Aaron Korsh will admit it. The first time through, in the tug-of-war between his head and his heart, his head won.
Korsh is the creator, executive producer and main writer of USA’s hit legal drama Suits—which has its second-season finale Feb. 21—but he began his career far from Hollywood. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business in 1988, Korsh reluctantly followed the conventional career path and accepted a job on Wall Street. “I was trying to make money rather than trying to discover what made me happy,” he says.
Korsh worked in investment banking for five years. But the death of a close friend prompted him to reevaluate his life. He quit the job, eventually moved to Los Angeles and discovered a passion for writing.
And yet he is grateful for the experience, since business was the inspiration for Suits, his big break in TV. It was originally penned as a Wall Street drama until USA Network, which bought the script in 2008, requested that it be re-imagined as a legal show to align better with the net’s desire to develop more procedural series.
It took Korsh two years to rewrite the script to retain the original essence he desired. “We added just enough about the law to make you believe they were lawyers,” he says.
Alex Sepiol, USA Network senior VP, original scripted series programming, was impressed by Korsh. “He was fantastically collaborative and wouldn’t accept something that didn’t work for him,” Sepiol says. “He’s so funny and able to inject a wonderfully wry sense of humor.”
Suits—about a lawyer who hires a smart but unmotivated college dropout as his associate—debuted in June 2011 and in its first season averaged 5.8 million total viewers. Part one of the show’s second season premiered last June and averaged 6.0 million viewers, with its summer finale on Aug. 23 hitting a series high. Suits was renewed for a third season in October.
While Korsh says he had no input in USA’s recent Suits VOD marathon strategy (all 22 previously aired episodes were free on VOD, USANetwork.com and Hulu from Thanksgiving until the second season’s winter premiere), he calls it “absolutely brilliant.” The series was sampled 6 million times, according to USA, and it paid off with the Jan. 17 return attracting 3.6 million viewers, up 3% from its previous summer launch and up 34% among the targeted 18-34 demo.
After quitting Wall Street, Korsh traveled for a few years, then landed in California (a native of a Philadelphia suburb, he always sought the warmer climate) and connected with TV writer friends who suggested he get inside a writer’s room to learn the business.
Starting in 1998, he held assistant positions on various sitcoms (beginning with Everybody Loves Raymond). In 2006, he got his first staff writing job on ABC’s Notes From the Underbelly—which was canceled during the writer’s strike. During Suits’ development, Korsh segued into drama as a staff writer on ABC’s short-lived The Deep End.
Even with Suits’ acclaim, Korsh is keenly aware of critics who take issue with the believability of the ingénue character Mike Ross, who is hired at the firm without a degree or passing the bar. “It’s a legitimate critique,” Korsh says. “You have to make the buy. And if you want to, you will.”
Korsh says Ross is emblematic of himself, especially during his Wall Street days where he says he didn’t work hard but got away with it because he was smart. “It made me feel like a fraud,” Korsh recalls. “So having [Ross] be a fraud was a way to externalize [that].”
Sepiol disagrees with the assessment, calling Korsh “a workaholic. He may view himself as lazy because he is never satisfied, but he will continue to work over and over on every script.”
When he’s not working, Korsh spends time with his family and tries to fit in some basketball. He also makes time for his can’tmiss shows Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey, among others.
Because Suits is Korsh’s first series, he admits to finding it consuming and says he likely won’t develop anything new for a few years. Series star Patrick J. Adams feels that being a first-timer makes Korsh a fantastic showrunner. “He has the benefit of learning from others’ mistakes, but is also excited to make his own and learn from them,” Adams says. “He trusts us [actors], and in turn we trust him.”
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