6:00am PT by Kate Stanhope
Why 'The Good Fight' Tackled NBC's Delayed Trump 'SVU' Episode
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the fifth episode of The Good Fight, "Stoppable: Requiem for an Airdate."]
They shoot in the same city and share many of the same guest stars, but the worlds of The Good Fight and Law & Order: SVU collided in a rather unique way on Sunday's episode of the CBS All Access drama.
The Christine Baranski starrer tackled the topic of censorship under President Donald Trump through a fictional case about a network refusing to air a particular TV episode because the character was inspired by, and depicts a negative portrayal of, the now-commander-in-chief. Themselves clearly inspired by the twice-delayed Law & Order: SVU episode (in which the Trump-like character is played by none-other-than Good Fight recurring guest Gary Cole), the Good Fight team leaned into those comparisons throughout the episode.
First, the hour opened with a title card shockingly similar to those used by Law & Order: SVU to show day and locations. Exhibit B: The delayed episode was said to be for "one of those Chicago shows," as Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) put it — a nod to SVU creator Dick Wolf's other NBC franchise. And then there was the episode title itself: "Stoppable: Requiem for an Airdate" – a reference to the delayed SVU episode, called "Unstoppable."
In the episode, Reddick Boseman represented the writer behind the episode (played by Paulo Costanzo) who leaked it online after the network delayed airing it indefinitely. (The fictional episode in question showed a wealthy politician named Weller in Weller Towers vehemently denying accusations of rape and sexual assault.) The network then brought suit against the writer for copyright infringement. However, in the end, the writer beat the suit on First Amendment grounds, which were triggered by a tweet by the President himself. In the fictional tweet, the president called the writer "another Hollywood cry baby," and continued, "time to look into who they hire to write."
(In reality, the SVU episode remains unscheduled. Originally set to air Oct. 26, and then Nov. 16, Wolf most recently told reporters in January that "I suspect it will [air] in the spring, but I don't know." However, Cole himself sounded more doubtful. "I don't know that anyone's ever going to see this anyway," he told The Hollywood Reporter in January.)
The case marked The Good Fight's latest tackling of the new administration. After opening with Trump's inauguration in the pilot, episode four discussed the issue of fake news and episode three saw Diane's firm nearly lose out on a major client who was looking to hire more Trump-friendly representation.
In an interview with THR, creators and showrunners Robert and Michelle King discussed the "paranoia" created by the new administration, the idea behind that fictional Trump tweet and addressing these "draining political times."
What made you want to tackle the SVU Trump episode?
Robert: We read about the SVU episode "Unstoppable," we read about those issues and we were kind of inspired by that to take on the issue of, the concern that this presidency might be a little more into finding enemies, or at least that paranoia and that idea of, could there be a chilling effect on stuff that takes on the presidency? That's how it hit. As you see in this episode, it is the writer of the episode who puts the show online because he doesn’t think the network will ever show it.
A lot of the dialogue in the episode is about either networks trying to curry favor with the new administration or networks being afraid of angering it. As writers and in the TV world especially, what is your take on those fears? What were you trying to say with this case and this episode?
Michelle: We're trying to flag it as something that could be a problem in the future. It's not something that we've personally run up against up to this point, but it's certainly worrisome for the future.
Robert: We do know with reading the news and just knowing how bureaucracies work that the FCC can wield a lot of power. The worry is that this is not about government censorship, sometimes it's about self-censorship. ... I think one of the concerns is … there's a tendency to take on presidencies in a very almost big way that makes Trump look dumb or something like that, that is easy to satirize in expected ways. It's the question of the specifics of abuses of power that would be the big question.
The case comes down to a question of freedom of speech, and it's actually a tweet by the president that helps the writer win his case. What was it like writing a fake Trump tweet and why did you decide to integrate his Twitter activity into the story?
Robert: As you saw even just, like, last week, and there are new examples every week, his tweets tend to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. [On Feb. 28], most pundits thought he gave a very good speech [to Congress] — and then immediately he undercut that with the charge about [former President Barack] Obama's wiretaps.
