Like most of the world, in March 2020 when the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, sending the great majority of people home to isolate, Bull showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron thought it would be a few weeks, max.
“I thought, this is maybe a four-to-six-week situation,” he told 10 play. “When it became a much longer situation, one that was going to have a much more meaningful legacy in everyone's lives, I thought, well, we have to speak to this.”
The fifth season of the courtroom drama inspired by the early career of Dr Phil McGraw, didn’t waste any time catching COVID. The very first episode is a kind of feverish dream in which the far-reaching effects of the pandemic are already dismantling the world we were all so used to, and the existential crisis is real.
“I was like everyone else,” Gordon Caron said, “trapped at home, basically quarantined. Michael Weatherly was quarantined, everyone in the cast and crew was quarantined. And there was a moment when I thought, are we ever going to be able to make the show again? Is anyone going to be able to make a show or a movie? Will there be, at least in the near term, a moment when you can get 200 people together to do anything?
"And that's really what gave birth to the whole idea of that opening episode, ‘My Corona’, which was Bull starting to wonder - has this thing that I’ve given my life to become obsolete? Am I extinct? … I've just brought a child into the world, perhaps that was a big mistake?”
Writing the pandemic into the story didn’t mean going back to the drawing board. Stories that were already going to take place, like Marissa’s divorce, now take place in the middle of COVID. The biggest challenge for characters and writers has been the changes made to how courtrooms operate.
As Gordon Caron points out, “They can't bring in what they call mirror jurors. What they used to do is, they would see who was on the jury and then try and find people who very closely match those people in terms of attitudes and demographics and those sorts of things. And they would have those people sitting in the courtroom so that they could quiz them at the end of the day and get a sense of how the jury is probably responding to the case.
“You can't bring people into the courtroom anymore. The public's not allowed in there. So it's changed in that they really now rely much more on Bull's instinct about the jurors and how they're processing the information that they're being given, and what this means in terms of the sculpting and crafting of the case.”
Gordon Caron believes the cases give each episode a “sense of propulsion”, but it’s the emotional connection audiences make with the main characters that brings them back, week after week. Not to mention the connection fans have with Michael Weatherly.
“He's bald, you know. Not a hair on his head. And much shorter than he looks on television, he's about four foot two.” He joked, (we’re pretty sure).
“No, I wouldn't be so bold as to say Michael and Bull are similar. Michael has a great devilish sense of humor and I think Bull does too. Michael has a really keen intellect, and Bull does too. I think Michael also has an innate curiosity about the world. I always joke, there are no short conversations with Michael Weatherly...that's because Michael's really, really bright, and he looks at situations from a fascinating perspective and point of view.”
Watch episodes of Bull on 10 play, and 8.30 Wednesdays on 10