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One of the most buzzed about shows of the fall TV season doesn't have dinosaurs or singing contestants, doesn't go back in time and isn't a re-imagining of a classic TV series. "The Good Wife" stirs the pot week in and week out with its own unique blend of drama that is engaging merely because the series, starring Julianna Margulies, who took home the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series Emmy this past weekend, knows how to tell great stories with characters you embrace and care about. Just before season three kicks off on Sunday, our Jim Halterman spent some time on the phone with series creators Robert and Michelle King to talk about the new Sunday timeslot, utilizing guest stars within the fabric of the show and tease what is to come for Alicia (Margulies), who at the end of last season took ownership of her life by ending her friendship with BFF Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), kicking hubby Peter (Chris Noth) to the curb and slipping into a hotel room for a long-awaited liaison with her boss, Will (Josh Charles).
Jim Halterman: Let's first talk the new timeslot. What was your initial reaction to the move to Sunday night and how are you feeling about it now?
Robert King: I couldn't figure it out. We're not complete novices but we're fairly new to TV and when you're working on a show you don't look up, you're just kind of racing ahead. So a lot of it was not really knowing what it meant and there were probably some things we thought we would want to avoid but that one just came as a curveball. Then, the more we both talked to CBS, they talked to us, we actually feel like it's a good fit. As much as we love the 'NCIS' people and they've been very good to us, there was probably a lack of flow on Tuesday night and what was nice is that there were some people who came from other places to watch the show at 10 but then there were a lot of people who dropped off. The only real issue [on Sundays] is the football question and that remains a mystery.
Michelle King: The other positive to me is not just the change in night but also moving up an hour. It seems that being at 9 o'clock will allow more people to come to it that by 10 o'clock are already done with their viewing for the night.
RK: The last thing that is good about it is that CBS has put a lot of money and effort into bringing attention to the move and you don't have that until you move.
JH: I'm always struck by how fresh the show feels in regards to how it tells stories. Can you talk about how intentional that is and how you go about dropping and then picking up certain characters and threads throughout the season and the series, for that matter?
MK: I'm going to start by saying thank you for noticing. It absolutely is intentional to try to do the episodes differently from each other so people don't feel bored by it and that makes it a little more challenging because you don't have a pattern to fall back on.
RK: Regarding the characters popping up, what we really wanted was a sense that in life, especially in the small world of Chicago, sometimes you keep bumping into the same people, For example, Carrie Preston ('True Blood') who we haven't seen since the first season will come back this season and there's an inevitability of why we end up back in her world but there is a sense that these people live beyond the borders of the episode they were introduced in.
JH: With your use of guest stars, which comes first? The character or the actor?
RK: We were looking for a character to come and place difficulties in Alicia's world and relationships early in the year and we kind of had a character worked out and then Lisa Edelstein ran into contractual difficulties with 'House' and became available. It's kind of the marrying of two things which is we need this character to be someone who plays a role of risk in Will's life and then once the actress became available you start writing with her in mind, especially when we found out [Lisa] might be available.
JH: Michael J. Fox is a great example of someone we're very familiar with but he doesn't overshadow his recurring role and then you also have another big personality � Eddie Izzard � coming up. How do you make sure the actor doesn't overshadow the role?
RK: We're not writing the role to flatter the actor or actress. That actor or actress is servicing the plot. It feels like that would be the difference than if it was 'Oh, this is the episode where we got Meryl Streep for something.' It's more what is the character's function in the plot and can the actor/actress support the need of that?
MK: The other piece of that is really we've been fortunate enough to work with such gifted actors. They are truly committing to the characters and they're not there to just draw attention to themselves. I think you're going to see that with the Eddie Izzard portrayal.
RK: Can I use an example of last year? There was a nanny scandal in California in the Governor's race and it just felt like an interesting way to knock one of the people running out of the fictional State's Attorney race on our show for them to have a nanny problem. Once we went down that road, we wanted to make it a very specific character who was a nanny but also a day trader. Then we found out America Ferrara might be interested so we found the function within the plot and then the character follows.
JH: Like Alan Cumming (who is now a regular on the show), America Ferrara is a great example of a guest star coming on the show for a few episodes and, as a viewer, you instantly want to see more of them. Let's see more of America or Rita Wilson or Michael J. Fox... I mean, it's not a bad problem to have, huh?
