‘Good Fight’ Duo Michelle and Robert King Have Concerns About Where Hollywood Is Heading

‘Good Fight’ Duo Michelle and Robert King Have Concerns About Where Hollywood Is Heading

The sixth and final season of Paramount+’s The Good Fight makes a strong case that the world might be ending. Riots fill the streets, grenades are hurled into crowded elevators and suicidal birds bloody office windows during its Sept. 8 premiere. If the series’ creators, Michelle and Robert King, are feeling the same low-boil panic as the characters who populate their legal drama, they don’t show it.

The couple, who’ve been delivering their darkly comic social commentary since predecessor series The Good Wife made them two of the most sought-after TV writer-producers in 2009, remained droll during a late-August Zoom from the Manhattan home they share blocks from Central Park — even when the conversation leaned into concerning shifts in the TV industry and their own inherent differences. (The secular Michelle was among the hundreds of female showrunners who signed a July letter demanding Hollywood studios ensure abortion safety protocols on productions, while Robert is a lifelong Catholic.)

But the Kings, married since 1987 and parents to a grown daughter, have much more in common than not. They seem to think the same might be true for Americans, a notion they subtly try to reinforce in their work, which includes the Paramount+ supernatural procedural Evil and Showtime’s Your Honor, both produced under their King Size banner. “Our characters have different points of view and, ideally, people want to hear them,” says Robert. “The more you play three-dimensional chess with politics, the harder it is for people to just sit in their comfortable little bubbles of thought.”

Evil and The Good Fight capture the dread that a lot of people feel about American life right now. How does spending so much time with that material influence your own outlooks?

ROBERT KING It’s kind of a weird time, isn’t it? It’s dread one day, hope the next.

MICHELLE KING Often, it’s in half-hours — not even days. Whether we’re doing a show or not, we’re junkies for news. The fact that there is a show to put those thoughts into is very helpful, especially because these writers rooms are full of thoughtful, informed people. There’s a place to process that angst.

ROBERT Sometimes the happiest writer is the one writing the most tragic play. There’s this weird thing where a person can use writing as therapy. I feel a bit like Michael Emerson’s character [in Evil], reading The Coming Civil War and cackling at how fun that will be. It’s kind of awful.

With The Good Fight, you’ve had a lot of cast departures — Rose Leslie, Cush Jumbo, Delroy Lindo. Does that give you a complex?

MICHELLE No. People have other obligations.

ROBERT Streaming has made things more difficult for creators on shows with a deep bench. The other opportunities are plentiful, and actors really want to be No. 1 on the call sheet. Yet, with any show, there’s really only one No. 1.

In The Good Fight‘s third season, CBS axed plans to include an animated musical short about censorship in China. The episode ended up referencing that with a “CBS has censored this content” tag, which you’ve said you wish you had handled differently. This season revisits the entertainment industry’s ties to China. Is that about getting it right this time?

ROBERT I get a little provoked when told “no” and not for a good reason — when it’s because of some corporate needs somewhere else. It felt like, “Well, OK, if you have no problem with the drama with China, we’re going to go there.” Not only are we going to go there here, we’re going to put it in Evil, too. Also, to be truly ethical about it, I’m appalled that entertainment is so cowed by the dictates of China. There’s a genocide going on, and the Uyghurs are being put in concentration camps. How are people going to look back at this time when American entertainment seems to be so much deferring to dictatorships overseas?

The final season of The Good Fight, starring Audra McDonald (left) and Christine Baranski, concludes a story the Kings started with The Good Wife.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+

The episode in question features a manager saying, “Do not fuck with China,” and a pop star posting a sycophantic apology to the country. Was the executive reaction different this time?

MICHELLE There was zero pushback. They could have said, “You know what? This is too hot an issue, choose something else.” No one batted an eye.

ROBERT I do think that [animated short], because you could attach it to an email and send it to other honchos in the CBS world, there was more, “Oh my God, we don’t want that!” That cartoon, from Jonathan Coulton and Headgear Animation, was just a perfect distillation. What we spent 18 pages saying, they did in literally 55 seconds. That’s what made it dangerous. The third episode this season is about racism in football, which I think is even more dangerous for conglomerates these days. I think the show is being given some more leeway because we’re out the door. But they’ve always been good to us.

Without getting too specific, the third season of Evil ends with what one could objectively call an unwanted pregnancy. What do abortion conversations sound like in the writers room right now? And how do your differing outlooks influence those conversations?

MICHELLE We were not thinking about Roe v. Wade with the demon-child plotting. The unwanted pregnancy, it’s only unwanted by the egg donor — as it were. But the surrogate is already eight months pregnant, so it goes right past that conversation.

ROBERT It doesn’t go past that conversation on The Good Fight. The overturning of Roe v. Wade is very much at the heart of the show. Michelle and I, over however many years we’ve been married, have had healthy arguments and conversations about it. I wouldn’t say arguments … healthy conversations. Now it’s about Diane’s [Christine Baranski] state of mind. What does she think?

MICHELLE That’s easy. That has nothing to do with us having a disagreement on the topic. We’re super clear on what Diane thinks.

ROBERT Whatever we do, I go to comedy. And Roe v. Wade is not a comic subject for anybody. So, it’s trying to figure out what is the way to access that — comic first, emotional second, and to make sure we’re never didactic about it. That’s the way we get around any disagreement we may have in the politics of the matter.

