‘Suits’ Creator on Surprise Resurgence, Potential Spinoffs and Writer Pay

Like seemingly everyone else on the internet, Aaron Korsh and his preteen daughter are bingeing their way through Suits. They’re almost done with seven of the legal dramedy’s nine seasons, and the daughter is enthralled — a huge relief to the elder Korsh, who, incidentally, created the show.

The series stars Patrick Adams as Mike Ross, a whip-smart college dropout who, mid-drug deal, lands a coveted legal gig working for Gabriel Macht’s Harvey Specter despite not having an actual law degree. Suits, which also counts a pre-royal Meghan Markle among its core cast, originally aired on USA Network from 2011 to 2019. Then, in mid-June of this year, it began streaming on Netflix (in addition to Peacock) and has since exploded in popularity, reigning over the Nielsen streaming charts, where it’s been smashing records for weeks now.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

Korsh took a break from the picket line to talk about the renewed success and what it means for the series’ future as well as his own.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part interview, which was coordinated through Korsh’s personal representatives, in accordance with a WGA ruling after the writers strike that began May 2.

Back in early June, you tweeted: “Turns out on June 17th #Suits will move from Amazon Prime to Netflix (in U.S.). So, if you haven’t been watching Suits on Amazon, now would be the time to start not watching it on Netflix. Also, feel free to continue not watching Suits on Peacock.” It certainly suggests you were caught off guard by this recent success. Is that accurate? 

For most part, yes. I mean, I was also just having fun and trying to announce that it was going to be on Netflix — but the amount of exposure that we’ve had since getting on Netflix, I never in a million years could have anticipated. A month or two before it went to Netflix, though, I started hearing from, like, somebody I went to high school with, or my dentist, whoever it was. It would be texts and emails saying that people’s high school- and college-aged kids had seen the scene from the pilot with Harvey [interviewing] Mike [for a job at his law firm despite Mike not having a law degree] on TikTok and had been bingeing the show. So, something was happening even before it started on Netflix, and then Netflix just took it and amplified it by a billion.

There seem to be a lot of people theorizing about why the show is hitting so big now, but I’d love to hear your take. 

I think why people are tuning into it is a combination of that TikTok thing, there’s no doubt that there’s some curiosity about Meghan [Markle], and then Netflix knows how to entice you to watch a television show and then that builds on itself. Now, the reason I think people are responding to it? I don’t think it’s totally different from how I loved Ted Lasso when it came out in the pandemic. I think with the characters in Suits, people either see themselves in someone and/or see who they wish they were, and it also has an inherent optimism to it, even though sad things do happen. It’s funny, I took a lot of heat over the years whenever something bad would happen to someone on the show, people really get upset about it. But in this period of time in the world, I think the characters and the underlying base optimism are why people are connecting to the show, and then maybe some of it is tonal because it has drama but also it has humor.

I’ve heard agents and execs suggest that we could see a Suits effect on the other side of these strikes, which is to say networks and platforms more interested in what was once described as “blue skies” fare. Thoughts?

The only thing harder than guessing what fans are going to think is guessing what conclusions studio executives are going to draw from anything. (Laughs.)

Much has also been made about streaming residuals, and the desire, by writers, to overhaul them, including a piece that one of your Suits writers penned for the Los Angeles Times … 

I believe Suits is an example of the gains of the 2007 strike in terms of residuals and not an example of the shortcomings of where we are now. And the reason I think that is because, first of all, an episode of Suits is worth approximately $70,000 in residuals so far, as best as I can figure out, and that number is nowhere near, in my estimation, finished growing. As opposed to if Suits were written for Netflix, and then I think the number would be under $10,000 and would probably never grow much above that.

So, I’m 1,000 percent supportive of my guild; there needs to be an overhaul to the way writers are compensated because residuals are vanishing when you make shows for streamers. But I’ll say this: I wrote one episode of Everybody Loves Raymond when I was a writers assistant and it was like 20 years ago, and I think I’ve made about $90,000 in residuals from it, and I still make, maybe, $3,000 to $4,000 a year. And I’m very pleased with that and I think Suits is much closer to that than it is to, say, any show that was made for a streamer.

