Guest Commentary: Jen Grisanti on The Good Wife
Jen Grisanti is a former assistant to Aaron Spelling. For years, she helped run such iconic programs as Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place and was promoted in 2004 to Vice President of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount.
Grisanti is now a blogger for The Huffington Post, the Writing Instructor for NBC's Writers on the Verge and the founder of Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc., which helps writers break into the industry.
In March, she will release "Story Line: Finding the Gold In Your Life Story" and, in this exclusive guest commentary, she writes in to TV Fanatic and focuses on the appeal of one of TV's smartest dramas, The Good Wife.
The Good Wife is good drama, plain and simple. The CBS primetime series, now in its second season, is an example of some of the best writing on television today. Not only does it have a strong female lead, but the series also delivers original story concepts that balance the personal and professional stakes in a way that has us eagerly invested in the outcome of each episode.
As we watch our heroine every week, we see how Alicia transitions past her public struggle and achieves in moving her life and her family’s life forward. She is a testament to the fact that life does go on even after the “pretty picture” has been tarnished. We feel a sense of catharsis as we discover that Alicia’s family is no different than our own.
We identify with her desire to create a sense of security after that security has been shattered to pieces. We watch and root for Alicia to find the love that she deserves; some of us may feel that this is with Will, while others may feel that love is already there just waiting to be rediscovered with Peter. The dynamic of this triangle adds so much to the dramatic arc of the series.
Do we root for forgiveness of the old love or do we emotionally invest in the possibility of what this new love could bring?
The structure of the show is brilliantly executed, with powerful dilemmas that often put Alicia between a rock and a hard place. For example, in "Unorthodox," Will tells Alicia that she must defend the daughter of one of the partners at the law firm. Not only does the case come at a time when people are losing their jobs at the firm, but also Will indicates that Alicia must win this case.
We clearly understand the stakes because we know that, with Peter still in jail, Alicia is the sole breadwinner of her family. Alicia hits an obstacle when she learns that her new client already has counsel and that her client’s husband does not want Alicia to represent them. Alicia meets her co-counsel and finds herself attracted to him and his unorthodox approach to defending their client. Alicia discovers, in what is typically referred to as the “all is lost” moment, that her co-counsel is not an actual attorney.
This comes at a time when they are winning the case, one that Alicia has to win in order to protect her job. It is scenarios like this one that make the show stand out in a major way.
Powerful dilemma is also skillfully demonstrated in "Nine Hours," where Alicia receives a cryptic call from a courthouse clerk about a current case. The call makes the team realize that the previous counsel made a mistake and that they have only nine hours to discover what it was and file an appeal before an innocent man is put to death. The emotional current of the episode is further strengthened as Diane fights for the opportunity of the accused man to see his daughter in his final hours.
In this same episode, Peter has his first debate since getting out of prison. When someone in the audience asks Peter what he thinks of his wife’s relationship with Will, Peter becomes angry and defends his wife’s honor. The great thing about this story point is that we don’t know if this will hurt Peter’s campaign or humanize him in a way that could bring him ahead.
Another way that the show is structured beautifully is in the act outs. If you will notice, many act outs have a pivotal moment in both the personal and the professional parts of the story. This coupling of story points really adds to the suspense of the story and makes us want to stay tuned in.
It is the strength of the female lead - a heroine with a powerful back story that we can all connect with in one way or another - combined with powerful storylines where we clearly understand the emotional and the professional stakes, that make The Good Wife one of the best written shows on television.