Emmy Watch: 'The Good Wife' creators talk the drama (and fun) of 'Blue Ribbon Panel'
Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.
In each of its first two seasons, CBS’ The Good Wife earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. Last year, it was the only network show in the category and produced at least 10 episodes more than each of its competitors. Should the length of a season be something Emmy voters take into account? “No,” says Robert King, cocreator of The Good Wife with his wife Michelle King. “Look, we gripe about it because it’s hard work and we get two weeks a year off. But the bottom line is, it still comes down to the show. Do you enjoy the show or do you not? I’m kinda thrilled that there’s a paradigm changing, that you can do 10 episodes or 13 episodes. I’m a TV fan. Really, they should judge it on the quality of the episodes, no matter how many episodes were written or shot.”
To that end, if Emmy voters need to be reminded why The Good Wife, which wrapped its third season in April,is still one of TV’s best dramas, they need only revisit one episode, “Blue Ribbon Panel.” It’s an hour written by the Kings that masterfully weaves together office politics, as Eli (Alan Cumming), Julius (Michael Boatman) and David (Zach Grenier) maneuver to replace suspended Will (Josh Charles) as name partner and fail; the ongoing investigation into Kalinda’s (Archie Panjabi) finances, which leads back to FBI agent Lana Delaney (Jill Flint); Alicia (Julianna Margulies) serving as the token woman on a panel investigating a police shooting alongside Mike Kresteva (guest star Matthew Perry), the man who would later announce he was running for governor against her husband, Peter (Chris Noth); and flashbacks to moments in the Florricks’ old house, which Alicia was trying to buy back (only her mother-in-law Jackie, played by Mary Beth Peil, outbid her). Watch a clip below as the Kings take us inside the episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Good Wife fans love to see so many great actors in one room, and the panel scenes produced that again.
MICHELLE KING: What was fun is that we were able to see some of the actors that we’d met previously, Peter Riegert [as Judge Harvey Winter] and Kurt Fuller [as Judge Peter Dunaway], and see them in a completely different way.
ROBERT KING: I think what was fun is to write these lines that have a slow awakening on the male part toward what Alicia was doing, and to not play Alicia as this innocent. What Julianna does so well is playing that there’s some cunning within the innocence, and even a cunning use of her innocence. You could see that the men were being confused by the fact that this woman wasn’t giving at all. There’s a stage-play-like quality to everybody having a line and everybody bouncing off of each other.
MK: It felt a little bit like a one-act play, in a good way. And we always love it when Alicia walks into a situation that is unfamiliar to her and she’s thrown a little bit off her guard and watching her come to terms with that and gain her strength. We wanted to play the subtle patronizing that she would experience, which is that in putting together this panel, they thought they were being so inclusive by making sure that there was an African-American and a woman. But obviously, Alicia was going to be the odd person out.
RK: I worked on committees at the Writers Guild a bit, and there was always a sense that the committees, at the very last-minute, would try to find diversity and try to manufacture it. And the difficulty is when you come on to one of these committees at the last minute, it’s kind of this runaway train that has its own momentum. What felt funnier was the outsider, so to speak, was the person who really looks at the function of the committee and says, “Wait a minute, I know you guys want to get home or get on to your normal work, but there’s a serious issue here. Let’s look at the serious issue.” It felt like a good way to do another version of 12 Angry Men.
Tell us about the creation of the Mike Kresteva character.
RK: I think TV treats characters as always honest as a plot mechanic. You have to trust what the character is saying, so that we can then base the next turn on it. And what felt fun to us was a character who can look at you bald-faced and say, “I’m telling the truth,” and you saw it, you know that it’s a 180 degree of a lie. Maybe we’re cynical, but we think that matches reality pretty well. [Laughs] I think we’ve all bumped into people in our lives that we realize, Wait a minute, you’re lying. You’re pretending that you’re not lying, but you are completely lying. Maybe we get more of that in Hollywood than in the rest of the world. But it felt like a fun character that you at first think that you can trust, and then you realize this guy will say anything and completely believe it to get what he wants. And that was the fun of the Matthew Perry character.
You set Kresteva up as Peter’s political rival, but now Matthew Perry has a fall show on NBC, Go On. Are you still hoping he’ll be able to make an appearance next season?
RK: Yes. We have a B plan and a C plan, but we don’t have to go to our backup plan yet because we’re still in talks with Matthew and his agent/manager.
MK: We adore him, and we adore the character.
RK: And more importantly, Jules and Matthew really like working with each other, so hopefully things will work out. But all we can do is cross our fingers at this point.
The character Howard Lyman (played by Jerry Adler) is also an interesting creation.
RK: Probably like a lot of people, we thought The Sopranos was a real kick, and not just a dramatic kick but comedic. We were always a fan of his on The Sopranos, and so when we were thinking of this character who, even though he was retired, was kind of just as much of a Machiavellian lawyer as when he was 30 years old, we looked for an actor who could peel away all the usual kitschiness about old age and just go toward pure unadulterated [Laughs] “evil” is too big of a word. [To Michelle] Give me the word.
RK: We thought Jerry Adler could really sell it. We loved this character who is kind of seen as inoffensive that can be used as a prop by Will and Diane, but then obviously has his own baggage.
Will and Diane (Christine Baranski) outsmarted Eli, Julius, and David by having Howard voted in as Will’s figurehead replacement instead. Will we see more of that trio next season?
MK: We hope so. We adore them, too.
RK: Zach Grenier and Michael Boatman work so well as this almost comic team. We ran into them at the Christmas party this year, and they were just so funny together. You think of them in such antagonistic terms, and here they were like really good friends and liking each other. So the combination of them with Alan Cumming — we just have so much fun writing those scenes.