Four-Letter Words

Why ‘The Good Fight’ Reshot Its Pilot to Tackle Trump’s Surprise Win

The creators of The Good Wife spin-off and star Christine Baranski talk how assuming Clinton would win bit them in the rear—but also why the show is now timelier than ever.

02.17.17 6:10 AM ET

When Donald Trump won the presidential election on Nov. 8, the creators, cast, and writers of The Good Fight had a four-letter reaction that mimicked the one its lead character, Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart, lets fly for the first time in the show’s first episode. 

The new spinoff of the Emmy-winning legal drama The Good Wife, which debuts Sunday night on CBS before moving to its expletive-approving All Access streaming service, was in production shooting its pilot in the days before, during, and after Election Day. 

The catch: The series had already written and shot scenes under the assumption of a sure-thing Hillary Clinton victory, and had incorporated it into a major plot point. 

In separate interviews, Baranski and series creators Robert and Michelle King, who also shepherded the seven seasons of The Good Wife starring Julianna Margulies, all agree that, if a little frustrating and certainly not the outcome they had desired, the Trump-mandated reshoot made their pilot creatively richer—and the series epically more timely.

The opening scene of Sunday’s The Good Fight premiere—this is a post-slap universe—zeroes in on Baranski’s Diane Lockhart as she watches on her TV, in palpable, wordless dismay, as Trump is sworn in during his inauguration, eventually turning it off in disgust, unable to bear watching it anymore. 

It’s a hoot. 

“I think we all sat there with jaws wide open,” Baranski tells The Daily Beast, erupting into one of her unmistakable regal cackles. 

The jumping-off point for the series is that Diane, who was a name partner of the Chicago law firm The Good Wife was centered on, decides to retire but falls victim to a Bernie Madoff-style Ponzi scheme and is forced to return to work. Because of her personal ties to the suspects in the scandal, she isn’t just broke; she’s radioactive. No one wants to work with her.

Originally, Baranski says, Clinton’s victory was going to be the reason that Diane retires. They had even shot a scene in which Diane tells her partners that “it feels like the glass ceiling has finally been broken,” and she leaves the field to go live gleefully in the South of France off her retirement funds. 

But when Trump won, they had to go in a different direction. They added the inauguration opener. Now Diane isn’t leaving the country. She’s fleeing it.

“It was in line with people wanting to flee to Canada after the election,” Robert King says. Diane moving to France was “more of a reservation of the spirit than a joy.” 

That presidential politics should factor so deeply into the first moments of this new spinoff series shouldn’t surprise anyone who had watched The Good Wife (and, we can attest, should still delight anyone who didn’t). 

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Depending on who you ask, the original series was ripped from the headlines, and based on the Eliot Spitzer scandal, or the Bill Clinton scandal, or the John Edwards scandal—or, more likely, a bit of all three.

Baranski has said in interviews that Hillary Clinton was one inspiration she drew on when crafting the kind of strong, trailblazing leader Diane would become in the series. 

There was even a photo of Diane with Clinton that used to sit in the character’s office, but had to be removed from set once Clinton officially began her presidential run, so as not to appear that CBS was endorsing a candidate. (The photo makes a triumphant comeback—or is it a tragic one?—in The Good Fight’s second episode.)

“Rather than it be about us wanting to impose politics on the show, we are aware that these are politically attuned characters,” Michelle King says. “We’ve established that Diane is a liberal and feels very strongly about that. So we knew that she would have a strong point of view, and as a result it’s a part of the show.”

But more than moralize on Trump, the show cannily, just as The Good Wife did, zeroes in on hot-button political issues taken directly from the pulse of current cultural and sociopolitical anxiety. Trump’s America couldn’t be rifer for that treatment. 

This is a law show, first of all. Given the president’s reaction to the judicial system, that alone should provide rich terrain for exploration. When Cush Jumbo’s Lucca Quinn uses the phrase “see you in court” in one scene, for example, it’s hard not to have your brain race immediately to a certain all-caps tweet written by our current president. 

Michelle King points out that the premiere episode features a case about police brutality and race. Robert King argues that the inundation of actual fake news on social media and the inability to distinguish between the truth and falsehood feeds directly into the kinds of technology-meets-culture court cases and plot lines The Good Wife always tackled and The Good Fight will continue to. 

In fact, The Good Fight has freer rein to dive into it more.

It’s the fantasy question raised by any showrunner of a series that airs on a broadcast (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX) network: What if we could produce this show, but with the freedom that comes with cable? 

Because The Good Fight will stream on CBS All Access, it does not have the same restrictions for language, time, and racy content—i.e., sex and nudity—that CBS does. 

In the premiere, for example, you see a butt. And, yes, Diane Lockhart says “fuck.” Who knew how satisfying a TV character saying a four-letter word could be? 

“It’s true that there are just some times in life when you just want that hard syllable of ‘fuck,’ you know?” Robert King says. “As writers you want to be able to put that in someone’s mouth.”

Still, Michelle King clarifies. “We’re very aware that these are characters that you’ve known for seven seasons. It’s not as though they’re going to speak as though they work on the docks.”

After playing Diane for seven years with one vocabulary, Baranski says the sudden introduction of four-letter words didn’t feel at all unnatural. “I don’t care how elegant or classy a character you are, if you just found out you lost your entire life savings in a Ponzi scheme, ah, you might let it rip with your vocabulary,” she says. 

But beyond the typical realms of language, sex, and nudity that one normally associates with cable and streaming freedom, there are certain thematic opportunities as well. The Good Fight has already shot one episode that deals with censorship in the age of Trump. A TV network backs away from doing a scripted show that was based on Trump’s behavior, so the show creator releases the content on its own.  

Joe Pugliese

“Honestly, I’m sure that would’ve made it onto a network show,” Baranski says. 

But it’s not just certain episodes or scenes from The Good Fight that are making a political statement. It’s the existence of this spin-off at all: a drama series with three female leads—joining Baranski are Cush Jumbo’s Lucca Quinn and Rose Leslie’s Maia Rindell—the lead of which is an unapologetically successful woman in her sixties.

“This is a woman in an authority position, who is professional, educated, highly qualified, and stylish,” Baranski says. “There are tens of thousands of women in the world who are Diane Lockhart.” 

There are Elizabeth Warrens, she says. Congresswomen, senators, women running institutions and universities, movers and shakers. “They’re over 40, they’re over 50, they’re over 60, and they’re powerful. They’re sensible. They stand up toe-to-toe with the guys, and they’re running things.”

She pauses for emphasis: “I think it’s high time we had a show where we had that kind of woman.” 

Her monologue isn’t over, though. And thank goodness. 

“I always was proud of the fact that the Kings had written this character and they didn’t make an issue of her sex or her age,” she continues. “They didn’t write her as a crazy person. Or a successful woman who was unhappy with her personal life, didn’t have a personal life. None of that. They didn’t fall into any of the clichés. I think in many ways she is a groundbreaking character.”

All of that, plus the simple pleasure of Christine Baranski, wearing Diane’s teal leather blazers, stunning tailored dresses, and exceptional statement jewelry, becoming the fashion icon for us all to drool over. 

“People pay attention to it, and I think the fact that she’s a powerful woman in an authority position, the head of the law firm, but she puts herself together so beautifully and always looks feminine,” Baranski says, letting out that cackle again. “If I’m going to be a fashion icon, no problem! I just have to watch my diet.”