As The Good Wife inches closer to its series finale on May 8, creators and executive producers Robert and Michelle King say they still haven’t quite let go of Alicia Florrick. Over 156 episodes and seven seasons, the Kings wove compelling courtroom tales from current events and amassed one of the most impressive rosters of recurring characters ever on television. But nothing about The Good Wife stands out more than Alicia Florrick, a mother, wife, and lawyer who never had to be bitchy to feel empowered or act out to command attention. The Good Wife gave us a heroine who knew herself, was willing to evolve, and could still surprise us with her choices.
The Kings, who are in production on their next CBS series, a political satire titled BrainDead, spoke with Vulture about what they kept from The Good Wife set, some of their favorite scenes and characters, and how they felt writing the final script, “End.”
At the Tribeca Film Festival, Julianna Margulies said she had to read the final script four times and drink a glass of wine before she knew how she felt about it. Do you think that’s because she’s so close to it, or do you foresee viewers having that experience of needing to watch and rewatch to let the ending sink in?
Robert King: I would say I hope so. The thing we want more than anything is someone to get knee-deep in this stuff. Julianna’s reaction was the end of something that had become her for seven seasons. It is a very weird position to be in, to write people’s futures. We’re friends with the actors too, and they don’t want to know, but they kind of want to know how things are gonna turn out. I guess I would put it in that category for Jules.
Michelle King: I hope that everyone needs a bottle of wine because I don’t think we can dispatch enough.
Why did you decide to put Alicia in the position of supporting Peter through another crisis, just like in the beginning of the series?
RK: I had always felt like the roots of this show informed a lot of the DNA of the show. With network TV, over seven seasons we had done 156 episodes and the only way you can give that many episodes some shape is to find the connections among all of the various elements, especially with a cavalcade cast that Good Wife sometimes had. The roots of Alicia and the roots of this marriage, and whether this marriage is going to fall apart or not, are really founded in the very beginning. That’s why we find ourselves always going back to not only that first episode, but to who Alicia was in that first season and second season.
MK: Not only that, it felt just true to life that people typically find themselves in similar situations — that they somehow create echoes in their own life that they have to say things over and over.
RK: Especially when you have people in power, which we’re finding with either Hillary [Clinton] or anybody in a public space. Beyoncé, my God, with Lemonade. People who are in the public sphere find themselves facing the same issues over and over again.
What was it like for you in the writers room when you were putting the final touches on that final script?
RK: It was was hard because we’ve liked the writers over the years, and to close it down was difficult. But, also, I think everybody was kind of emotional. Would you agree?
RK: It didn’t feel like building just another episode. It felt like, okay, this is really pulling at us.
MK: That’s exactly right. There was a weight on everyone of feeling that these characters deserved the best we could provide them, and everyone took that quite seriously.
Was it hard coming to that realization you’re not writing Alicia anymore, or were you ready to let her go at that point?
MK: I still don’t feel like I’ve let Alicia go. We’re still editing episodes at this point and mixing episodes. She has not left our life. Talk to me on May 9, maybe it will feel different but I anticipate, frankly, Alicia staying with us forever.
RK: It’s very difficult because we’re writing this other show now, BrainDead, and sometimes you’ll find Alicia’s voice creeping in and you’ll have to chase it out. I think ‘cause her attitude and her rhythm of language is very specific and we find ourselves falling into it like a warm bath.
So you have to edit yourself?
RK: Oh my gosh. You’ll look at a page and go oh shit, that’s a speech Alicia would give, not Laurel, the new character.
Did you keep anything from The Good Wife set?
MK: A small bowl that Alicia would put her keys in when she walked in the door in her apartment.
RK: It was very meaningful.
Where is that bowl now?
MK: In our dining room.
What was the last day of shooting like? Some people cry a lot, some people celebrate.
MK: The same people doing both those things. It’s a wrap. There was champagne and toasts and hugs all around.
RK: One thing is a lot of the crew that’s leaving Good Wife was going over to BrainDead and we shoot near the same stages. BrainDead wrapped a little early so everybody could come over to Good Wife and celebrate together. That was nice. It’s such a big family. It’s surprising how many people are involved with TV production, and a lot of the people have been together all seven seasons. We didn’t have that much attrition. In fact, we’ve probably had more growth because people got married and met each other at the Christmas party and now have children. There are children that came through the Good Wife.
You said at Tribeca that you had considered killing one of the Florrick children. Was that a joke?
