On a recent episode of The Good Fight, a group of law firm colleagues gather in a conference room to discuss what they feel are the biggest issues facing the Black community. An in-depth and spirited debate about reparations ensues. If such a scene is a rarity on television, it’s par for the course for CBS All Access‘s The Good Fight, which has served as a rebuke to the Trump administration since its premiere in early 2017. Last night saw the release of the season 4 finale, seven episodes into what would have been a ten-episode run, after COVID-19 forced a halt to production before the completion of the final three episodes.
Showrunners Michelle and Robert King set a similarly political tone with The Good Wife, The Good Fight‘s predecessor which took on concerns about tech dominance and the plight of Chinese dissidents. But The Good Fight‘s majority-Black law firm setting allows the show to explore social issues even more deeply. The Kings, a married two-person production team who also created the CBS series Evil, spoke to ELLE.com on the eve of the finale about producing television while being confined to the home, taking on Trump, and why the show won’t be touching this year’s election.
Whether it’s the NSA wiretapping on The Good Wife or the 2016 election on The Good Fight, what makes a news story something you want to include in the show?
Michelle King: We have one of the smartest groups of writers imaginable, and we start every day talking about what’s going on in current events and the news. If people start arguing or really talking about things with great energy, that is a tip off that that’s a good area for an episode. Second, we’re very cognizant of stories that either seem as though they’re definitely going to be done on another show—in which case we don’t do it—or are so very topical that by the time the show airs, it’s no longer going to seem of the moment. We’re more interested in perennials, or stories that would appear below the fold.
Robert King: We’re always aware of Supreme Court decisions that are going to come out in several months, because then you can write ahead, towards whatever that issue is. On The Good Wife, we did shows on gay marriage because they were geared toward where we felt the Supreme Court was going to land and when we thought they were going to land. You’re always looking at the thing you think will pop in three months as opposed to next week.
You publicly addressed how coronavirus impacted editing the show. How is the pandemic affecting things other than filming?
MK: When we started breaking the season, the last thing I anticipated was that we would have a pandemic taking over every news story. But one of the themes we are exploring, which is how the world works differently for the very powerful and rich, applies to what’s going on with the pandemic. You look at the numbers and yes, of course, there are rich and powerful people that are getting sick and dying from it, but it’s disproportionately impacting those without that kind of power.
RK: With regards to making the show, it’s kind of a weird process because the editors are on their laptops at home and they set up an iPad in front of their laptop so they can FaceTime that laptop to my computer where I can watch the episode as they’re editing and give notes based on what I see. But there’s all this lag time in that and technology often rebels against you. Then there’s a lot of visual effects. You’d be amazed how many visual effects are in each episode. So all the effects artists are at home. Then the last thing is the main title sequence was supposed to be different this year. We were blowing up sofas and boardroom tables and framed diplomas. All that was going to be done the very next week, but then the pandemic hit.
In season 4, you’re taking on topics on like reparations and the complicity of white women. You’re both white—how do you build a writing staff that brings the different perspectives of each character to the show?
MK: We’ve got eight writers other than ourselves. Two of them are African-American, six are white. In terms of gender, four and four. In terms of sexual orientation, it’s three and five. You help yourself as a showrunner by having a diverse room but diverse means a lot of things. For example, on Good Fight I think the youngest writer is in his thirties and the oldest is late sixties. That’s another kind of diversity that is useful in storytelling.
Between the depiction of Melania seeking a divorce and the plot line surrounding the infamous pee tape, do you ever get nervous about taking on the administration? Do you ever hear anything from them?
MK: The second one is an easy no—we do not hear anything from them. The first one, maybe we should be nervous but we aren’t. We sort of cheerfully roll along and we’re amusing ourselves.
RK: One thing that helps us is we seem very inoffensive in person. Our writing can be very mean or very pointed or very brave or adventurous but we’re not that way. We’re cute people that try not to offend anyone. But it does feel like the best use of the First Amendment is to treat it like it really is worth taking seriously, and therefore it is good to look at a story that takes on the NSA or a story that, this year, scoffs at legal counsel.
Good Fight is such an acquired taste that our audience is of the type that doesn’t misunderstand satire. There’s this site called Newsbusters that just woefully misunderstands satire and has a political point to make based on it. The same thing happened when it broke through last year that we did a monologue about punching a Nazi. It on a mini scandal quality because there was a sense that the show was offending Republicans, and that was not the point. If you watch the show and you watched it in context, you understood the Republicans were against the Nazis as much as the Democrats. What helps us is that it’s a bit of a niche show.
Why did you decide not to address the election?
RK: I think we’re avoiding it because, A) we didn’t have a crystal ball to know who would be Democratic candidate. And then, B) the way to get at Trump, who we think is a danger to society, is not always head on. It’s often looking at the cultural impact of this administration.
For us, the one we wanted to focus on this year was the law and the way the sharp corners of the rules of law are being rounded off in many ways by what’s going on right now. We didn’t want to go straight at the election. We did a little of that last season with Diane joining some kind of Democratic resistance group, showing that Democrats often turn themselves into their opposition and make the same Machiavellian mistakes. We didn’t want to go head-on this year.
Do you expect that you will get into coronavirus at all, or the way it has affected power structures?
RK: Not there. You know what, we were really affected by Fountains of Wayne singer/writer Adam Schlesinger dying. Two of the main titles, we played their songs instead of our main theme. God, it’s such a tragedy and people need to be reminded of that tragedy.
MK: In terms of storytelling, it’s so hard to know what’s going to happen both in terms of the virus and in terms of when we’re going to be filming next, so we haven’t really figured out how we want to talk about the pandemic in terms of the law firm. I don’t think we’re going to even delve into that until the writers start meeting again.
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