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How ‘Pearson’ Will Usher in a New Storytelling Era When ‘Suits’ Closes Down Shop

When “Suits” closes the file on its final stretch of episodes this fall, it leaves behind a legacy of nine seasons, 134 episodes, two remakes (in Korea and Japan), a slew of international broadcasters, and a royal wedding that transformed series star Meghan Markle into a global, household name.

The July 17 premiere also marks the official end to USA’s once-popular “blue sky” era, as the slick and aspirational characters bid farewell and the network ushers in the grittier “Pearson” spinoff starring Gina Torres on the same night. Both series are produced by UCP.

Clocking in at just 10 episodes, the final season of “Suits” is the shortest run of the series, coming in just behind the first season’s 12-episode order (creator Aaron Korsh says they were asked to do five or six more episodes at the time, but production was gassed). Within that run each of the current series regulars — originals Gabriel Macht, Sarah Rafferty, Rick Hoffman and newer members Katherine Heigl, Amanda Schull and Dulé Hill — will have a dedicated episode to their characters. Meanwhile, the season also welcomes back original lead Patrick J. Adams, who departed alongside Markle at the end of Season 7. His character, Mike Ross, will go head-to-head against the firm in an important case beginning in Episode 5.

“It was hard to imagine a last season without Mike,” Korsh says. “At the beginning of the year when all the writers sat down there was no one that didn’t think getting him back was a huge goal of the season. I wouldn’t say it would be a failure if we didn’t get him back, but I always knew I wanted him back for this last season.”

What wasn’t necessarily a goal for Korsh was a final season that explores what Harvey (Macht) and Donna (Rafferty) look like as colleagues and now also as a romantic couple. The showrunner admits at one point he was saving that pairing for a potential series finale but, like most storylines he’s written over the years, it was delivered earlier than originally expected because it fit with the overall direction. As for the finale itself, Korsh was still working on it at time of press, readying both the overall script and also preparing to direct the episode, marking the first time he’s stepping behind the camera.

“We weren’t trying to make an Extra Special Season of ‘Suits.’ It’s the same as every year: We always try to tell the best stories that we can,” he says. “For the finale there might be a little extra, but I try to do that with most finales, each year. I didn’t want to make it different, that’s not my style of show. There’s a lot of humor, and our people feel for the most part, good with each other.”

That “blue sky” approach to drama has been extinct for a couple of years now at USA, with legacy series like “Burn Notice” and “Royal Pains” ending, and bolder storytelling featuring darker, millennial-friendly twists like “Mr. Robot” and “Queen of the South” punctuating the schedule. “Suits” has been the flagship series that evolved throughout that “characters welcome” to the “we the bold” transition, putting its characters through the ringer. While it still utilized humor and bright cinematography, it also began tackling more serialized storylines and, in Season 6, even followed Adams’ character to jail, where his life was on the line.

Viewers can expect to see more of that kind of storytelling on “Pearson,” as Torres’ Jessica Pearson character — now disbarred and living in Chicago — becomes a fixer of sorts for the shady mayor Bobby Golec (Morgan Spector) and assembles her own team including assistant Yoli Castillo (Isabel Arraiza) and driver Nick D’Amato (Simon Kassianides). Not only is the overall story tone darker, but the cinematography and exterior night shoots also match that grittier theme.

“Whereas ‘Suits’ has an aspirational and a kind of shiny quality — it’s lawyers that look good and they’re often dealing in the upper echelon or the 1% — we really wanted to do a show that was a little more raw, a little more real, and there could be a more of an upstairs-downstairs quality to it,” showrunner Daniel Arkin, who also serves as a producer on “Suits,” says.

He adds that the designated tone allows for a more complex character drama in which they can also tackle overall themes of race, social issues, and politics, so long as those themes remain a backdrop to the storylines and characters that are being presented.

“What we’re trying to do, in a macro sense, is capture what’s going on in the country, what’s going on in urban cities. A lot of season one deals with homelessness and housing, which is an enormous issue,” he says. “But to me that only works if it’s backdrop. I never want it to be the subject matter; I don’t want that to drive the story.”

Torres, who conceptualized the spinoff after leaving the Toronto-shot “Suits” in the middle of Season 6 to be closer to her family in L.A., wanted to dig into the character because she felt like she “never really got to know who Jessica was” on “Suits.” In addition to starring in the spinoff she has had a heavy hand in the development of it as an executive producer. She realized the Yoli and Nick characters were specifically important to her: Nick — in addition to being an ambiguous figure in the “Pearson” world — serves as a fly-on-the-wall in terms of what Jessica does during her downtime, and Yoli is partially derived from Torres’ own experiences.

“Yoli is born out of my Donna envy. I always wanted a Donna, and so I got my Donna. Yoli is a millennial and she’s really green and she’s really awesome. It was also incredibly important to me that she’d be Latina,” Torres says. “I knew exactly how I wanted our characters to meet, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the show because it’s ripped from the pages of my life.”

Torres and Arkin reveal the “Pearson” characters are more morally ambiguous than those presented on “Suits,” so while there are some smaller crossovers and Easter eggs for viewers tuning into both shows, the two worlds are too tonally different to have “Suits” characters cross over in the first season. The creators are open to the idea in the future should it make sense, though, and would also consider pulling in some of the notorious guest-starring characters from the universe as well.

“It was important for us to move into something else. It’s a legacy piece, it’s not a sequel. It’s not ‘Suits Jr.,’” Torres says. “Jessica is really quite capable of standing on her own as a persona, as a character, in a new, fascinating world. As much as we would love for our ‘Suits’ audience to move in and come along with that, we’re also looking forward to new people. You don’t have to be a fan of ‘Suits’ to be a fan of ‘Pearson.’”

The final season of “Suits” and the premiere of “Pearson” air Wednesday, July 17 on USA.

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