'The Good Wife' Showrunners on Including Hillary and Trump in New Season and Branching Out with 'BrainDead'

Photo by Matt Furman
“You’re always worried that if you go somewhere else, you’re going to slide back into development hell. We have never at CBS suffered through development hell. We have at ABC,” says Robert King, photographed with Michelle on Sept. 8 in their production offices in Brooklyn.

Michelle and Robert King talk about the challenges of running two shows at once, keeping up with the headlines and their favorite Leslie Moonves story.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Married writer-producers Michelle and Robert King said so long to Los Angeles this summer and relocated to Brooklyn to be closer to the production offices of CBS' hit drama The Good Wife, where they've used New York as a makeshift Chicago since 2009. "We've probably seen [Julianna Margulies] more in the last two months than we had in the past few years," Robert, 55, says in their spartan Broadway Stages conference room. He and Michelle, 53, married for 27 years with one grown daughter, recently launched King Size Productions as part of a rich CBS TV Studios deal. First up is BrainDead, CBS' summer 2016 swing that's part House of Cards and part Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Meanwhile, Good Wife returns for a seventh (potentially final) season Oct. 4, playing out an alternate version of the current presidential campaign (with Hillary!). THR visited their under-construction office in the Greenpoint neighborhood, where the duo sounded off on their unique partnership, keeping pace with politics — yes, even Trump — and their favorite Leslie Moonves story.

Some of Hillary Clinton's leaked emails show she's a fan of the show. That won't color her portrayal in the new season, will it?

ROBERT KING A comedy friend of ours initially sent that to us, and we thought they were just making it up — especially that it was written to [Clinton] aide Monica Hanley.

MICHELLE KING And there's not going to be a "portrayal," per se. Peter Florrick [Chris Noth] is going to be running, and we'll be mentioning the other Democratic candidates in the race.

Is it going to be difficult to keep pace with current events?

ROBERT We have the ability to make some late turns; even a week before we can [voiceover] additional dialogue into an episode. But sometimes it's scary because you're making decisions now that may change. As of today, [Joe] Biden is not in the race. But the expectation is he might, so what are we going to do with the episodes that we've already shot but we haven't mixed? That's the concern.

Every room of the Kings' office is labeled in 'Good Wife' font with a decisive "the."

Have you acknowledged Trump yet?

ROBERT Yes, we have. (Laughs.) But Peter's a Democrat and he's a Republican. We have them acknowledging how he is changing their strategy.

What's the biggest challenge of running two shows at once?

ROBERT We're doing it like a jigsaw puzzle. It sort of just fits together. Strangely enough, it's making us better producers on Good Wife. For the first time, we're ahead in the scripts.

There's a real brain drain with writers now that there are so many scripted dramas. Have you had that problem in staffing?

ROBERT I know from showrunner friends that's a real problem. We haven't dealt with it too much. One of the good things with Good Wife is we've really tried to hold on to people. We lost two or three this year to doing their own shows, which is the best way that people leave.

Do you draw a line between professional and personal — or are storylines fair game at dinner?

MICHELLE It's very fluid. I would be curious to know how people do it differently, if they say, "No, after 8 o'clock, never talk work or any of that." That isn't the way we choose to communicate. We'll talk about work at home, and home at work.

A silhouette of Marguiles' Alicia, as interpreted by a fan of the show, hangs in the lobby of the Kings' office.

What personal strengths do you each bring to the partnership?

MICHELLE Robert runs ahead on the script writing, and I'm …

ROBERT I would say Michelle is better at structure. I probably emphasize character dialogue. In the producing side, Michelle handles almost everything with the look of the show.

MICHELLE And Robert's very strong in editorial and directing.

What advice would you give to new showrunners?

ROBERT Never hold back on plot. You can always create new plot. You can't create a new audience. If an audience doesn't feel like you're going for it, like you're playing fair with the plot, they'll move on — and you'll never get them back.

Do you have a favorite Leslie Moonves story?

MICHELLE It's not really a Les story. It's a Les Moonves' mother story. I met her at an event that I think he was being honored at. It was a Monday night, and she quoted Good Wife lines from the night before.

ROBERT We knew that we weren't going to be canceled because Les' mom liked it.

A lot of television writers seem divided between knowing where their show ends and figuring that out along the way. Which camp are you in?

ROBERT The former … with having to leave a lot open in the run. But we could only do it if we knew what we were writing to.

When did you know what you were writing to? 

ROBERT We knew after the first 13, but we didn't want to say that. We knew that at any point during all the years there was a way to get to that ending we want, but we also planned out a certain arc. We couldn't do it if it felt endless. It's that manic line: "If movies are running a sprint, not a marathon, TV is running until you're dead." We can't do that. We just have to know that there's an end point.

The show is very playful with current events. What are you tackling this year? 

ROBERT People don't need to just be taught by the news. Drama can teach you something, too. We're drawn to that. We're doing one this year with the Google car, the self-driving car. What happens if it's in an accident? Who gets blamed? Who's liable?

MICHELLE All the writers come in at the top of the season with ideas about things that might be interesting to explore. As the season goes on, that list just keeps being replenished.

Are you biting on the Ashley Madison hack — or have you done enough hacking? 

ROBERT In our second season, we did a satire of Ashley Madison that we had Sarah Silverman play. So it's more, "Should we bring Sarah Silverman back?" By the time it would be on the air, which might be November, I think it will have died out. Some of those things, especially the sexual things, get hot too fast and then just burn out.

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