'The Good Wife' Creators Preview Season 5, Lockhart/Gardner Tension and Alicia's Debacle
How did executive producers Robert and Michelle King prepare for Alicia and Cary's new journey? By going to law firms and talent agencies.
Will Alicia and Cary part ways with Lockhart/Gardner?
Season five of The Good Wife opens with Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) readying their exit from the law firm that groomed them, Lockhart/Gardner, and right from the get-go, Alicia finds herself dealing with her Lockhart/Gardner duties on a case revolving around the execution of a convicted murderer. But Alicia's decision to leave the firm will come with temptations, when in an early season-five episode, she is presented with an offer that may jeopardize her original plan.
For co-creators Robert King and Michelle King, Alicia and Cary's defection was an arc they had wanted to tell since the fourth season. "We decided we'd only go here [if] we knew we had the plot to carry us through," Robert King tells The Hollywood Reporter. "A lot of the decisions that this year is based on were developed last season. Once we knew what we were doing there, there was an inevitability. Once you start that first domino going, there are certain things that had to happen and we knew what they would be."
THR chatted with the Kings about the upcoming season, tension in Lockhart/Gardner and headline-making scandals.
Now that they are gearing up to break off from Lockhart/Gardner, how does this change their work dynamic?
Michelle King: There are going to be the questions: Are they the next Will (Josh Charles) and Diane (Christine Baranski)? Do they have it in them? I think there will be a tension there.
Robert King: The other problem that Alicia's running into is that she's joined a rebellion that is already pregnant. In theory, you want to defer to your other rebels but in many ways they made a lot of decisions she doesn't agree with. How's that going to work? [Recurring guest star] Ben Rappaport, we brought on as one of these fourth-year associates that will lead with them. Does she agree with them 100 percent?
What does this mean for Will and Diane?
Michelle: It's going to be different for both of them. There's going to be an element of betrayal. It's exciting.
Robert: We brought on Zach Grenier in a full-time role to see how the old firm will fold in or collapse or even expand given what's going on. But it felt like a lot of our research saw that the break-off firm never really left the orbit of the real firm because of lawsuits, because of all the dilemmas, because they were on opposite sides of the case and because there was a struggle over clients. We wanted to explore all that.
You've mentioned that season-five preparation consisted of talking to firms who had experienced splits. How did you get ahold of these people?
Robert: Everybody has a story, whether it's William Morris Endeavor [or another agency]. The breakup of firms was interesting to us. The whole idea of a divorcing of a business is fascinating. We started with law firms and talked to --
Michelle: They were managing partners.
Robert: -- who wrote contracts about how you would function in the case of someone taking a client away. But then we were looking at everybody who has had an agent split off from another agency. We were kind of looking at every situation like that.
What did you learn from those conversations that helped in crafting the new season?
Michelle: They're typically contentious, and there's a voluminous amount of paperwork generated, both before the breakup happens and afterwards.
Robert: The biggest thing that was interesting us is to make sure there was enough plot for this year in how much turmoil there is in the aftermath. How many lawsuits there are, how many fights over certain things within the firm. The bottom line is there's probably nothing more contentious in the legal world than one of these breakups because everyone is a lawyer, everybody wants their piece of the pie, everybody wants [to] steal clients. It's like you steal someone's soul.
Michelle: [We spoke to] a few at talent agencies [and] law firms. We kind of mixed a little of both, looking at how it works at an agency and how it works in the legal world.
Michelle: The dynamics of breakups.
Robert: The fury seemed to be equal, I would say. The willingness to do work dirty seemed to be equal, too. The bending of the rules was kind of amazing [to see] on both sides. As long as they could defend what they did and work their way to the loophole, it was OK. Even though you hear what they're talking about [and it] sounds illegal, it was all right as long as you could explain it away in a non-illegal way.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes you can share?
Michelle: The ones that we did [hear], we put in the show.
What's your take on Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer, who dominated headlines again this past year?
Michelle: We're filming our 92nd episode and still one of my very favorite moments of the show was from the pilot, when Alicia is talking about her own problems and says she was aware of what was going on in the world but when it came to her, she was unprepared. I think that says it all. That when it's your life, it's very unique to you. And so, for that reason, I don't feel like just because we've written a television show that has that element to it, I don't feel like we're in any position to have particular insight into what those families are experiencing.
Robert: I think Americans are very forgiving when they think it's a second chance. The difficulty is that Americans tend to turn off their forgiveness when it's a third chance. I think [Anthony] Weiner is discovering that. I think it's unfortunate for him because in many ways, the propensity he had for texting photos of himself and meeting women online ... if he had waited to run [for New York City mayor] and said, "I'm going to go to rehab and settle that and go to counseling," and settle that before he ran again. ... There were so many other shoes that dropped. But I think it's one of the best things about America, that there is this element of forgiveness. Not for everyone, but if you fall off the wagon and you get back, the voters will usually forgive that. It seems like if it keeps coming, they turn against you.
With this show, many of the stories and cases seem well-timed, even though they're usually coincidences.
Robert: I think that's difficult too because you're working six to 12 weeks ahead and you have to try to figure out what we're not all going be saturated with. When the original Weiner scandal came out, we tried to dance around that because we thought at the point we broadcast it, it would be saturated with that. It's very difficult to feel what will break in two to three months.
Last year, there was an episode we did about sports juicing like Lance Armstrong. [In the episode] a woman who did hurdles was accused of juicing and we thought that the Lance Armstrong thing, which was just breaking when we wrote it, we thought would break around the same time so we took a crack at it. Luckily, it wasn't irrelevant but it wasn't extremely relevant either, so you're always trying to look toward what is the thing that is going to happen. We did one [episode] the second season that was based on The Social Network. We thought that [the movie] would be Academy Award play so we wrote an episode satirizing right around that time.
What is the season-five equivalent of that?
Robert: The NSA. I think that's gonna be the debate and we're going to be debating that for the next six months. I think there's going to be constant new revelations. I think that the extent that they creeped into normal Americans' lives is going to be more and more expansive.
Will the season explore Alicia's Georgetown past again?
Robert: Possibly, yes. That's our intent.
There has been a push as of late to have certain shows, such as CBS' Hostages, go on shorter runs. Were there ever conversations about that being the case with The Good Wife?
Robert: No, but it would work great for us because we have a daughter. We'd love it. But we're very verbose. Or I am. The 22[-episode] schedule gives us the ability to explore other aspects. It's kind of ideal for us because we plan the year that way. I can understand because CBS is exploring with Hostages and Intelligence, but I think that's a cool way to go because it gives a very concentrated effort to make a purely serialized show. Because our show is both serialized and has standalone [elements], it gives us the ability to fill up 22 episodes.
Editor's note: The interview was conducted at the end of July at Television Critics Association's summer press tour.
The Good Wife premieres Sept. 29 at 9 p.m. on CBS.
Sundance: On the Scene