Good Wife, Bad Call
Producers of The Good Wife grossly mishandle a controversy, demeaning their dedicated fanbase in the process.
Since CBS’s The Good Wife (2009- ) aired its Season 6 finale in May 2015, the show has been dogged by “Kalicia-gate.” The controversy relates to a final scene featuring the series’ star, Julianna Margulies, and her co-star Archie Panjabi.
Rumors have been floating for a while that a real-life falling out of some kind occurred between the two actresses. After the Alicia-Kalinda friendship was a key part of earlier seasons, fans noticed the two actresses appeared together less and less. In fact, they didn’t share any scenes for the bulk of Seasons 5 and 6.
One hates to indulge the reductive sexism that rumors of actresses not getting along suggests. That said, Margulies and Panjabi are human beings and if they did have a falling out — well, you’re not required to like everyone you work with. Except the Alicia/Kalinda relationship was one of the central emotional pivots of The Good Wife.
To spend two full seasons with the actresses having no scenes together is problematic, no matter how good the rest of the show has been (and critical consensus is that the show’s been excellent). What’s more, there were points where the narratives would have been better with the two characters interacting (the aftermath of Will Gardner’s death, for example).
Panjabi announced she wasn’t returning for the show’s seventh season. She gave creators and fans notice, and The Good Wife crafted a send-off for her. But fans arguably also needed closure on the Alicia/Kalinda story. In interviews, producers insisted viewers would get that pay-off. And in the closing moments of the season 6 finale, Alicia and Kalinda met for a final drink together. It was the first time in two years they’d shared the screen.
Except they didn’t.
Suspicious fans quickly noted the two actresses weren’t really onscreen together. All dialogue was handled with a close-up on either Margulies or Panjabi, with the back of the other character’s head seen to the side (i.e., work a stand-in could do). And when “onscreen” together, neither actress crossed the (imaginary) center line of the frame. Confirmation emerged fairly quickly that, indeed, the two actresses did not film the scene together. Each filmed separately, and producers composited the performances.
Fans were outraged, feeling producers/creators Robert and Michelle King had misled them. They felt cheated of the emotional impact that a final Alicia/Kalinda scene should have had. TV Line’s Michael Ausiello was especially vocal in his disappointment (see here and here).
Archie Panjabi took a political route when asked to comment: she didn’t deny not being on set with Margulies to film the scene, but she cagily noted she wasn’t privy to how production decisions were made and said nothing more.
It’s been three months, and “Kalicia-gate” hasn’t really gone away. In my circle, fans and commenters have brought it up online fairly regularly. Moreover, reporters raised the issue at the recent annual press tour for the Fall TV season, where a CBS executive sidestepped it. And then, in a recent interview with Michael Ausiello, the two writer-producers finally addressed “the elephant in the room” — except they would have been better off keeping their mouths shut.
First, Robert and Michelle King insisted they wouldn’t address “gossip.” That’s fine. To some extent, feuds between actors on a show is the kind of “inside baseball” stuff that, while interesting to fans, isn’t necessarily their business. Discretion is a good trait for producers who intend to keep working in the industry.
Second, the writers cited the creative strength of the past two seasons, when Margulies and Panjabi didn’t work together. And that’s true, but it also ignores the point that perhaps those seasons could have been even better had Margulies and Panjabi shared a few scenes.
Last, the Kings, well, ran straight off a cliff. Ausiello was tactful in how he addressed the issue, but he also wasn’t a pushover. For example, he pressed them with questions like What do you say to viewers who feel like they were duped, and that a degree of trust has been broken between them and the show? And he offered clarifications like this one to them: viewers didn’t feel duped about the way Kalinda was written out. They felt duped because those two characters — and their portrayers — were not in that scene together.
At this point, the Kings decided “condescending” was a good route. They pointed out how they kept the Season 5 exit of Josh Charles’s Will Gardner a secret. And then, they unbelievably stated, “Just so we’re clear, Josh wasn’t really killed.”
For a showrunner, writer, or producer to make that statement to any television viewer is ludicrous and condescending. TV fans, especially today, aren’t mindless rubes who think everything they see onscreen is real. Also, to make that statement to a longtime entertainment critic is impossibly tin-eared — he knows how TV works.
The Kings didn’t need to delve into the specifics of any Margulies/Panjabi discord. But refusing to acknowledge or explain a production choice that fans found unequivocally alienating is hopelessly misguided. Dismissing it as “addressing gossip” is facile — as is subliminally chiding angry viewers who had every right to be displeased that what was represented to them wasn’t really what they got.
Here’s the thing: there are different kinds of acting. Some scenes require a solo effort from an actor, but a conversation between two characters with a deep emotional connection and a lot of baggage isn’t one of them.
Acting a conversation is inherently a collaborative process. There’s an alchemy that occurs when you put two performers together and have them interact. They respond to things in the other that bring out different shades, different reactions or emotions. Without it, you may get a competent, sensible scene, but there’s a loss of authenticity that can’t help but reduce the final product. That’s the problem fans had with the final Alicia/Kalinda scene. Viewers aren’t stupid.
Additionally, audiences can accept there are times when actors who would normally perform a scene together are prevented by logistics from doing so, e.g., cast members die before production wraps, productions runs over-schedule and actors have other commitments, re-shoots are needed months later, actors play dual roles. Those all make sense to fans as logical reasons for the production choices.
But for the season 6 finale of The Good Wife, that wasn’t the case. If it was scheduling, the Kings would have said so. As far as fans know, both Margulies and Panjabi were contracted for the episode and hadn’t been released. Availability should not have been an issue. Instead, fans were left with a situation where two well-paid actresses apparently refused to act like professional adults and do their jobs. There’s a self-indulgence to that insistence that’s offputting, and that the Kings enabled such behavior — and didn’t demand the actresses put aside personal issues and get to work — makes them look bad.
Michael Ausiello’s revealing TV Line interview makes those failures worse. The days when the entertainment industry was arcane and its backstage issues hidden from public view are long gone. Now, fans have more access to a greater amount of information about their favorite shows than ever. Essentially patting them on the head and saying It’s make believe, pumpkin is arrogant and ignorant.
The Kings have potentially done more harm to The Good Wife than they appear capable of comprehending. After all, once you lose the fans, you’re nowhere.
Originally published at Thunder Alley BCP.
If you enjoyed this, please hit the green “Recommend” button below so others might also enjoy it.