A legal drama series that would reportedly feature the first Sikh American lead character on network television is currently in development at NBC.
The show will be co-executive produced by filmmaker, lawyer, and activist Valarie Kaur, and based off a concept initially conceived by her husband Sharat Raju, an alum of NBC’s Emerging Directors Program.
“We nurtured the concept for eight years and there were times it seemed impossible,” Kaur told NBC News. Along with their friend Tafari Lumumba, the group worked on the “idea for a television series featuring a band of law students in a renegade law clinic, fighting the good fight” until, Kaur said, they could find a “champion” to help bring the show to life.
That champion came over the summer when actress America Ferrera took on the project under her newly-launched production company with former “Ugly Betty” executive producer Teri Weinberg. Kaur and Ferrera had first met last March. Ferrera featured Kaur on a series of panels for showrunners and writers rooms at NBC during the summer. (The panel led to the beginning of a conversation that eventually brought a Sikh character to NBC's drama "This Is Us.")
Both Ferrera and Weinberg will also serve as the show’s executive producers, along with former “Revenge” showrunner Sunil Nayar and Drew Brown. Nayar is creating the pilot and will serve as showrunner.
The untitled series will follow the story of Amrita Kaur, a law student, and her classmates as they work at a student law firm, “taking on the country’s biggest issues,” while trying to give “voice to the voiceless,” according to Valarie Kaur, whose life experiences Nayar used to create the lead character.
“It’s going to be a series that explores the stories of communities that are behind the headlines right now, [and] on the frontlines of fighting injustice in this country,” Kaur said.
This is not Kaur’s first foray into highlighting injustices on screen. Her first documentary “Divided We Fall,” with Raju, explored hate crimes against Sikh Americans in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks. The opportunity to develop a series for a network that will elevate Sikh voices, Kaur said, is groundbreaking.
“Our show and so many pieces of art that people are making right now are stretching our nation’s moral imagination, lifting up the stories and the voices and faces of people who haven’t been seen before, and putting them in positions of leadership as our champions and our heroes,” she said. “Any representation for our community is groundbreaking since we have been virtually nonexistent in television and in film. If we are to change the nation’s moral imagination, then we believe it begins by putting us on screen.”
According to a report released in September that analyzed Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation on TV, 87 percent of AAPI series regulars appear on screen for less than half an episode and 17 percent of AAPI series regulars have the shortest screen time on their shows.
The pilot for the show is currently being written, with hopes to shoot in the new year. Kaur added that the team could find out if the show will be ordered to series in the spring.
“The fact that a show like this has never been developed before for network television made us feel like this is a story that Asian America could love and be proud of,” she said.