In his previous life as a practicing attorney, Barry Schindel approached his profession as if he were a performer in “the theater of the courtroom.” But after a dozen years as a Bronx public defender and in private practice, an emotionally drained Schindel needed a change of venue. “I remember thinking, I don't want to spend the rest of my life in pitched battle,” he says. “I'd rather write about it.”
For the past decade, Schindel has done just that. He gave up practicing law to produce independent films and later became a producer for NBC's flagship Law & Order series. Now, as executive producer of CBS' mathematical crime procedural Numb3rs, Schindel is continuing to draw on that early theatrical experience in the courtroom.
Before he left his legal career behind, Schindel had been writing a novel about his experiences as a public defender when he took on a client who happened to be a book agent. The agent thought she could sell the novel but suggested that writing TV pilots might be more lucrative.
Around the same time, Schindel hooked up with Tom Caruso, a Broadway and independent film producer, and before long, he moved his family to Los Angeles where he and Caruso produced the films Drunks, starring Richard Lewis, and The Blood Oranges, based on the John Hawkes novel.
The prospect of TV writing returned when Bruce Vinokour at Creative Artists Agency persuaded him to resurrect his public-defender novel as a pilot for CBS. Bronx County, as it was called, hit an initial snag when network chief Leslie Moonves demanded a title change—CBS' Brooklyn South and King of Queens were already named for New York City boroughs—before the show died.
Schindel went back to producing films until his agent approached him with the chance to join Dick Wolf as a producer on Law & Order. Schindel proved a natural fit, both with the material and Wolf.
“Preparing for cross-exams as a defense lawyer, I got an ear for dialogue,” Schindel says. “A lot of the time, I had not seen the witnesses, so I had to guess what they would say.”
By his second season, he was the series' show runner, a job he held for three seasons in which he earned a trio of best drama Emmy nominations.
“Dick is a master producer,” Schindel says. “I never found it difficult to work for him and was appreciative of the opportunities. But I had always wanted to do my own stuff and didn't want to park in one place forever.”
Taking on the mothership
In the 2002-03 season, Schindel left to create the critically acclaimed but ratings challenged CBS series Robbery Homicide Division. After re-teaming with Wolf in 2003 for ABC's short-lived Dragnet, he joined Numb3rs for its sixth episode in 2004-05, quickly injecting life into the struggling Friday drama. The show rebounded in the ratings, winning its time period each of the past two seasons in viewers and adults 18-49.
Schindel faced his old collaborator last season, when Numb3rs went up against Wolf's latest L&O franchise, Trial By Jury. Numb3rs drew 11.74 million viewers, besting Trial by more than a million viewers and sealing its fate. This fall, he and Wolf will compete again, this time against the L&O mothership.
Schindel knows what he's up against—he likens Wolf's L&O conglomerate to Halliburton, the energy-services behemoth. But he's confident that Numb3rs can perform as it evolves into more of a character-driven drama.
Cheryl Heuton, the co-creator and executive producer of Numb3rs, credits Schindel with improving “the clarity and power of the storytelling.”
Apparently, Schindel's lawyerly powers of persuasion have won over the network brass, getting him wide berth and access to top directors. He has also persuaded a group of writers he brought on last season to stay for season three.
Says Hueton, “Numb3rs wouldn't be the success it is without Barry.”