!

          • V says:

            Since when has someone agreeing with an opinion meant anything? Even majorities can be woefully wrong.

            Had you *read* THE sight unseen instead of watched it your reaction could have been the same as it is now with Bull. I could never get into TGW. I do find it strange to preview, and really slam, a pilot based upon a script, which can go through any number of revisions before a group of actors brings it to life. What is on the written page can turn out totally differently in reality, especially in the hands of a troupe such as they have assembled.

            What you have complained about only increases my excitement to see this show come to fruition. Thank you!

          • Lulla says:

            Oh, another NCIS/michael Weatherly fan comes out of the closet! Well. Not really. None of you can admit apparently. That’s where your problem comes from. Other good previews don’t interest you much.

    • Mary says:

      A few comments:

      1) If you are presenting yourself as someone with a credible opinion on a topic and English is not your first language though you are using it, get a native speaker to act as editor to proof-read your post before you upload it. This comment is not a personal attack; it’s a good professional recommendation. The kinds of structural errors in your post are distracting and genuinely undermine your position. There are boards on reddit where you can get free help with proof-reading. Getting snarky with people who point it out is bad form.

      2) I don’t recommend including passive-aggressive attacks on one show then throwing a hissy fit in return when you get comments; again, it is bad form. There are a lot of people who did not watch or care for THE GOOD WIFE. It’s also a critcical bubble show; it doesn’t rank in the top 20 and worse doesn’t crack the top 100 in the 18-49 demographic. 18 million people across all age groups love NCIS domestically; I lost interest in it but I don’t dismiss the show’s power to try and get some kind of critical gravitas from it. Again, it undermines your credibility.

      3) The demographic with the money and purchasing power is not the hipster-millenial; it’s the plus 30s. If a network using a traditional broadcast model wants their time and therefore advertisers, it must be something that viewing segment can commit to on a regular basis. That demographic likes procedurals; they are the demographic that powered NCIS, CRIMINAL MINDS, CSI, H50, and BONES on Fox among others. They also watched HOUSE and watch THE AMERICANS and LUCIFER, which means they like things with characters who are what we could charitably call misanthropic. They enjoy mind games. They like the passive who-how-done-it.

      4) The lead *must* be likeable. Weatherly tops the Q ratings, has a built-in fan base and a good track record. He is apparently great to work with and he can sell a show. Most of the credit for selling NCIS internationally is attributed to Weatherly. The money from the international market is vital to the business. To be blunt: Heigl is the polar opposite. Viewers often judge whether to try a new show based on those in it. Advertisers care about that and put their money where the draw is. This is a business, after all.

      5) Don’t judge a book by its cover. The pilot script for both HOUSE and THE WEST WING had similar isues. It isn’t until you see a talky script on screen with actors breathing life into it that you can tell whether it is going to flow well. The network that rejected both shows has learnt that lesson well.

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