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'The Good Wife' creators discuss gay marriage vs. religious freedom

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Jeff Neumann/CBS

Sometimes art imitates life, and The Good Wife did exactly that with a timely episode that tackled gay marriage and religious freedom. (Read the recap here.) Here, co-creators and writers Robert and Michelle King discuss why they decided to address this topic and the latest developments with Alicia and Kalinda. 

EW: This episode was particularly timely with everything that’s been happening in the news. But it was actually written and shot in February of this year. How and when do you decide to do stories like this?

ROBERT KING: I think it’s a combination of having a really good writers’ room. We have seven writers, and what they do all day is argue these issues. We’re part of the writers’ room too. But we’re all looking at the issues that we think are on the cusp of being subjects of debate at the family dinner table when the family gets together for Easter or Passover. What are they going to argue about? And you don’t want to get something that you’re too far behind the issue because then it’s reached its zenith in the zeitgeist. And then you’re kind of on the lower crest of it, or the facts change on the ground. Suddenly the issue that you thought was so hot has kind of cooled only because now it’s another issue. Our writers’ room is very good at doing things two months ahead. I don’t know why. Crystal ball or something. [Laughs]

MICHELLE KING: Also what we’ve found is especially good for us are issues that we can’t imagine any other show touching. If it feels like, oh, this would be appetizing to a different crime show or a different law show, then that’s a real good sense that that’s not the issue for us.

Why was this episode so important? 

RK: The tension between gay marriage, let’s say, and religious freedom is a topic that people get very angry and furious about on both sides. I kind of don’t explore all the various repercussions from which way you go. I think what we found exciting about the episode, and one of the reasons why I wanted to pursue it, was it takes you through it fairly slowly and looks at, hopefully, we think all sides of it while still being funny. I mean, whenever we do serious subjects you don’t want to get too far away from fart jokes. [Laughs] Obviously we have two great comic actors in Oliver Platt and Christine Baranski and they helped explore both sides through them playing opposite sides of the same issue.

MK: And then the other reason the episode feels important, at least important to the fans of The Good Wife, is that there is a lot going on with Alicia vis-à-vis the election.

RK: But at least with the main issue, the issue that seems to be all in the news right now, we did an episode three weeks ago that was about 3D technology and the printing of guns. And we always read a lot about it, but it’s [one thing] to read about it and another thing to see it. And that was fun because we saw the process. Here, we want to see the process and kind of see the repercussions of it.

How do you tackle such hot-button issues without polarizing your viewers? 

MK: I would say it always starts with the characters. We have characters that have different points of view and we like and respect all those characters. So if you start from that place, then the arguments they make are going to be sensible arguments worth listening to.

RK: We have a writers’ room that is fairly diverse politically and religiously too. And so one of the things we love about that is when you get an argument going in the room and you find when you’re listening to an argument you keep switching sides. You’re in a really good grey area. I don’t think we have that many people switch sides on this, but there are angles in this kind of debate that are kind of concerning… The allowances that we make for religion in other spheres, even though you may think politically I’m on one side of this, if you think about all the repercussions you might find in other areas you’re not on the same side. And of course the law is about addressing all those sides. It’s a hard case that makes a bad law is a cliche, but in fact it’s often true. We did an episode recently that was about abortion. I would say it was friendlier than most TV shows to the pro-life side—or the anti-choice side, depending on your point of view. And what we wanted this episode to be is sort of in that same sphere where you didn’t know where the writers were coming down. It’s harder on this subject because you’re always kind of leaning on the side of humanity over absolute law or the coldness of law. So it’s harder to see the same difference of opinion there. But the difference of opinion there exists in the writing.

When you write an episode like this, are you thinking about effecting change? Or is that just a byproduct? 

MK: That would never be the first impulse. The first impulse is really always to entertain and to do something different and to stretch ourselves creatively. It’s not meant ever as a screed. And frankly, when we get anywhere close to earnest, we pull back right away.

RK: One of the things the show likes is creating a dialectic and doing it hopefully in a visual way. There’s these little visual pops that kind of explain the story. It’s kind of a joke because most crime shows, whenever someone describes a crime, you see the crime dramatized the way they explain it. And we thought we were kind of making a joke about it that every time they [talk] about a baker baking a cake for a gay wedding you actually see versions of that. So it’s mean to be an entertaining way of looking at issues. But we don’t want to improve anybody. [Both laughWe don’t want to change anybody. I don’t know how much you can change people these days. Everybody seems very set in their opinions. And you never want to preach to the choir because in many ways that’s not very entertaining. John Stewart used to make fun of that applause that was just like, okay we all agree and our on the same side of the issue. Could we stop flattering ourselves by patting ourselves on the back for that same point of view. This show in theory wants to ease you out of your comfort zone and say, okay look at it from this point of view now.

Switching gears a little bit, this episode seemed to have a shift for Kalinda. Some of her decisions are finally catching up with her. 

RK: I do think you’re right. There’s a pivot point here where you start to see where things are headed. I think there might be a few surprises on the way. [Lemond] Bishop will be coming back into our life because we have more episodes with Mike Colter. Andrew Wiley [Tim Guinee] comes back for another episode. I think you’re going to see that things are getting harder and harder for Kalinda to extricate herself from.

There was also a big shift for Alicia in this episode.

RK: We’ve been with Alicia throughout the show and she’s done some questionable things, but you often forgive her as a character. But now we see how the public might react to her. There are things that we know and love, but the viewing public in Alicia’s world may view it a completely different way.

Anything else you want to add about the episode?

MK: I feel really glad that we stuffed it all into the episode. I don’t think there’s another thing to say outside of that.