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It’s good to be The Good Wife.
Creators Robert and Michelle King have experienced critical acclaim that, as of late, has been reserved for ambitious cable fare, but the serialized CBS drama — which returns for the last three episodes of its sophomore season on Tuesday — seems to be the exception to the rule. But even with critical raves, the hourlong series, toplined by TV veteran Julianna Margulies as the regal “good wife” Alicia to the scandal-plagued politican Peter, the network has yet to officially pick up the solid ratings performer for a third season.
With signs pointing to a renewal, thanks to regular Alan Cumming closing a three-year deal with the studio to remain through a fifth round, the Kings are of course, cautiously optimistic. Even so, changes are bound to take place next year if and when the official announcement comes. Robert and Michelle King spoke to The Hollywood Reporter to discuss what the future holds days after filming wrapped on the New York-based production — and how the Kalinda-Peter bombshell will affect the series going forward.
The Hollywood Reporter: Will the upcoming finale end on a cliffhanger like last season?
Robert King: I will say this: Michelle and I are not fans of cliffhangers. [Laughs] Even last year, we didn’t think it would be seen as a cliffhanger as it was because we thought so much of Alicia’s life rested on unresolved beats that it would just play like it. It will be less of what last year was. We don’t want to play that schtick too much.
THR: What indication have you received from the network about The Good Wife‘s chances for a pickup?
RK: They’re in negotiations with all the actors, which you can read one of several ways. They’re trying to tie people down for longer runs, which is a good sign. The bottom could fall out any moment but at least at this point, the studio and the network are very happy with the creative direction of the show.
THR: With Alan Cumming recently signing a new three-year deal to remain on the show and assuming the show will be back, how will his role expand next season?
RK: One of the things that we’re doing with the last episode — instead of making a cliffhanger — is making it very evocative of the direction for next year. It’s much more a sense of the last episode is lining up all the ways that we would plan to go next year. It’s not wrong to mention that Alan Cumming, there’s an attempt to bring him in-house into Lockhart/Gardner. There is this valley in between campaigns where [political consultants] need to get paid and they have several ways to do it. One way is they start their own lobby and consulting firm, the other is the Democratic Committee sometimes sets them up at an established law firm and gives them office space, access to clients. It’s also a way to start prepping for the next campaign. We’re trying to play into the reality of what happens to a political consultant in between big campaigns. Alan Cumming is so good in that role, but what we love to do is see how the relationships change once it’s slightly more work-related too.
THR: Will there be more pressure to perform next season?
RK: We’re trying to be more responsible showrunners in that, as much as we want to go in any creative direction that serves our fancy, we do know that this is network TV and we have to hit a certain bar. We told ourselves after the first year, the second year had to improve on the first year or we would start going down a lot. In our senses, we want the third year to improve on the second year. Sometimes quality doesn’t necessarily connect up with ratings but sometimes it does.
THR: Will there be changes in storylines or characters’ roles as a result of this?
RK: A lot of people responded to the Matt Czuchry and Archie Panjabi relationship. I think we would try to show more of that and try to create even more drama there. We felt that was slightly a backburner relationship. It was there, but it didn’t cook as high as we could [have]. We want to look at some subjects like nepotism and Alicia being a mentor to somebody else at the firm, so we’d probably look towards a character like that. What’s fun is [what] Diane, the Christine Baranski character, was to Alicia; it’d be fun to see how Alicia is towards someone underneath her.
THR: Has there been a storyline that you weren’t sold on in the beginning that ended up moving forward anyway?
Michelle King: I don’t think we move forward on things until we’re sold. There are certain things that we recognize as being slightly creative risks and we move forward hoping it will turn out alright, like Cary sticking at the S.A.’s (state attorney’s) office.
RK: Oh yeah, you’re right. He was only supposed to be at the state attorney’s office for the first four episodes this year. [Laughs] We actually liked it so much and what it did to Cary was we would always have these threats that he would come back but in fact, it felt right that he was our antagonist, but an antagonist we liked.
THR: Which episodes were the most difficult to accept?
RK: There was an episode called “Killer Song” that was a premise we had when we were originally pitching the show two years ago. I have a feeling the show grew beyond that premise and us trying to bring back one of the original premises, it might have been a mistake. It really fell in a straight-ahead procedural zone that the show doesn’t inhabit. It was well-directed by James Whitmore, well-acted by all the actors, we just thought it didn’t kick it up a notch.
