Since it’s debut in the fall of 2009, THE GOOD WIFE has been the best drama on broadcast television. The superb cast, lead by Julianna Margulies as the titular character, stands toe-to-toe with the casts of any of the the most buzzed about cable dramas. Airing on CBS, THE GOOD WIFE is about as “edgy” as the network gets. The story follows Alicia Florrick (Margulies) as she tries to rebuild her life after her husband Peter, the former states attorney is imprisoned after a sex and corruption scandal.
At first glance I thought THE GOOD WIFE was going to be a retread of previous CBS series JUDGING AMY. Let’s face it, the network found its sweet spot with safe, by-the-book procedural crime dramas so who would have expected a smart, compelling, often edge of your seat drama. The show allows its perfectly cast characters to explore their sexual desires in a way never really seen on other CBS shows. But, for all the smart, compelling, sexy stories THE GOOD WIFE has often been overshadowed by in buzz and awards by cable dramas
The nature of airing on a cable network, basic or premium, allows dramas more latitude in how they are written and produced. While THE GOOD WIFE produces 22 to 23 episodes a season, cable dramas only produce on average 13 episodes a season. This allows cable dramas to have more tightly written story arcs and because their entire seasons are usually filmed well ahead of their premiere date, stories aren’t subject to change course because of network executives’ reactions to a shows ratings performance.
As THE GOOD WIFE has evolved over the past few seasons, I’ve often said, if the show was on cable it would be nominated and win a Best Drama Emmy. If the show aired on CBS sister network SHOWTIME, it wouldn’t be subject to delayed airings due to football and other sports overruns. With a shorter episode order, THE GOOD WIFE would could give even greater focus to the often conflicted relationships between the characters and less on the procedural “case of the week” elements of the show. Don’t get me wrong, the show does an excellent job of weaving timely cases into their storylines, often times being ahead of breaking news. But, with a cable production model, especially on a premium network, the show would rely less on these stories and could focus on one or two major cases throughout the course of a season. And without having to write with commercial time in mind, the show’s content would fill close to 60 minutes.
As for content, as I said earlier, THE GOOD WIFE is about as edgy as a show gets on CBS. But imagine if the show were stripped of the limitations of FCC broadcast standards. In a world filled with lawyers and criminals, the characters would talk the way lawyers and criminals talk. Alicia’s arguments with estranged husband Peter would sound like real arguments that couples in troubled marriages have. Remember the season of THE SOPRANOS that focused on Tony and Carmela’s marital woes? It was intense and it felt real. Also, the show implies many of the characters have wild sexual appetites, but on broadcast we’re usually just left to our imaginations. There have been a couple of envelope-pushing scenes but not to the extent we see on cable. We would get to see more than Kalinda wrapped in a sheet after a tryst with one of her many lady loves. Or when sexual open Kalinda turns to her male friend with benefits and co-worker Cary Argos we don’t have to just see the under a sheet tent in post coital bliss. As for Alicia, her sexual fantasies could be more fully explored beyond quick cuts of what “might have been.”
A major plot point since early in the series is Alicia’s representation of Chicago drug kingpin Lemond Bishop. In season six, Bishop played a big part of the story putting Alicia’s political future and Cary’s live in jeopardy as well as being a major part of Kalinda’s exit story. While the story that played out was intense and the audience was never quite sure what would happen, if it had played out on cable a the stories could have had grittier more explosive outcomes. Kalinda’s exit from the series was cute but could have been a water cooler moment. The show did have a major water cooler moment when Alicia’s onetime romantic lead and legal rival was gunned down, off-screen, with no spoilers of the event being release ahead of air. This was an instance where the show had been delayed for a football overrun and I decided I would just watch the next day on-demand. When my Twitter feed exploded, I knew I had missed something big and the next morning watched the game changing episode online.
THE GOOD WIFE is a show that should have many explosive game changing moments, without the restrictions of broadcast television. If the show had the creative freedom that cable allows, it would be as big as its cable counterparts. I’m not advocating for gratuitous sex and violence but I can tell THE GOOD WIFE would go there, if only they could.
While critics love the show, I believe the show suffers from the “it airs on CBS” perception problem. CBS isn’t known or embraced by viewers as a place for edgy, social media buzz-worthy programming. Lesser shows that air on basic or premium cable networks benefit from their association with the type of programming those networks put out and reap the benefits, sometimes undeserved.
Heading into its seventh season, I know it’s too late to for THE GOOD WIFE to make the move to cable but I like to imagine what heights an already stellar cast, writers and show runners could achieve in a more unrestrictive creative world.
Relive Alicia and Will’s stormy relationship in the video below: