David W. Zucker at BanffComplications Ensue
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Sunday, July 04, 2010

David W. Zucker is the showrunner of CBS's drama THE GOOD WIFE. He talked about the genesis of the show at the Banff Worldwide Television Festival this June.

The show was actually created by Michelle and Robert King. “What they came in with was the notion of the disgraced relationship. and you could see the opportunities to go five years with the show. She’s a compelling character, and every decision she makes has a huge impact on those around her, and she gets involved in the moral and ethical gray zones that corrupted her husband.”

What attracted CBS was the idea that Julianna Margulies’s character was also going to be a lawyer. CBS “has got fat and healthy knowing how to develop and promote franchise shows, and this gave them the potential of close ended case stories.

“But they passed on the first pitch. You could tell from their questions what had freaked them out. In the original pitch there was more time with the lead-up before she goes back to being a lawyer” [as she was 13 years before]. “The Kings wanted to explore the whole media frenzy. But the studio didn’t want to live there, because that’s not where a procedural would live. They didn’t want to spend a lot of time on the premise.

“So we went back to the same exec, and they were very open. I said, I think we can address your problems. Because it wasn’t a problem with the characters.”

So they made it more procedural (I’ve been in the same boat. I have a pay cable series that I developed; now we’re taking it to American networks. It has a fairly unique main character that everyone’s interested in. But in the serial pay cable version, she was working at a church charity; that took her into her stories. In the version we’ll pitch CBS, she’s a cop, and she solves crimes. If a network wants olive bread, you’re foolish to give them pumpernickel.)

The network liked the new version quite a bit more. “But [CBS president] Nina [Tassler]’s notes were very broad. And I tried to figure out what was missing in the script for her. Normally CBS are logic police if there is any possible confusion for the audience. But the interesting thing was that Nina was missing a deeper connection to the Alicia character. The studio and the network had been pushing for more of a procedural. Now the head of the network was asking for the thing they’d wanted us to do less of. They weren’t asking for any revisions but it left us feeling off.

“So we came back and said, “We want to go deeper with Alicia.” And out of that we got the scene in the pilot that Alicia has with her mother in law in the kitchen. That was the only time we get an expression from her what Peter put her through. And she loses it. And that single scene provided another texture. It also did a beautiful thing for us – made Nina feel she had ownership of the script.”

One of the weird things about Hollywood is that it’s not like what you think, but everything they tell you is also true. We joke about how you don’t want to be the guy at the gym who’s inflicting his script on all the producers, but passing along his script at the gym is exactly why Ian Brennan has gone from theater actor to creator of a hit show. And there are as many paths to getting your show on the air as there are shows. You can get your show on the air if you’re not an experienced TV writer — the Kings were experienced, but if you look at their credits, they’re almost all lower budget features. But they took it to Ridley and Tony Scott’s company and, though they’re “second chair” to David W. Zucker, they’re integral to the show.

The thing that all these shows we’ve been hearing about have in common is great characters — usually one great character — in a compelling and fresh situation. If you have that, a bit of luck and a lot of persistence will take you the rest of the way.

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