Hank Steinberg, the LI-raised creator and executive producer of ABC's...

Hank Steinberg, the LI-raised creator and executive producer of ABC's "For Life," attends the ABC All-Star Party on  Jan. 8, 2020 as part of the ABC Winter TCA 2020, at The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California. Credit: ABC/John Salangsang

Growing up on Long Island, TV producer Hank Steinberg, creator of ABC's new legal drama "For Life" (premiering Tuesday at 10 p.m.), knew the twists and turns of his youth would inevitably lead to one end: serving a life sentence as a writer.

"I was always interested in writing and I was the editor of the school magazine" at Great Neck North High School, recalls 1987 graduate Steinberg, 50, whose series-creator credits include "The Nine," "Without a Trace" and "The Last Ship." "And then when I went to college, I was a sports writer for a few years at U Penn for The Daily Pennsylvanian," the student-run newspaper. And sportswriting indeed seemed the career track for Steinberg, who was born in Manhasset and raised in Great Neck, the son of Judy Hiller and attorney Howard E. Steinberg, former head of the State Thruway Authority and the Long Island Power Authority.

But during a semester abroad at Tel Aviv University in Israel, he decided on screenwriting. "It may just as well have been in Italy or Japan,” he says. "I think just being out of the country and away from all the norms, it allows a young person to think out of the box about their future." The 1989 Steven Soderbergh movie "Sex, Lies, and Videotape"  happened to be playing in Tel Aviv, he remembers, "and I went to see it like five times in the theater and was just mesmerized by it. I knew it was by this young guy who had written this really small and very personal movie."

Thus prompted, he pursued film writing after graduating college in 1991 with an English degree. It didn't quite pan out, but Steinberg did did break into the field with two TV-movies: HBO's "61*" (2001), about the legendary home-run race between New York Yankees sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, earning Steinberg an Emmy nomination; and FX's Robert F. Kennedy biographical drama "RFK" (2002).

Steinberg would find more success in series, particularly the missing-persons FBI procedural "Without a Trace" (CBS, 2002-2009), starring Anthony LaPaglia and Poppy Montgomery. His latest, "For Life," follows Aaron Wallace (Nicholas Pinnock), serving life in prison after being, presumably, framed on a drug-kingpin charge. After obtaining a law degree online and passing a bar exam, he now represents fellow prisoners unjustly convicted, while attempting to see his own case overturned.

The series is inspired by the real-life Isaac Wright Jr., whose 1991 New Jersey conviction was overturned five years later when a police officer recanted and revealed a conspiracy by Somerset County head prosecutor Nicholas L. Bissell, Jr. involving systematic false testimonies. Taking flight after the revelations, Bissell committed suicide in a Las Vegas hotel room as federal officers kicked in the door. Wright, now an attorney, is one of the show's executive producers, alongside Steinberg, rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson and two others.

Steinberg himself avoided the criminal-justice system, or at least a stern talking-to, as a preteen and teen growing up in Great Neck. "I grew up near the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, which had these amazing facilities — a football field, a basketball court, tennis court and a pool — and we would sneak in and try to use it like our own personal summer camp," he recalls of himself and his friends. "And the guards would occasionally try to chase us out. Eventually," he says with a laugh, "we got to making a sport of taunting the guards and making them chase us!"

Top Stories

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME