EMMYS: 'The Good Wife' Creators Robert & Michelle King

The Good Wife

Diane Haitman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.

Robert King, co-creator of CBS’ The Good Wife with wife Michelle King, called star Julianna Margulies’ 2011 Emmy win for best actress in a drama series the highlight of their year. When you lose the Emmy competition, Robert jokes, “you dismiss the awards and say those don’t matter anyway. And then when you win, it’s ‘damn right – everything’s right with the universe.’ Everybody understands art.”

The series is already lobbying hard for another Emmy win in 2012. This year, TV Academy voters are receiving seven Good Wife episodes in their mailers, rather than the average 2-4 episodes sent by most network shows. “It’s a nice problem to have, when you have so many good episodes,” says CBS TV Studios president David Stapf. “And with the ability to send out more now, why not?”

The show’s third season has brought good and not-so-good things to The Good Wife. On the good side: the Emmy for Margulies (co-star Archie Punjabi won in the supporting actress category in 2010) and the recent announcement that the show has been picked up for a fourth season by CBS. On the not-so-good side was the third-season move of the legal drama from Tuesday to Sunday nights, a choice that resulted in a disappointing ratings drop.

Stapf puts a positive spin on the situation, insisting that The Good Wife’s affluent demographics make the show a valuable network commodity. And while acknowledging that “we’ll always take ratings over awards,” the executive points out that Good Wife’s numbers only appear weak in comparison to other top-rated CBS drama fare including NCIS and the various CSI’s. “I think a bit of [the Kings’] frustration is that in the landscape of CBS it isn’t among the top, but in the landscape of network television, it does quite well,” Stapf says. “They are still averaging 12 million viewers, which is quite a bit.”

Robert King says that the demographic value of the Good Wife audience is reflected in their upscale advertisers, a list that includes Cartier. “I think we are valued at a different level,” he says. Still, the producer adds, “The ratings themselves, we don’t know what to do about it. We feel like with each show we work as hard as we can. Is there any way to do cable-ish stuff on network? Even at its height, Mad Men brings in 3½ million viewers.”

Nina TasslerEven with the ratings decline, CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler called Sunday night a “good fit” for the show at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena at mid-season, adding: “The audience that watches on Sunday night is upscale, very female and very engaged.” Stapf said he personally likes Sunday nights because of a perception of that evening as a “quality, vintage” TV night, featuring such stalwarts as 60 Minutes.

The Kings acknowledge that they preferred Tuesday to Sundays because story arcs are less likely to be interrupted by special programming and football overtime. “That’s difficult for a serialized show,” Michelle says. Still, the Kings’ mandate is to worry more about story than scheduling. And this season, trying to remain true to their characters led the creators to pull a U-turn.

CBS launched The Good Wife’s August move from Tuesday to Sunday with The Good Wife: A New Beginning, a half-hour, behind-the-scenes special that aired on Sunday, September 4. The promotional material included a steamy display ad featuring Margulies in black lingerie and the phrase: “Don’t Let The Name Fool You.” And the writers made good on a story line that got more than a hint in the previous season: Alicia Florrick finally went to bed with Will Gardner (Josh Charles), her superior at the law firm. But despite the lengthy buildup, the affair ended quickly.

Why? “One of the things we always felt we wanted to do this year was to show the natural progression of a love affair, a love affair that, in this case, she was having with her boss,” Robert King says. “As much as you want to cheer on team Alicia/Will, there were a lot of reasons why it was morally corrupt. While we felt good about what it did for drama, I think it split the audience. I knew Julianna was getting [criticism]: ‘Why not call it The Good Slut?’ – Things like that.”

Adds Michelle King, “We’re never looking at it in terms of, ‘how much sex should we put in, can we put in?’ It’s always very much about trying to be as honest about the characters as we can. What would Alicia truly do? That’s really where it all starts.”

In general, the Kings say, the network and studio leave them on their own to make those decisions. ‘It feels kind of like they are throwing us the keys to the Ferrari and saying: ‘Return it when you want, without scratching it up’, ” Robert says. “It’s amazing how much freedom they give us. Our daughter doesn’t give us that much freedom.”

  1. Im a Good Wife Fan but I HATE having it on Sunday nights. CBS SUnday makes it impossible to watch (live) because you never know when its going to start. It can start at 9 or 930 or 913 or 942 or 1015 – you pick a time. So unless you’re watching CBS all night (sorry, CBS, as much as you want us to, we don’t), it is impossible to tune in at 9 and watch the Good Wife…So instead, some people just give up (Ive done that with other shows because I just realized I can do more productive things with my time than watch TV so I stop something cold turkey when it moves and realize I don’t miss it at all)..and others just DVR CBS from 9-12 and hope the Good Wife is in there…but for networks that don’t want viewers skipping commercials, you’re basically forcing me to either skip the Good Wife entirely or dvr it and skip the commercials (Sorry Cartier).

    Im not a TV exec so Idont know how you measure DVR viewing in ratings but I can tell you Sunday is the worst night when you have the football overruns, especially now when Sunday night is becoming one of the most competitive nights on TV with a lot of cable dramas and popular reality fare.

  2. Still, it’s the best drama on primetime. Well-acted, well-written and well-paced.

    I’ll follow it no matter what day/time it airs.