THR: What is the most challenging part in balancing the procedural element with forwarding each character’s story?
RK: The biggest difficulty is 42 minutes. You really have to do it in such a collapsed period of time that you have to be almost impressionistic about the procedural because you rely on the audience’s understanding of the causal effect so you don’t have to fill in every beat only because you start running out of time.
MK: The good news is that the audience really is that sophisticated, that sometimes you can give a beat here and there, particularly towards the end of the case and they really do understand what’s going on.
RK: It’s still difficult because you still want some emotional engagement, but the emotional engagement is more about what’s happening with Alicia’s private life. You don’t want to overwhelm it with a client who has another set of emotions because at a certain point, the emotional weight of that starts weighing down the show.
THR: Are you already eyeing guest stars?
RK: I have an advent calendar of all The Wire actors. We have been through, I don’t know, 11 or 12 of The Wire actors, so we’re going to keep running down the line until everyone from The Wire is on the show.
THR: Has the network or studio ever said to you, “We want you to work this case into a storyline”?
MK: No, they’re extremely supportive and very much in hearing what we put forth.
RK: We obviously want to bend the rules as much as you can and have surprises. For example, we did the Hugo Chavez episode. We went to them fairly early — months before — saying, “Is this alright?” We got the legal rules down before we started writing, but they’ve never come to us and said, “Would you do something about this case?”
THR: Regarding the Social Network episode, how do you ride that line between remaining relevant and dramatizing headline stories?
RK: We never wanted it to be “ripped from the headlines” because it feels like one could do that to use as a jumping off point [for] procedural twists and turns. We wanted the show to be criticisms and satires of what’s going on in the world.
MK: It also feels like other shows that use “ripped from the headlines”-type things are going for above-the-fold news stories and we typically don’t. Ours are more like Page 3.
RK: We did one [episode] that could have been seen as being as similar to what happened with Al Gore. What was interesting was that a woman who accused someone of sexual misconduct – because she didn’t fit the stereotype of a crying victim – might not be seen as a real victim. That was the premise of it. It obviously got the added zing, hopefully, of trying to play on current events.
THR: How has TV changed in the past decade?
RK: Quality is supposed to be seen as being purely a cable phenomenon these days, which is very unfortunate. When everything is not meant to be too serialized, everybody is looking to cable to be doing the adventurous things. There’s a preciousness sometimes to cable, which I think can stultify. Not all shows, I think Justified obviously has escaped that, Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad. But there’s a hothouse flower quality that can come to cable too, just by the very fact that it’s supposed to be artistic. We really feel sometimes like we’re a whorehouse: “Let everything go and let’s do what we can.” It’s much more of a fun carnival attitude of just, “OK, let’s not take it too pretentiously, let’s just have fun.”
THR: Was The Good Wife ever pitched to a cable network before landing at CBS?
MK: No, never. We only went to network.
RK: In many ways, you’ll see the design beneath the Alicia Florrick character, that the design being that there are going to be cases. We obviously liked that because it seem to be more an imitation of life because in life, you don’t just have time to be upset about what’s going on in your personal life, you then have to go to work. We actually embraced that, but I think that makes it more of a network than a cable show.
THR: What would be the best cable home for it if it wasn’t on network?
MK: Whoever would have it.
RK: [Laughs] To almost answer the question would be to ignore how well the CBS fit was. … I love the way AMC is pushing the boundaries and we sometimes feel like we’re pushing the boundaries too with politics. So much of what you expect of politics is politics based on the candidate or The West Wing. What I love about AMC is that it’s always on the cutting edge of the next thing, and we think with the subject matters we’re addressing, we’re trying to be the cutting edge for what’s going on in the 21st century.
THR: What can viewers expect in the last three episodes of the season?
RK: It’s going to pick up right where it left off with Alicia finding out about Peter and Kalinda. We’re going to see what the next six hours hold up. You’re going to find through the last three episodes, three components of Alicia’s life. Each episode will concentrate on one of those components: Peter Florrick, her husband; Kalinda Sharma, her best friend; and Will Gardner, her boss. You’ll see how the repercussions of this knowledge now plays itself out on those three fields.
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