The Good Wife alum Mike Colter stars in Evil, which opens its season-four writers room in September. 2

Courtesy of Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+

Do you think we’re going to see abortion depicted or discussed in TV and film more now?

MICHELLE More Hollywood showrunners than not were horrified by the repeal. We can only think about our shows, and the one thing we’re trying to avoid more than anything is earnestness. So we will not be jumping into an obvious abortion story.

ROBERT Regarding the business itself, the pressure being applied to companies to either protect employees that are in these states — or even prevent filming in those states — is going to get traction. But I do worry that, as the entertainment world collapses into three or four conglomerates, the more scared they’re going to be of politics. They’re worried about the other side of the Disney brand brushing up against their lobbying efforts in D.C. So, I do think you’re not going to find as much adventurous TV about politics. Going forward, other than the late night shows, entertainment shows are going to find it hard.

You’ve both spoken about leaving film for TV because you disliked the development process. But with all the consolidation, TV is looking more like film these days. Does that concern you?

ROBERT More than anything, because it affects creative. On The Good Wife, The Good Fight, Evil and even BrainDead, we basically had final cut. There weren’t notes because of the panic of time. The more time producers — and now I’m talking non-writing producers — have to fill a void, they will find energy and ability to [meddle]. You are finding a lot of diverse executives being cut, a lot of white executives being pushed in and more money going to executive ranks because they’re adding supposed value in the development process. This is the big gap they had that killed features, in my mind, that made writers just stenographers for what the producers wanted. If a producer didn’t want something, they got a rewrite to do it another way. You’re finding the same thing with these mini rooms. All they are is a way for producers to rejigger the story in some way that they think makes it more worthy and kills a writer’s intuition. We’ve had the time of our life, but I’m worried about people coming up. There’s not as much freedom to make things work. We don’t do mini rooms because writers should be paid what they’re worth.

MICHELLE It’s a misnomer. There’s nothing mini about it. It’s a room, and the writers who are hired to be in it are working just as hard as in traditional rooms. It’s a nonsense distinction that’s only there to allow writers to be paid less than they should be.

ROBERT It’s just like the development hell in the movies. Who wants to go back to that? It’s insane.

Do you worry about a show like BrainDead, which ran for only one season, suddenly being raptured from a platform and lost to time?

MICHELLE There’s way too much to worry about. God bless BrainDead, but I cannot spend my nights awake, worrying about it being taken off Paramount+. (Laughs.)

ROBERT I’ll tell you what I worry about. We don’t have copies of it anywhere. We don’t have DVDs. If I need to remember a line that we used, to make sure we’re not copying ourselves, I go on Paramount+ and find it.

MICHELLE We could probably get copies. Or we could videotape it?

ROBERT With my iPhone? (Laughter.) Well, I’ve got to tell you, you hit on a sore point for almost all showrunners everywhere. They’re horrified by this sense that the work that they spent so much time on could just be, as you say, raptured up into the sky. And sometimes it’s being done by people who don’t have a creative bone in their body.

MICHELLE That’s the bigger worry. Books go out of print. It’s not the first time this has happened, but it does seem to be happening for all the wrong reasons.

What does your own pipeline look like right now? You optioned the Happy Face podcast for a true-crime series last year.

MICHELLE We’re in the last stages of negotiation with a director on Happy Face. Your Honor is in its second season, shooting in New Orleans and in L.A. standing in for New Orleans.

Showtime limited series Your Honor, featuring Carmen Ejogo and Bryan Cranston, was renewed after over performing in ratings.

Courtesy of Skip Bolen/SHOWTIME

Where in L.A. does one find New Orleans?

MICHELLE Santa Clarita. (Laughs.) It’s an interior set.

ROBERT The first season, we shot everything in New Orleans — including the interiors. We saved money this year by shooting at Santa Clarita.

MICHELLE (Whispering.) No, we didn’t. It’s more.

ROBERT Why’d we do it then?

MICHELLE To accommodate.

What sacrifices do you make to stay on budget these days?

ROBERT We try to stomp on money issues in the script stage, but it’s hard if you want any scope at all. The other thing is we’re kind of a family business. It’s us, [King Size president] Liz Glotzer and our assistants. We don’t have executives.

MICHELLE Other production companies that are turning out a comparable number of shows have far more executives and just a lot more infrastructure.

ROBERT I keep saying to Liz and Michelle, “We have to hire more people.” I think they’re worried about losing control.

The last time you spoke for this section of THR, in 2015, you were launching King Size so you could be execs and spend less time showrunning. That’s not what happened. Do you still think about ceding more creative control?

MICHELLE We say we’re cutting back. Now that The Good Fight is over, we’re not going to be running two shows at the same time. We’ve just got Evil. And yet, in three hours, we have a pitch with CBS for a new show.

ROBERT We can’t stop ourselves, but I don’t know if that’s a credit to us. I think it’s a tic. Once we finished The Good Wife, there was a sense that we’re never going to do 22 episodes of TV a year. Well, if you’re doing two shows, you’re doing 20 episodes or even 23.

MICHELLE Then a third show slips its way in, and suddenly it’s 29 episodes. That was not the plan!

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.