That makes sense regarding residuals. Now, at the risk of asking what might seem like a gauche question, will you see a financial windfall from these huge streaming numbers? Presumably you’re a profit participant …

I am a profit participant in the show, and I don’t think anybody needs to lose one second of sleep over how much money I’m making from Suits. (Laughs.)

I know you tweeted recently that a Suits reboot was unlikely, but with all of this renewed excitement around the show, is any part of you at least thinking about what one could look like? 

First of all, it’s really hard work to come up with plots for a show that you love and care about and want to be great, so I’d never put a second of thought into it without someone saying, “We want to do this,” because it’s just torture to me. (Laughs.) When fans ask me, like, “What do you think Harvey and Mike are up to in Seattle?” I’m like, “I don’t know!” It’s really hard to come up with this stuff, that’s why you have a writers room — like, that’s why we’re on strike, so I don’t have to by myself!

Fair enough …

Also, look, USA gave us 26 episodes of notice for when the show was going to end. That’s a lot of notice. And when it was over, I was very satisfied with it. I managed not to be ashamed of any of the episodes we did. And so, I’d be afraid [to do it again.] It’s not like I can think of a ton of shows that have been rebooted that I’ve watched, where I was like, “Yeah, that was great.” Usually, I’m not even interested in watching them. So, again, if someone reached out and the cast was into it, I would consider it, if I could come up with something that excited me. But if I could wave a magic wand and get another show on the air, it wouldn’t be a continuation of Suits. Now, I know I’ve mentioned the [Robert] Zane prequel idea [centered on Rachel’s dad, played by Wendell Pierce], I would do that in the second. I was really excited about that.

In the years since Suits wrapped, have you found Hollywood has wanted more Suits-like fare from you, or, having proved yourself with Suits, can you now make whatever you want?

I was so wiped out after nine years, that after Suits, I just needed to decompress. And then the pandemic happened, and for the first six or nine months, I couldn’t even think about writing. And then I started trying to get back into it and what I found is that the market for getting any show on the air, no matter what it’s about, is really difficult. The first thing I wrote, a spec, we sold and I don’t think it’s dead yet, and maybe with Suits being as popular as it is now …

Could be some real wind in your sails.

Hopefully. And I believe it has plenty of DNA of what people liked about Suits. I think it’s a cousin of Suits, but more reflective of wherever I was when I wrote it.

It’s set in a different world, I assume?

Not completely. And without giving away too many details, it took place in two different time periods and two different worlds, one of which was the world of law and the other was the world of agents, and we did sell it, but it didn’t get made. But they basically said, “Instead of them being agents in the present day, can they be lawyers?” And it was ironic that it was the same thing that had happened on Suits, and, again, I embraced it and, if we go back out with it, I wouldn’t put it back to agents. I thought, “You know what? This is actually better.”

Again, I have to believe if the creator of Suits were to go back out with a Suits-like show now, or whenever the strike is over, the response would be different?

Sure, but let me just say, I would’ve thought that [I had some real juice after Suits wrapped]. I mean, it’s not like Suits was a failure.

Not at all. It was a big success for USA … 

And when Suits ended, every single human being I knew in the entertainment business was like, “You’re going to get a monster deal somewhere.” And the truth was, I wasn’t even sure I wanted a deal because I needed some decompression time, but I knew for certain that I wanted to get offered a deal. I wanted the choice to be mine! (Laughs.) But we could not get a deal. Couldn’t do it. So, again, I never can guess.

Wow. What would the feedback be?

Look, I can tell the difference between an executive who’s heard of Suits and one who’s a fan, and most of the time, they had heard of it but they weren’t fans. And it might change now, I’m not sure, but [Suits] didn’t have the same level of respect [as other shows]. And you can’t control that stuff, you have to just accept it. I try to remind myself that I left investment banking to be a writer and I wasn’t sure if I was good enough or talented enough to make it as a staff writer in Hollywood. My goal was to be the equivalent of the 12th man on an NBA team that never plays in a game. If I could have been a staff writer my whole career, I would have been elated. So, I’ve so surpassed my goals and I made enough money from Suits that I don’t have to work anymore. But I’m also a human being and I get frustrated about the pace of development or the reviews or whatever, and when I do, I have to stop myself and go, “What are you doing? You are so lucky.” And I really am.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter

Click here to read the full article.