Emmys 2011: How 'The Good Wife' Showrunners Brought Cool Back to Network Dramas
Robert and Michelle King on creating a "point of view" drama and why they prefer working in television over features.
For showrunners whose series is rife with heavy themes like infidelity and political corruption, Robert and Michelle King are downright lighthearted. Here the husband-and-wife writers offer some candid insights into their process, why they prefer working in television over features and to which comedy showrunner they'd give up their Emmy slot if they could.
The Hollywood Reporter: The Good Wife crosses many genres: political thriller, primetime soap, lawyer procedural. How do you see the show?
Robert King: We tell ourselves that it is a "point of view drama," which means it's really meant to be Alicia's [Julianna Margulies'] personal story, but it's played out through the workplace. Most legal shows are these big ensemble dramas, and the point of view shifts from week to week. But we are tied to what Alicia is seeing and have to play off her reactions to what is happening around her.
THR: When you consider your fellow outstanding drama series contenders -- Game of Thrones, Dexter, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights -- how can Good Wife distinguish itself among such high-concept competition?
Robert: Well, we are the only show here that has to rely on network-style ratings. We also hope that our show can function to entertain viewers based on self-contained episodes that are interesting to people tuning in for the first time. Certainly, we aren't the first network show like this; I mean, The West Wing was fantastic, and obviously a lot of the David Kelley shows have done it too. We hope to put ourselves in that same frame.
Michelle King: Some people speak about procedural elements as though they were a burden; they are not a burden to us. We really enjoy telling those self-contained parts of the story in addition to the serialized elements. "Procedural" is definitely not a dirty word in this office.
Robert: If anything, it keeps us from being melodramatic because it keeps Alicia having to do her work [Laughs].
THR: How does the writing process work now that you're deep into writing season three?
Michelle: There are six writers on the staff who do a lot of the breaking down of the season's story. Then, when we are in the thick of episodes, Robert is typically working at the keyboard running ahead of me, and I am working behind him. It's pretty much a side-by-side workflow.
THR: Two of your writers, Meredith Averill and Corinne Brinkerhoff, recently talked about how they use Twitter to interact with fans. How do you feel about this type of communicating with viewers? Is there such a thing as too much feedback?
Robert: [Laughs] Yes, but we embrace it. Having come from the features world, where the only feedback you get is success or failure at the box office, I love that people feel as if they own these characters. The feedback is delightful -- even the negative feedback we take to heart and try to make ourselves better writers and producers. On the other hand, we personally don't tweet because it can become like that impulse buy at the grocery store -- those last three candy bars are usually a mistake. So we leave that to people like [FX's Sons of Anarchy showrunner] Kurt Sutter. He makes life so exciting doesn't he? I love reading his tweets, but I worry that if we did it, it would become "a story" out there about us, and that kind of automatic writing is probably bad for us personally.
THR: Do you engage in any social networking?
Michelle: Yes, I do have a Facebook page, but our lives are so complicated and busy, it is hard to keep up on it. I frankly only got it to keep up with my nieces. I probably check it once every couple of months! I'm much better just e-mailing.
THR: Julianna has said the main reason she agreed to do the show is because you were willing to shoot in her hometown of New York. How do you balance having the Good Wife writers room in L.A. and shooting the series back East?
Robert: It is very tricky. It's like watching your child stumble his or her way to school because there is only so much control that you can apply. We are real micromanagers in the script stage and in the editorial stage, so it's very frustrating being so far away. I love production, so it feels like being a kid taken only as far as the gates of Disneyland.
Michelle: There are two things that have allowed this to work, one of which is Brooke Kennedy, the executive producer, who is terrific. The other thing is video conferencing, which we didn't have 10 years ago. Without the constant communication, this whole thing would be impossible.
Robert: We go to New York at least once every other month to show that we are alive and to have the actors feel more involved in the writing process.
THR: The series got six acting nominations this year, including one for guest star Michael J. Fox. How did you attract him to play attorney Louis Canning?
Michelle: He is spectacular, isn't he? We'd heard that he liked the show and we adore him, so we contrived a character specifically that would take advantage of who he is and play against any other parts offered to him on other shows.
THR: When you have a moment of peace, what do you enjoy watching that isn't The Good Wife?
Robert: Breaking Bad, Community, Justified.
Michelle: Parks and Recreation, Modern Family.
Robert: Also, at the expense of sounding like I'm covering my CBS ass, one of our favorite comedies is The Big Bang Theory. It feeds our inner geek.
THR: Are there any reality shows that you watch?
Robert: My 12-year-old daughter and I are obsessed with Survivor. American Idol too, but we tend to only watch the first few episodes. We don't follow it like Survivor. We are not proud of it.
THR: Do you have any aspirations to do a comedy series someday?
Robert: Definitely. Mainly for a kind of stupid reason -- that a comedy series is shorter.
Michelle: Our favorite moments on Good Wife have been the funny ones. A show like Parks and Rec specifically has done a great job of integrating good characters and believable laughs. I'd love to do something like that.
Robert: Yes, something more reality-based like that -- not unctuous comedy, which I guess would mean we'd probably end up doing a cable show.
THR: Yet all the nominated comedy series this year are network shows.
Michelle: Isn't that amazing? There is such great talent there.
Robert: The world is such a better place with a network comedy like Community kicking ass -- I mean, they're doing so many imaginative things.
THR: Well, Community's creator/showrunner Dan Harmon would be very happy to hear you say that, considering that his show didn't receive a nomination this year.
Michelle: Yes, we were sad to hear Community didn't get nominated.
Robert: We worship at Dan's feet! That show has been a kind of a revelation for us. Their Christmas episode was one of the most clever hours that I have ever seen on TV. We would certainly give up our Emmy spot for Dan if we could.