Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

How The New Perry Mason Series Reveals A Little-Seen Side Of The Character - Exclusive

For decades, the "Perry Mason Formula" was episodic in nature. Whether it was being applied to the books, television shows, or made-for-the-small-screen movies, the formula was the same: A mystery was introduced at the start of the story, and it was neatly resolved by the end of it. It's a clean, tidy way of telling a story seldom seen on TV anymore. In fact, it's not even seen on Perry Mason anymore. HBO's Perry Mason miniseries, starring The Americans alum Matthew Rhys in the title role, breaks that formula by telling one long story over eight episodes. 

Such a stark contrast runs the risk of shocking older fans, if not alienating them altogether. But Perry Mason fans old and new should give the fresh format a chance, as it allows the audience to see Perry Mason in a new way

In an exclusive interview, Perry Mason showrunners Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald explained to Looper why breaking away from the tried-and-true formula gave them a chance to show the audience a new side of the defense lawyer and investigator.

Going serialized instead of episodic lets us spend more time with Perry Mason off the case

Episodic television in general has fallen by the wayside, but it's even less common on premium cable. "It's never going to be a crime-of-the-week show," Fitzgerald says of Perry Mason. "I don't think that's what people tune into HBO for." Jones also notes that they were hired by HBO for an HBO show, and sticking to a formula of old wouldn't mesh well with the type of cutting-edge content for which the network is known: "I don't know if they have a formula in the dramatic canon where you would deliver the piece of pie at the end of the episodes."

To make the Perry Mason miniseries something that would fit right in on HBO and be entertaining, Jones and Fitzgerald had to fill in some blanks left by Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner, whose books mostly focused on the mystery at hand. Jones tells Looper that while Gardner's "plots are really terrific and really well made," he was "not interested" in explaining Mason's life outside the mystery. HBO's Perry Mason is able to set itself apart by showing what Gardner never did. 

"For any HBO show that's character-driven, it wants to be a tough, long journey," Jones explains. "There was sort of a delivery system for some mystery busting [in Gardner's work]. That's another way that this becomes fresh and new. You're just like, 'Okay, everything — all the stuff, like family background — gets added on to him so that you are loaded up with them as [Perry is] macheteing his way through the landscape."

Jones also saw an opportunity to take a closer look at the career for which Perry Mason is famous — "what is the burden, what are the consequences of the caseload and of actually the job that Perry Mason has?" Jones elaborates, saying that on the HBO miniseries, fans "go home with" Perry's burdens.

It's not just related to the case, though — the show also goes over his personal relationships. Among other examples, Perry deals with preserving his family farm, and his time serving in World War I is revisited. "You are in between little plot moments with him," as Jones says, and get a fuller, richer experience with Perry Mason the human and not just Perry Mason the private investigator.

Tune into new episodes of Perry Mason on Sundays at 9 PM ET on HBO.