CBS All Access doesn’t have the breadth of original content that streaming rivals Netflix and Hulu do, but it’s worth the subscription price just for The Good Fight, which Adweek named one of 2018’s best TV shows. That’s largely due to the work of co-creators and showrunners Robert and Michelle King, who have turned the Good Wife spinoff into a crackling legal drama that is every bit its predecessor’s equal.
As the series returns for Season 3 today on the streaming service, the duo talked with Adweek about tackling the #MeToo-related exit of their former boss, CBS CEO Les Moonves (“How could you not deal with it?”), their potential return to broadcast TV next season and why when it came to signing a new production deal, there was no place like home.
So Season 1 was about proving there was life beyond The Good Wife, and then in Season 2 the show took this leap and stood on its own. What was the plan going into Season 3?
Michelle King: I feel like Season 3 is an amplification of Season 2.
Robert King: We’re following Christine [Baranski, who plays Diane Lockhart]’s thought, which at the end of Season 2, she says, “I’m going to fight this.” So what does the fight look like against what she sees as an administration that is radical and off the rails? Is there any way to follow through on Michelle Obama saying, “When they go low, we go high?” Or is it a version of, “When they go low, we kick them in the balls?” That’s what Christine’s character has to figure out. But the narrative for us this year is pointing the finger inward too, because the whole season is about storytelling trumping facts. Which I think is why Trump is [president]—he was able to tell stories better and more emotionally. Did you see Brexit on HBO? It follows a similar logic: the one who goes emotional, wins. The one who goes for facts, doesn’t.
Michelle: Which is interesting for a group of lawyers, who are advocates. And are supposed to win at all costs. And we have amplified that somewhat in bringing on a new character, Roland Blum, who Michael Sheen plays, who has no regard for the law or the truth, and it’s all about hedonism and winning and noisy bullshit.
Robert: The Michael Sheen character is a stand-in for Roy Cohn, if Roy Cohn were alive today.
Even though the entire season was steeped in the current political landscape, there were only a few episodes last year where you tackled a topic that was explicitly Trump-specific. Did you modulate that in a similar way this season?
Michelle: I actually think we did.
Robert: But not on purpose. There’s one episode—a version of our “golden shower” episode from last year [about the rumored Russian blackmail video involving Trump]. This year, a woman who may or may not be Melania is contacting the new divorce lawyer in the firm about helping her rewrite her postnup. So it touches on the same issues and that same question of, are we being set up, or is this true? I think there’s a thread running through the whole year, which is the resistance, which is then, how do you take down someone who fights dirty…
Michelle: …Without sullying yourself to the point where you can no longer live with yourself. In other words, how low are you willing to go and still think of yourself as a good person?
When the first New Yorker story broke about Les Moonves last summer, even before he left CBS, it seemed obvious that you would figure out a way to tackle that story this season. How did you approach it?
Michelle: We were doing stories about sexual harassment long before this came up. So it’s really just a continuation. It impacts our firm and becomes very personal to the people involved.
Robert: It’s very difficult when you’re experiencing it from inside and there are people you love in CBS who are being hurt by it, day by day—we really wanted to reflect that.
Michelle: So that’s what the characters are debating and experiencing.
Robert: You’ll find that in episode 1. How could you not deal with it?
Michelle: But again, it’s a continuation of the themes and storylines we were exploring in the second season.
Given how crazy the current news cycle is, how do you decide—out of the hundreds of things that have happened in the last few months that could make for juicy storylines—which ones to pick?
Michelle: We have an exceedingly smart writers’ room. And whatever people are arguing about the loudest, that’s the episode.
You renewed your CBS TV Studios deal in September at a time when everyone, especially streaming services, are throwing a lot of money at creators. Why do you decide to stay at CBS versus potentially testing the waters elsewhere?
Michelle: We’ve had a great experience with CBS for the last 10 years. We like the people we’ve worked with, we like the shows we’ve been able to make. They’ve been really supportive. It would have been almost peculiar not to want to keep doing that.
Robert: I worked 15 years in features before TV, so I had this other career and it was hell, for several reasons. You didn’t get quick answers, you didn’t get honest answers, and you kept rewriting the same thing over and over again. It made you feel useless and pointless and like you’d want to go move to some other town. And then CBS stood behind us. It’s not just loyalty, what’s more important to us is having a happy experience and being given quick and honest answers. So we felt very good about that. You were hearing the other pitches, and you looked at it like, yeah, this sounds so good, but it also sounded like when I was in features and I was told, “Come on this project because we do things differently.” No one does anything differently! The bottom line is, we’re happy, and we’re old enough to know, when you’re happy, you should stick with it.
You’re doing a pilot, Evil, for CBS. You’ve talked a lot about how tough it would be to go back to a 22-episode order like on The Good Wife, so if Evil goes to series…
Michelle: It won’t be. It will be 13-15. Everyone’s been really clear on that. [they both laugh]
Robert: We said we couldn’t even come in and pitch [otherwise]. Because 22, coming back to “happy,” it did not make us happy. It was very hard. There were really good years. We loved some of the years, but it was always like, “Oh my gosh, we’re only halfway through and I’m exhausted!”
Michelle: The only difficulty we ever had with network was the number of episodes required. It was not that you couldn’t use certain swear words. We don’t live and die on that. It was really just quantity.