James Gandolfini's Last TV Show Will Never Air
James Gandolfini's death on June 19 this year felt sudden, not only because the iconic Sopranos star was only 51, but because he was working so much it seemed impossible he could ever just vanish. Not only does he have two more movies that have yet to be released, including a reportedly revealing turn in Animal Rescue, but he had filmed a pilot for a limited-run series called Criminal Justice, which would have returned him to HBO.
Originally conceived and turned down as a series, Criminal Justice was being retooled as a seven-part limited series, with author Richard Price writing and Oscar winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian directing. Only the pilot had been shot though, and during a panel discussion with television press HBO's programming president Michael Lombardo confirmed that they don't entirely know what to do with Criminal Justice, but the pilot that Gandolfini filmed will never be aired:
†ďJimís passing took the wind out of our sails at HBO. Itís taken some time to be able to have that conversation."
Loosely based on a BBC series of the same name-- much in the way Netflix's acclaimed House of Cards was adapted from a similar British series-- Criminal Jutice would have starred Gandolfini as a sleazy New York City attorney who takes on the case of defending a Pakistani man (Riz Ahmed) caused of murder. Gandolfini was by far the biggest name attached to the series in front of the camera, but with heavy-hitters like Price-- who wrote many episodes of The Wire-- and Zaillian behind the scenes, Criminal Justice still has plenty of prestige that would make it a good fit on HBO even with a different actor in the lead role. As much as the executives at HBO may genuinely be mourning Gandolfini's death, the real concern here seems to be more of a PR one. Will they get flak for going forward with the series with a different actor, accused of not respecting Gandolfini's memory? Is it worth the risk for a show they didn't even like enough to order to a complete series?
If I had to guess I'd predict that Criminal Justice is over. HBO has shown no fear in commissioning work from high-profile people only to cut their losses when the problems racked up-- just look at the chaos on Tilda, a show loosely based on Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke that would have starred Diane Keaton. When the network fired show runner Cynthia Mort they tried to pick up the pieces, but the network eventually decided not to go forward with the pilot. Even though Criminal Justice still has plenty of potential behind it, the network may decide that making the show with Gandolfini's ghost looming over it is too much risk. And as important as Gandolfini's Sopranos performance was to HBO's current success, they probably can't go far enough to honor the guy's legacy.
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