‘Bull’ Showrunner Answers Burning Questions About Michael Weatherly’s Return to CBS

Mandi Bierly
Deputy Editor, Yahoo TV

Fans of Michael Weatherly weren’t necessarily ready to see him leave NCIS, but the consolation prize is that he’s now headlining its lead-out show, Bull, premiering Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Weatherly stars as Dr. Jason Bull, a character inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw, when he founded a high-profile trial consulting firm. “There are a number of things we wanted to maintain [for Michael], this levity and a buoyancy to the character,” Bull executive producer Mark Goffman says. “But it’s a very different character [from NCIS‘s Tony DiNozzo]. He also is an incredible observer of human behavior. He can pick up exactly the emotional needs of the client, and everyone on the jury, and the judge, and the prosecution, and figure out exactly how to help craft a jury so that the scales of justice can be tipped in the right direction. We’ve spent a lot of time looking at how to have someone who can manage their own behavior to exactly what the situation requires. If he needs to be alpha, he can. If he needs to sit back and blend in and observe, he can. If he needs to run a con, he can. It’s a really amazing, versatile talent for an actor, and for a character, that we get to play with.”

Goffman answered a few more of our burning questions.

Will Bull’s team feel like a family, like DiNozzo’s colleagues did on NCIS? [Bull’s former brother-in-law (Freddy Rodriguez) serves as a defense attorney in the company’s mock trials; there’s a neurolinguistics expert (Geneva Carr); an investigator (Jaime Lee Kirchner); a hacker (Annabelle Attanasio); and a stylist (Chris Jackson).]
Mark Goffman:
It’s alluded to in the pilot. Bull comes from a difficult family relationship, and what he’s done with this company is created the family that he’s always wanted. They’re quirky and unusual and brilliant, and each of them we’ll get to know a lot better over the course of the season.

How much will we learn about Bull’s personal backstory?
Jason Bull is a very mysterious character. I really like that about him. He’s a very damaged individual himself. He’s pretty private. We actually have a really great episode coming up. It’s about class, and somebody’s on trial who’s dating a billionaire socialite and he didn’t have any money. Throughout that episode, we learn a lot about all of our characters, including Bull and his history and whether he grew up with money or without it. Everyone is speculating whether he did or not because he seems to not really care about money. He takes on the cases that most intrigue him, not necessarily the ones that are going to make him [rich]. It takes a certain kind of individual to live that way.

Here’s this incredible character who has three PhDs and is really a mastermind. He’s funny, he’s charismatic. I think we’re going to get to see him be very playful and charming and, outside of the boundaries of the case, we will get to see him in a lot of really fun situations with women and with relationships.

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Are the clients Bull works for always going to be innocent? Will he always win?
He has an extraordinary track record, and we’ll get into that. There’s an episode where we go to a little town in Texas, which is the only place he’s ever lost a case. That is based on a real town, where the judge, the jury, everything is fixed. He comes in, and it takes him to break down that system. In general, he picks his own cases, which is really nice, so he can decide who he’s going to represent and why a great deal of the time. Very often, they are people who are innocent, but there are also people who were just caught in a really bad situation. Like there’s a man who’s in a car wreck who’s now being accused of manslaughter. What we’re trying to do is find cases that aren’t as simple as, “Let’s get off the wrongly accused.” There are cases that are relevant to what’s going on in America today. There are cases that have nuanced and really interesting twists. We’re really delving into the human psyche and behavior, and that’s both Bull’s expertise and the way into the show. Just really creating unique characters we get to watch and understand every week. Our goal is to really spotlight what’s happening in all different parts of the country in our culture. We don’t want to shy away from anything.

Dr. Phil is an executive producer on the show. How involved is he?
When we first started the writers’ room, we went and actually spent an entire day on the set of Dr. Phil’s show, and he gave us about an eight-hour tutorial on trial science and how he ran his company. They handled everything from Oprah’s mad-cow case, to dozens of oil refinery cases, to flight cases. He has been the inspiration for a number of cases that we’re doing, including the second one, which is about a female pilot. He’s been really terrific and involved in helping us with some of the behavioral science, as well as getting into jury selection and how to influence behavior.

How realistic are the methods and technology used on the show?
Authenticity’s extremely important to us. We want the show to feel authentic. We do a lot of research. We have two lawyers on staff; we have legal consultants. We have other consultants that are trial consultants with the show. We really spend a lot of time to make sure that the storylines are authentic and play out in a realistic way. That said, we want the show to make use of the latest, state-of-the-art [tools] for behavioral science, so the algorithm is an extrapolation because Dr. Phil was obviously doing this 15 years ago, before he had a talk show. We have extrapolated what would be the state of the art if he were doing this today. The firms that we’ve talked to, what kind of things can they do today — taking big data and really processing it to understand human behavior and start to recognize how these juries are formed, how they’re going to behave — that’s been really exciting.

Bull premieres Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. on CBS.