RK: No. Midway through the seven seasons we thought Alicia had to experience some tragedy. We didn’t know whether Chris Noth wanted to go on with the series, so Chris’s character, Peter, was one of the people on the targeted list of who we might kill. If that didn’t work out we were going to possibly move to one of the kids. What we felt was every life has some major tragedy in it. We didn’t want death of the week or even death of the year but we wanted to have something that really threw Alicia off the game. As soon as she felt like she had the handle on life, life just threw something at her like that.
So then you ended up going with Josh Charles?
MK: Well, his contract was up and he very understandably wanted to go on and play other roles. Josh is an artist. As a result, we were then left with the question: What happens to Will Gardner? Does he just quit the firm? Does he take a job in Seattle? Perhaps he dies — that seems like it offered the most to Alicia, for what was happening in Alicia’s life.
RK: It was a dovetailing of two concepts. One was this tragedy in the middle of Alicia’s life. And then it was great of Josh — he gave us 15 additional episodes to play with the idea of how this relationship between Alicia and Will would be on the skids and that would leave Alicia even more adrift once he died.
I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me if we’re gonna see him again before the show ends.
MK: We are not.
What are some of your favorite romantic scenes that you wrote on The Good Wife?
RK: I have one that I very much like and it wasn’t really written; it was improvised on the set and in the editing room. Because our location had a bad bank of elevators that we couldn’t cord off, we had people walking constantly through our shot. That was the end of the second season with Alicia and Will getting into this elevator that a child had pushed all the floor buttons on. As they’re trying to go up to the suite to have sex for the first time, the doors of the elevator keep opening and closing. I like it because it was visual and there weren’t any lines. I also liked it because it broke the cliché of these love-making scenes on TV — which is two people usually in a bar flirting or whatever, and then one will say “I have to leave” but then immediately cut to them smashing through a hotel room door kissing and pulling each other’s clothes off. I thought this was fun because it played with going to that room to either cheat on a spouse or have sex with a co-worker. It’s never fast like that. It never happens in a smash cut. It happens in a real slow way where you have a lot of time to doubt what you’re doing. That I think was fun, and yet romantic too.
None of that was written?
RK: None of that was written. It was written that they were in the lobby trying to get into a hotel room and the whole place was booked and all that’s available is the presidential suite and it’s several thousand dollars. As Alicia’s waiting there, she sees this creepy piano player who keeps eyeing her like she’s been caught. That, in theory, was going to be it. There was going to be trouble with using the key card on the lock of the door, but it was not going to be anything with the elevator. They were just gonna get on and wait to get up there. We decided because it was a bad location for shooting that we’d rebuild the elevator back at the set and that’s where we devised this scene. It’s not in the script. It was a lot of fun to just go off-book like that.
MK: I was thinking about that one too. I would say some of my favorite scenes are the anti-romance scenes. Scenes where you see love turned to hate. There’s a scene where Will Gardner and Alicia are fighting with each other in the fifth season that is passionate as any love would ever be.
What do you like about that?
MK: It shows the depth of emotion that the two characters get to. When he sweeps everything off of her desk and tells her how angry he is with her. It’s really the flip side of their love.
What about stories you mined from the headlines? Do you have any favorites?
RK: That’s a good question. I like the NSA stuff. I thought the Snowden stuff was particularly provocative and still is for what our country is and what it should be. I thought what was good about it is we were able to carry it through as a comic situation. It was almost like something out of a sitcom where you have these guys that are not all that responsible. It was amazing that Snowden was in Honolulu and hanging out and doing happy hour, and then during the day would go either create PowerPoints about surveillance or be listening to people. It felt like such an odd job, and what helped us with that was the idea that they turned Alicia’s life into a soap opera because they’re listening to it, and they’re fans of this character or that character. I really liked it because it was satirical about something that is very seriously going on in our country, but allowed the audience to enjoy it as kind of workplace comedy.
MK: We did an episode that was about gay marriage versus religious liberty. What I liked about it was that it handled it in a different way than you typically would expect to see on television. There’s an effort to try and make both sides look intelligent and believe what they’re putting forth.
What do you think the show’s legacy will be?
RK: That’s a hard question. We could talk about personally how much fun we had making the show and how we tried to keep it from being pretentious and how we tried to give a lot of gray to what often on network TV is treated as black and white. I do think it made a very honorable attempt to treat the female characters as characters in their own right and not just figures of empowerment or bitchiness. They try to avoid clichés. I don’t know if that’s legacy. Probably the only legacy we’ll have is we’ll be one of the last network shows that is treated in the same caliber as cable. Or one of the last of the 22-a-year network shows, because I think there will be a move towards 13 episodes a year and they’ll be great. But doing 22 a year is a killer for keeping a voice alive, keeping it creative, and not just sinking into the status quo.
