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How To Make a 'Good Wife'

"We're not the most talented writers in
the world," writer and producer Robert King admitted to attendees at the NATPE
LATV Festival July 13 in Los Angeles. "But we don't sit down and wait."

Clearly, King and his wife Michelle are
doing something right-their breakout CBS drama The Good Wife, which they co-created, executive produce, and write
for received nine Emmy nominations last week. The pair sat down for an Industry Insight lunch moderated by actor and Internet host Kevin Pollak to discuss
their experience working as a team and creating the hit series.

The Kings explained that while their
ideas are shaped during an intensive shared draft-writing process, a project's
success comes down to being pitch-perfect.

"We rehearse the pitch completely. We
script it," said Robert. "We're not actors, so we get nervous very easily. If
we remember it down almost to the word, then we can vary it in the room and
seem very natural. Because the worst thing is to make the person you're
pitching to feel nervous, like they're going to miss something."

To prepare for pitching season, the
Kings, who only pitch to broadcast networks, brainstorm a variety of project
ideas before bringing their top three to agent Andy Patman of Paradigm.
Together, they explore what networks want so that Patman may match them with a
producer. With The Good Wife, the
Kings teamed up with brothers Tony and Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker as
co-executive producers.

It appears that the series' pitch,
however, was just the last of many hurdles the Kings faced before bringing
their new project to fruition. In the wake of the WGA strike, Robert and
Michelle were left without the blind pilot deal they once shared with ABC-and
left open to pitch to other networks. The experience challenged them to be more
cunning with their creativity.

"We came out of the strike knowing that
we didn't have a home anymore," Robert said. "So we committed that year to try
to sell two pilots, so that we would increase our options."

Frustrated, the Kings forwent fitting
the pattern of traditional network preferences in favor "the meat and potatoes
idea" that was to become The Good Wife.

"What the hunger that comes from a
strike gave us was the acknowledging that we need to fulfill the side of what
we didn't feel network TV was doing enough [of], which was applying character -
strong, character-based drama," said Robert.

Fascinated by the emergent sex scandals
of public figures like Larry Craig, Eliot Spitzer and televangelist Ted
Haggard, the Kings found this missing element in the untold stories of the
wives who remained by their fallen husband's sides. The duo then applied this
to the procedural show model they knew networks wanted.

"We started looking at some of
these real women and over and over you found that these are, first of all,
women who are choosing to stay in the marriage, which is interesting," Michelle
explained. "Many of them are highly intelligent and accomplished on their own.
And we kept seeing lawyers; one after the other, and said ‘OK, there is a weird
pattern here. What is the psychology beneath it?' Suddenly we can't stop
thinking about it."

For the Kings, the story of the "good
wife" is a stark contrast to the tough, top-of-her-game "superwoman" that
characterizes many female leads.

"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," said Robert.

Ultimately, however, the creators of The Good Wife credit their process to
their knowledge of the landscape and the needs of specific networks.

"We consider ourselves craftspeople, we
really want to apply art," Robert said. "But the only way anybody pays you to
do that is if you're aware of their problem, which is that they have an
audience that wants to tune in for a certain thing."

That is not to say the Kings believe
the framework of buyers' expectations limits their creativity; rather, their
process is one of fitting into the creative world of understanding the desire
of both networks and audiences.

"Once you embrace that, you're able to
be truly inventive and creative," Robert said. "In this case, [it's] inventing
something that didn't exist."