  3. Huge GW fan. But season 3 was disappointing. They had raised the bar with smart, clever cases seasons 1 & 2. But season 3 had predictable, flat cases. And Josh Charles character was almost non-existent. Still a solid show though.

  4. The Sunday night hit-or-miss timing totally sucks, but I still pick it up online as soon as it’s made available.

  5. We are the viewers that the advertisers hate. Not in the 18-49 age group. I never watch anything “live” Now that the political season here, especially won’t watch live. But, you know what? I don’t care what the networks think! We have more money than our 3 children and grandchild in the coveted age group and we spend more too! Take that NBC!!! We will watch our favorite, The Good Wife here on the west coast no problem with overtime. Love Julianna and the cast. So glad it was renewed.

  6. CBS was originally going to pass on The Good Wife. True. In fact they had to be talked into it with a second call.
    It’s their only one hour show of any quality. Beautifully acted and written. It deserves more Emmy love.

    1. I always wonder about information like this. I wish there were some book that listed all of the shows that were passed on by one network but went to another and became a big hit.

  7. I love this show but had to give up on it because of CBS programming. Is it on tonight? Is it preempted? Is it a re-run? Who the hell knows? Certainly, not CBS. You can’t treat serialized shows like that and expect people to stay with it. CBS sucks.

    1. You can watch it on demand, you know; viewers are no longer beholden to the whims of network prime time scheduling.

  8. The Good Wife, along with Downton Abbey, is the best television series available. My dog wrote a book (From the Dog’s Mouth) and he nailed how fabulous this show is. Josh Charles needs to be restored to practicing law and trimming Mr. Gold’s sails and Felicia and Diane just need more of the great Lines they deliver with a knock-out punch. Sometimes I forget that I am 74 and not a teenager gushing over this amazing show. My granny would have said, “Prince, it’s only television.” But damn, what incredible TV.

  9. Good Wife is my favorite network drama but the move to Sundays is such a pain in the ass! The overruns are horrible!!! Please move it back to to Tuesday!

  10. Just watch it on the net. The site I use posts it the day after it airs. Bam, problem solved. Networks will learn to not mess with shows’ airtimes if they expect people to watch. You’d think they’d get the hint by now, especially if it’s one of their BEST shows. You think I WANT to watch on a laptop screen and not my big TV?

  11. The Good Wife.

    What an awful show.

    Mad Men and Breaking Bad are going to smoke this piece of crap again this year.

    1. I love it when people think they’re being clever and, in doing so, highlight that their “opinion” is completely worthless because they can’t successfully qualify why they think what they think.

      Have fun living insignificantly, dying clueless, and missing all the fun stuff!

      1. What do I have to qualify? Mad Men and Breaking Bad have been two of the best dramas on TV for the past few years. The Good Wife is pure, unadulterated network trash.

        I’d tell you to have fun living insignificantly, dying clueless, and missing all the fun stuff, but as you seem to watch The Good Wife, you have a real good start on all that already.

  12. Totally agree that Sunday nights are terrible. Why do networks always destroy quality programming with loyal fans by moving them to unfavourable nights at absurd times?

  13. Sunday nights on CBS are impossible to DVR. I can’t even count how many times I missed The Amazing Race this season because the DVR only records the time that the show is supposed to be on not according to the show itself (a big flaw in my opinion) and it was always pushed back.

  14. If they are going to insist on having the show on Sundays, perhaps they could move it to January, when the scheduling wouldn’t be so hectic, and then run it straight through until the summer.

  15. Interesting what the producers are saying about the show now.
    “Why not call it The Good Slut?’ – Things like that.”
    Uh, maybe because the show has proudly boasted being a softcore porn from day one? The shows whole premise is a sexual affair that drives the protagonist into private life. And she works with a bi-sexual whose entire existence is jumping into as many beds as she can.

    And my personal favorite: “We’re never looking at it in terms of, ‘how much sex should we put in, can we put in?’”
    Hmmm, as I recall some months ago these same people were saying it was their goal to add more sen and push the envelope even more in season 2. Can we say “backpeddle” boys and girls?

    I’m really embarrassed for Ridley and Tony Scott soiling their professional reps by going from classy and smart TV like NUMB3RS to this prurient crap. What a waste.

  16. Who cares what night it’s on, for me it’s the first watched on DVR every week. Julianna and the cast are so nuanced and the writing is great. Interesting there was negative feedback about Alicia/Will’s affair. Felt like it was a positive step in her character’s growth.

  17. The Good Wife was one of my favorite shows for 2 seasons, but this past season, though I faithfully wathed it to the end, was disappointing. The build up by the advertisers or the network for the new “Alicia”, the talk of the romance between Alicia and Will, along with the so – so legal cases, was disheartening. Nothing materialized and Alicia and Will were farther apart than ever by the season finale. It’s just not worth waiting through football overtimes. The writing never lived up to the advertisements. I really think the viewer was “played” for lack of a better term. “Revenge” will now be on ABC at the same time and it will l start on time, leaving TGW for the DRV, if it even catches it. Kind of sad.

  18. The Good Wife, hands down one of the best shows ever done. The writing and acting are exceptional. But CBS is killing it with Sunday’s. You never know when it’s going to be on, you can’t dvr it for the same reason.
    I think CBS has to consider its audience more and air it when it says it will be aired.

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