MK: I don’t know if this falls into the heading of “legacy,” but I expect what will be remembered is Julianna’s spectacular performance as Alicia over seven years. It just never dipped. She constantly found new things about the character and made her more complex as Alicia became more complex.
BrainDead has a 13-episode order. Do you think you would ever do a 20-plus season again?
MK: Twenty-two does not look appetizing, at least not to me right now.
RK: It really takes over your life in a way that you don’t read books. You find yourself being endangered a little bit in your life, and also there is a very scary butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling about building these shows and being that out of control. We treated it a little more like a day-to-day job. Because of all the last-minute decisions you make it all feels very much out of control, and that is not a fun feeling. It is not the same thing when you do 13 a year. We’re doing 13 a year now and it’s sane as anything could be. Twenty-two a year is insane.
It certainly seems impossible to maintain stories in any kind of deep and poignant way. Maybe if it’s straight episodic without serialization, it’s possible.
RK: That’s right. It’s a real credit to the writers room that they were able to do these little short stories in each episode and yet do these longer-running stories. That is the reason the whole show had to come to an end. At a certain point, even we were aware that you start repeating yourself. The last thing you want to do to the audience is say, “You know, love us for what we did four years ago or five years ago because we just want to keep doing this job.” You really want to keep giving the audience something they didn’t expect or didn’t see coming, and that is hard to do for anything that you’ve been filling her with for seven years.
In the April 24 episode, we met Zach’s girlfriend, and she had an interesting scene with Alicia where she basically says they want to get married for the tax benefit. In a show that has explored the complexities of a marriage, were you trying to make a statement?
MK: It was not so much a statement on marriage as giving Zach a fiancé that you would imagine possibly he fell in love with, and yet completely sympathized with why Alicia and Peter are just holding their heads and rolling their eyes.
RK: It also goes to one of the main points of the show, which is [its] attitude towards marriage. Alicia has a very conservative, committed sense of what that promise she made at the altar was — in sickness and in health, for better or worse. Here she’s facing this woman who is like no, no. We’re satirizing a bit because that is not a good attitude to have either. Marriage is just like okay, an agreement of two people who want to save some money for a moment. If we fall out of love, which we might do in five minutes or if we meet someone more interesting, good-bye. I think that’s a prevalent attitude among certain people, and the show wanted to make a little fun of it and yet didn’t want the girl to be stupid. I thought (Taylor Rose) performed it very well because I believed it, and it seemed like something you were unclear with whether the show was behind it or not. That’s kind of the best satire, the stuff that’s like, oh shit, does the show want me to believe that?
Speaking of marriage, what we’re seeing with Diane (Christine Baranski) and Kurt (Gary Cole) in recent episodes is so sweet.
MK: It’s always been a wonderful relationship.
RK: It’s so great when we get Gary Cole back. He brings this coolness and he’s very authoritative. I do think that’s one of the fun things about the growth of Diane — her sense that this is a guy whose politics she doesn’t agree with, and yet they’re in love.
You’ve had amazing recurring characters. Do you have any favorites? And I don’t mean the actors who played them.
MK: There’s so many it’s hard to pick them out. I adore both mothers, Jackie (Mary Beth Peil) and Veronica (Stockard Channing). And Howard Lyman (Jerry Adler) is just heaven to me. I just can’t get enough of him.
RK: I think my favorites are still Patti Nyholm (Martha Plimpton), the pregnant lawyer who’s as cunning and as cutthroat as anyone on the face of the earth. And then Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston). Those were very great comic portrayals that you couldn’t put your finger always on how they worked, but they worked beautifully, and they were both from the first season.
MK: And Louis Canning, Michael J. Fox’s character, was always so fun to see whenever he came back.
I know you don’t want to give away spoilers but I need to know if the dog is going to be okay.
MK: The dog?
Michael Tascioni’s dog.
MK: You know what, I’m going to give away that spoiler. I’m going to say he’s gonna be okay.
I was worried because Tascioni got off Peter’s case because the dog was ill.
RK: He so wanted to hold it, all the time. The worst thing in the world is to act with dogs. The dog was so good and he just loved it.
MK: Will Patton was terrific with this dog.
RK: We thought it would be for half an episode that he carried the dog and then we get rid of it. But Will Patton wouldn’t have any of it. He was like no, no. I’m carrying the dog to the end of the series.