The Big Sky has David E. Kelley adapting C.J. Box’s popular mystery novels, and having the prolific creator behind the ABC crime drama is a genre-changer.
David E. Kelley is famous for his legal dramas, but his next project is pulling him into the TV crime drama world. ABC has ordered a first season of The Big Sky, Kelley’s adaptation of C.J. Box’s novel The Highway, and John Carroll Lynch (The Drew Carey Show) was cast as the co-lead this week.
For crime drama fans, if this series does well, it could be massive news. Kelley is one of the most well-known names in television, and certainly one of the most prolific writer-producers. He’s won multiple Emmy Awards, most recently in 2017 for HBO‘s Big Little Lies.
But in his decades-long career we’ve never really seen him step into the crime drama arena.
The majority of Kelley’s series have been legal shows or medical shows. The closest to a crime series he’s come before was the short-lived Snoops, which aired in 1999 and starred Gina Gershon as the head of a private investigation firm. It lasted just ten episodes.
More than 20 years later, The Big Sky is in that same line of work. Box’s heroine Cassie Dewell is also a private investigator, and in The Highway (the first book in the series), she works with a former cop to catch a suspect who’s been abducting women in Montana.
But that’s about all the two shows have in common. Snoops was as much a comedy as it was a crime show, if not more on the comedic side, with the banter between Gershon’s character Glenn Hall and her quirky staff that also included an ex-cop played by Paula Marshall (Cupid) and a tech expert portrayed by Danny Nucci (The Fosters).
And while some of Kelley’s other series have had criminal elements, like the wrongdoings that Billy Bob Thornton’s character battles every season in Amazon‘s Goliath and the shady things happening in Big Little Lies, he hasn’t done a straightforward crime drama—until now.
The name David E. Kelley alone will get people to watch The Big Sky. Especially when it’s airing on ABC, which is probably the network most closely associated with him; though he’s had projects on every major broadcast channel, ABC was home to The Practice and its spinoff Boston Legal.
But what’s Kelley going to bring to the genre that audiences haven’t seen before? And what will the genre do for his writing? Could doing a crime drama get his writing to evolve in new directions that even he hasn’t tried yet? In an era where the biggest crime shows are mostly franchise programs, Kelley could breathe new life into it—whether it be with his signature blend of slightly quirky characters, or just by coming up with a new way to approach telling a mystery.
He hasn’t had a series on ABC since Boston Legal ended in 2005, and he’s certainly changed as a writer since then (see: Goliath, Big Little Lies, Mr. Mercedes). So The Big Sky will be a new venture for him, a relatively new venture for the network, and certainly a new adventure for crime drama viewers. But with David E. Kelley’s pedigree, it has the potential to pay off in spades.
Are you excited for The Big Sky? What are you expecting from the TV version of the C.J. Box novels? Tell us your reaction to this upcoming series in the comments.