In the writers room, we all kind of agreed — because this was written about a month-and-a-half, two months ago — that Trump would shoot himself in the foot. That was the inspiration for that.
This episode talks about ripped-from-the-headlines occurrences, which is something that not only SVU does frequently, but The Good Wife and The Good Fight also do. Does the situation SVU has found itself in make you think twice about doing these kinds of episodes and/or how closely to lean into those similarities between the real world and the show?
Michelle: We're pretty careful when we're building the episodes and we stay pretty firmly on the side of fiction. We're inspired by, but we're careful not to tread too much in the middle of it.
Robert: When the ideas form for the episodes, we talk to CBS legal and get guidance. First of all, whether this is such a dangerous territory, we should avoid it, and then how do we get around these problems? It's kind of what we did with the Social Network episode of The Good Wife [season two's "Net Worth"], where The Social Network the movie was sort of a takedown of Marc Zuckerberg. So it felt fun to do an episode that was inspired by that and took down the creators of a movie that would take down another person.
Here, it's similar in that our thought is to do ripped-from-the-headlines by doing our own ripped-from-the-headlines of that ripped-from-the-headlines. It's one satire tucked inside another. There's something amusing to us structurally about that.
Has there been anything recently that you've brought to CBS legal that they recommend you avoid?
Michelle: No, we've been fortunate in that regard. We're getting only encouragement.
You also work for a large corporation in CBS, so how concerned are the two of you about censorship in the Trump era, particularly given the kinds of topics you're covering on the show?
Michelle: There has not been a single problem up 'til this point. You can see, I think, at least in the first five episodes, we've been pretty overtly political and nobody at CBS has tried to [dissuade] us.
Why do you think the two of you have been so overtly political and taken on these topics even more so than you did on The Good Wife?
Michelle: We follow the characters, and these are politically aware characters. These are such draining political times that the characters, like so many liberals in the country, are spending a lot of time talking about Trump. We're following their lead.
Robert: I do think one of the things that works for our show is that we have such a short lead time between writing and producing episodes, so you can be more contemporary because you're guessing what will be in the news in two months' time, as opposed to guessing what will be in the news eight months or a year from now.
What other current political issues will you be tackling later on this season?
Robert: Episode six is one of our favorites. It's inspired by Milo [Yiannopoulos] and kind of the oddity of the alt-right, which has a lot of fans in the tech culture. It seems like that would be not the case … given the misogyny and the racism. So episode six looks at that and also, the issue of internet censorship. Is it right for Google, for example, or Facebook to censor people they've found who were discussing abuse?
Another show we're doing is about the chaos that comes when the executive branch fights against the judicial branch. What happens when there's basically legal chaos? When there's such a large difference, a struggling difference between two branches of government?
This all sounds pretentious and tedious, but it's not. It's comical and action-packed and fun too, so there are just issues that seem like they're worth addressing.
Gary Cole, who played the Trump-like character on SVU, appears in this episode of The Good Fight. What conversations did you have with him, if any, about this case and this storyline?
Michelle: He was there, but in fact he was not there on the days of this. (Laughs.) Filming did not overlap, so we didn’t actually have the conversation.
Switching gears, this episode marks the halfway point of The Good Fight's first season. What kind of feedback have you gotten from CBS and CBS All Access and the show's performance online?
Michelle: We've not really had conversations about the numbers. In terms of the creative, they've been really enthusiastic and supportive.
Robert: This is such a strange business on the streaming side. Sometimes it's like the buzz about the show is even more important and so we tend to not look at numbers. I remember first of Good Wife, all people tended to talk about was: OK, are we meeting our ratings? We're not hearing any of that [now], but they all have smiles when we talk to them. They're so kind to us. Usually you know right away when they don't return your calls and they tend to be mean, and we're not getting any of that.
How has it been adjusting to not knowing the numbers and how the show is doing?
Michelle: There's so much else to worry about that not having ratings to worry about is lovely and not really something we spend a lot of time worrying about.
New episodes of The Good Fight are available to stream every Sunday on CBS All Access.