NATPE's fourth annual LATV Fest kicked off this week at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Century City with television industry professionals and insiders helping those who are seeking insight into navigating their way through the business of television in this hectic age of both digital and traditional media. Our Jim Halterman was at the Industry Insight Lunch held earlier today where Michelle King and Robert King, the husband and wife creators of "The Good Wife," talked of their experience in creating the CBS breakout series.
1:22 PM - NATPE President and CEO Rick Feldman introduces actor/Internet host Kevin Pollak, who will serve as moderator for today's lunch panel. Kevin jokes about the lack of air conditioning in the tent telling the audience to be prepared because 'Jews sweat when they swim.'
1:27 PM - A nice trailer of "The Good Wife" leading into the upcoming second season starring Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Christine Baranski, Archie Panjabi and Josh Charles is shown. Easy to see why this drama clicked with viewers.
1:28 PM - Kevin asks Michelle and Robert how they actually go about writing together. Robert explains, "We structure together, we write first drafts together, when we both are sitting down at the computer I'm typing because I type with one finger... I think it's perfect. We sometimes play the dialogue out in our heads but for us it's not usually about the dialogue. It's usually about the structure. The structure we sweat over a lot and then we do drafts pretty fast." Robert then reveals that they actually script their pitches because "we're not actors so we get nervous very easily."
1:30 PM - Robert says while he's had bad pitching experiences during his feature career, when working with Michelle on TV pitches, they've never had a bad experience. Michelle speaks up and reminds him that there was one. "We were pitching to three executives," she recounts, "one of them nodded off while I was talking and Robert did kick him." When Robert asks his wife to remind him who that was, Michelle (well aware of the crowd listening) smiles and says "I'll tell you later." (Yes, they did end up selling the pitch, though the project wasn't made.)
1:31 PM - Kevin asks about agents/managers getting their "ducks in a row" for pitching season. Robert says they do work closely with their agent (Andy Patman at Paradigm) and, while pitching is year-round most places, they have only pitched to broadcast networks. "Come May, Michelle and I just say, 'What are the things we would want to pursue?' and then we create a list of ideas that sound fun to us and they're all over the map... then we decide what the top three are that we love, we tell them to Andy." They'll find out what the networks are looking for and get matched up with a producer. With 'The Good Wife,' it was Scott Free and Tony & Ridley Scott.
1:35 PM - Kevin asks if they write that original pilot thinking about actors that they'd want? "We don't like getting an actor in mind," Robert says, "because you'll never get them and then you'll be over-committed to them in your mind." Michelle concurs, "It doesn't work when you write to someone you want because you won't get them." Kevin asks with a knowing grin, "What if you had them... say in this case, me?" Michelle agrees that creatively it would be heaven. [Who knows... Kevin Pollak guesting on "The Good Wife" may be in the future!]
1:39 PM - What hurdles did the Kings go through to get "The Good Wife" on the air? Robert explained that post-strike, "we felt like we were writing per what studio and networks wanted. We found out that there was someone who wanted to do a show about witches so we found that we were trying to fit that pattern." Instead of trying to fit a pattern, however, they decided to come up with two pilot ideas and one - the 'meat and potatoes idea' - was "The Good Wife." Robert explains that this project "fulfilled what we felt networks needed to get to their audience. In the case of this, having a procedural and having a job where someone would have cases of some kind, though we knew for it to be interesting and to have any potential to be sold it had to be different from what was out there." The other element that helped was the real-life scandals with women standing by men like Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig and televangelist Ted Haggard.
1:42 PM - Michelle adds, "We started looking at some of these real women and over and over and you found that these are, first of all, women who are choosing to stay in the marriage, which is interesting. Many of them are highly intelligent and accomplished on their own and we kept seeing lawyers; one after the other. There is a weird pattern here. What is the psychology? Suddenly we can't stop thinking about it."
1:44 PM - "We're somewhere between whores and artists," says Robert in knowing how to write what he and Michelle want but also be aware of the wants of the television marketplace. "What the hunger that came from the strike gave us was acknowledging that we needed to fulfill the side of what we didn't feel network TV was doing enough of - supplying strong character."
1:46 PM - While most series with a female-lead traditionally show the woman as a 'superwoman,' Robert says "what the show was interested in really was a woman at her weakest moment trying to rebuild her identity; she didn't know who she was."
1:47 PM - Kevin opens the floor up to Q&A from the audience. What's the next step after the first season success of 'The Good Wife?' Michelle says, "What to do next is to drive back to the office. That's as far ahead as I've been able to plan." Robert adds that they start shooting the second season on Thursday and they have to churn out a script every eight days. In other words, no time to think too far ahead.
1:50 PM - In having a non-writing Executive Producer working with them, how does that person help in their process? Robert says "What we found in [Executive Producer] David Zucker was someone that was pretty tenacious. He and Andy Patman found out that originally they passed on our pitch [for 'The Good Wife.']... but he turned what was a pass into a yes and we still don't quite know how he did that because usually passes are a no. The other thing he does is he really holds our feet to the fire about creating arcs throughout the season."
1:53 PM - How do things work in the writer's room? "We have a staff of six writers," Robert explains, "and together we spend from 10am to 6pm talking through every beat. We're beating it out together no matter whose script it is."
1:55 PM - In pitching a complex character like Margulies' Alicia to the networks, Robert says that while the feature business is less concerned with character, "we found in TV that they have great tolerance for hearing about characters... they will sit and listen to character for awhile."
1:57 PM - How involved are the network and advertisers involved with stories, such as a will they/won't they relationship (on 'The Good Wife' it's between the characters of Alicia and Will)? Michelle says "We have no contact with [advertisers] in terms of character development. In terms of studio or network they do want to have creative input. I think they're impulse is creative rather than commercial."
1:58 PM - Robert says "We asked the advice of [CBS Senior Vice President of Drama] Christina Davis while we were shooting the pilot what she thought was the biggest problem for first year shows?' She said, 'Usually the problem is delaying events.' A lot of people -showrunners/creators - think 'won't this be great? 18 episodes down the line I'll have this happen.' Then they think 'Okay, I can get there by doing this in episode 2' and then the audience just goes away after episode 3 and you never get to episode 18. In many ways, plotting out the year is helpful but you really do need to think 'How do I keep things cooking?' Robert cites the first season of "Lost" as a show that kept bringing more and more to audiences with every episode.
2:00 PM - Going back to "The Good Wife" pitch, Robert and Michelle said describing the opening image of the pilot (where Margulies dutifully stands next to Noth during a press conference and then, once backstage, says nothing but slaps his face) was key to getting the network on board. "That opening image was probably the grabber because people got it. I think the other thing was her path to a job that made sense for a network, which was only original in that the scandalized husband went to jail and they had lost their home because of court costs and she had to start working again to make money and they got it."
2:03 PM - Do the Kings think about the variety of media out there for viewers to watch the show? "What has become interesting is that the feedback from the audience is much more in your life," says Robert. "We're not like the 'Lost' people but... there is a sense that if you want to see whether people are getting bored of this thread or this thread you can access it online."
2:06 PM - "If you were asking what our thoughts are [about cable] they're pretty bitter," Robert mentions with a smile in regards to the smaller orders that cable networks produce for their Emmy-lauded dramas. "To not have to write a script every eight days would be a luxury."
2:09 PM - "Creating something original and knowing that they want," says Kevin about the final summation of the panel.
NATPE LATV Fest continues through Thursday and "The Good Wife" airs Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00c on CBS. Kevin Pollak's online chat series can be found at www.kevinpollakschatshow.com.