The season premiere of Justified was good, but I’m looking forward even more to the second episode, because it will introduce a guest character named “Karen Goodall,” a U.S. Marshal played by Carla Gugino. One of my favourite TV shows of the ’00s was Karen Sisco, an ABC series starring Gugino as the Marshal from Elmore Leonard’s novel Out of Sight. You can read some background and reviews of all ten episodes at this blog (the Wikipedia blackout is cruelly forcing us all to find other sources of information on obscure shows).
Sometimes, when a show flops, you can understand why it flops; you figure it was over people’s heads, or too dark, or too sophisticated. And some shows are are so entertaining that you can’t believe they’re not popular. Karen Sisco was one of them. I thought it was a very enjoyable show with everything it needed to be a hit, including two fine leads with an interesting relationship: Gugino as the title character and Robert Forster as her dad. I still don’t know why it failed and was pulled after only seven episodes had aired. A friend suggested last night that it was a bit ahead of its time, in the sense that today it would be a show on USA or TNT, and doing very well there. I guess that’s true. 2003-4 was a time of grim, tech-obsessed, CSI-style cop shows.
Anyway, cable now has a successful show based on Elmore Leonard, and it’s called Justified. And the head of Justified‘s network, John Landgraf, was a producer on Karen Sisco. So it makes sense that they would want to bring Gugino and her character in for a crossover. Except that Justified is a Sony production, airing on the Fox-owned FX network, and Karen Sisco is owned by Universal (which produced the movie version of Out of Sight). And apparently, as Timothy Olyphant hints in an interview, the various copyright owners could not come to an agreement, so the writers just decided to have Gugino on anyway as the same character in all but name:
I’m legally obligated to say nothing.
It looks a lot and plays a lot like Karen. I just remember being told to leave that alone, because of possible litigation and lawsuits. As I understand it, TV studios and the networks are run by lawyers, so it’s best if I stop talking about it. I can say that Carla is fantastic and it was great to work with her.
There are always examples of this kind of thing – characters who are thinly disguised versions of other, copyrighted characters, or of people the actor has played before – but the combination of circumstances here seems kind of new. A similar recent example might be Justice League, which was sometimes unable to get the rights to certain characters they wanted to use, generally any character who was partly owned by someone other than DC Comics. So they’d make up similar characters to do the crossover anyway, like the “Ultimen” to stand for the Hanna-Barbera Superfriends. But using a Captain Ersatz played by the same actor, who may or may not be the same character under a different name, is a new one on me.