MK: We love the characters and we love the actors so then moving forward it's all about opportunity when they're available and what stories come after them.
RK: Also, an interesting dance for us as writers is you have Rita Wilson come on the show and blows the part out of the water and creates a very unique role in that. So, then, in future episodes there was another character but [Rita] was so good it was like 'Why create a new character? Let's just see if we can get Rita Wilson back' which makes the job slightly easier.
JH: So, let's talk specifics about the new season. After Alicia finally gets together with Will in the finale, she's not divorced, right?
JH: And the whole series began with Peter having had some relations outside their marriage and, yes, in a completely different scenario. My question is, then, is the fact that she's still married something that comes up?
RK: Yeah, it does. It is a concern. The bottom line is you so want to be in Alicia's point of view and people who do something wrong have a tendency to be in denial. There was a lot of fun in Alicia getting together with Will but in many ways the correlation with Alicia and Peter is not 100 percent...
MK: ... It's not even that... I think that there was active deceit on Peter's part and Alicia had said 'We're split. We're apart.'
RK: They're not divorced. Do you think there's a difference when they're divorced versus when they're separated?
MK: I think there's a whole big difference between married and separated.
RK: Alright, well, we disagree.
JH: So now that Alicia and Will have slept together, it would be easy to assume they'll be together but I'm guessing it won't be as easy as that. What's to come there?
RK: It won't be as easy as that. There's a whole thicket of issues there in how this plays out. Will is her boss and beyond that... Michelle and I may disagree on the first thing but I think for Alicia, this is a romance that was unconsummated but what do you do when you wake up the next day?
JH: The other relationship that really hit everyone last year was the fracture in the Alicia/Kalinda relationship. Can their friendship be repaired in any way?
RK: The difficulty that we face is that the friendship cannot return to what it was. It was a friendship of two unlikely women who had a meeting of the minds even though they're very different characters. The struggle that they're facing is how do you get over that betrayal and what is the nature of the friendship after that? I think that's the real question of this year is where do Alicia and Kalinda end up? I haven't seen that friendship on TV where you have betrayals of a friendship like a betrayal of a marriage. How do you survive that and can you survive it? They may not want to survive it since both of them start the year not really wanting to look at each other.
JH: Peter obviously is still going to be very present this season but what is the state of his relationship with Alicia at this point?
RK: I think the real interesting thing is that Peter has been put in a functional place. He is now the State's Attorney so he's Alicia's opposition on criminal cases. Also, there's an on-going investigation into Lockhart/Gardner that was started by Glenn Childs (Titus Welliver). This relationship is never going to be a happy separation or a happy ending for that matter. The difficulties for anyone who works with a spouse is that the requirements of the job sometimes create its own tension. I don't mean to talk so bleakly about them but these cases are going to cause problems in their relationship.
JH: The firm itself is a character that goes through its own drama regularly on the show. How will all these personal dramas effect the firm itself?
RK: The biggest drama is that Eli (Alan Cumming) is now in-house. As he says in one of the first episodes, 'I don't like to share.' Eli is an only child and now he's joining a family and he has very, very big shoes. We've always thought of Will and Diane (Christine Baranski) are the mother and father in the firm and it's kind of a marriage that has its own problems and there's a love there; not a physical love. And now they've got this unruly cold child and Eli is someone who deals with the politics on our show and he will now be dealing with the politics of the firm and this family.
JH: How are you both holding up with the pressure as the show enters season three? Are you feeling a different kind of pressure or is it smooth sailing at this point?
RK: It's not smooth sailing. We're trying this year to do 11 [episodes] in a row without a break, without reruns. As fun as that is for viewers, we find it an incredible strain here obviously because the pressure of this is tantamount... but we're still having fun. We're having a lot of fun with characters and there's always something fun that you want to do.
MK: I think the big issue is always schedule. Hopefully we've learned a little something in years one and two that make parts of doing the job easier in year three. What keeps the pressure on is that the schedule is now contracted so there's less time to do it because it's trying to run all these originals in a row.
"The Good Wife" airs Sundays at 9:00/8:00c on CBS.