Emmy voters, when they find a show they like, tend to reward it again and again — until they don't. And once a series is snubbed, it's rare that it returns to favor.
CBS' legal drama "The Good Wife" may well force the issue, though, having delivered what many critics believe to be the best season of its five-year run. The program's creators, husband-and-wife show runners Robert and Michelle King, tore apart the show's law firm, pitting Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) against their former colleagues at Lockhart Gardner. Then, in the season's 15th episode, they killed off one of the show's most popular characters, attorney Will Gardner (Josh Charles), in a shocking, sudden act of senseless violence that, once again, irrevocably changed the show's dynamics.
"There's an addictive quality to going for the big, bold plot move, but that's never been our show," Robert says, with Michelle quickly adding, "We had the big, bold plot move forced upon us."
She's referring to Charles' decision not to renew his contract and to leave the series, something he wanted to do after the fourth season, though he was persuaded (by Margulies, using the sort of logical maneuvering that has served Alicia well) to return this year for 15 episodes. Charles' exit gave the Kings the chance to deal with death — a subject they feel TV glosses over ("Someone dies and you're off to the next episode," Robert says) — as well as effectively end the long-running love triangle between Alicia, her estranged husband, Peter (Chris Noth), and Will.
"We needed something that pushed Alicia toward more independence," Robert says. "The other thing is, having a love triangle can be like having a monkey on your back. The audience wants to see it, but there are only so many ways to play it. So we welcomed getting off that merry-go-round."
By focusing more this season on the relationships between the show's core characters and less on revolving guest stars and legal cases, "The Good Wife" won the kind of praise usually reserved for small-batch, premium-cable series. The question now is: Did enough Emmy voters notice? After being nominated for drama series in its first two seasons (and winning Emmys for star Margulies and supporting actress Archie Panjabi), "The Good Wife" found diminishing returns for its third and fourth years, failing to be nominated for series and, last season, seeing only one regular cast member (Christine Baranski) recognized.
There is some precedent for a turnaround. "Friends," another series that had its share of relationship shifts (not to mention the on-again, off-again Ross-and-Rachel thing — a relationship that may have benefited from a random act of violence), fell out of favor after its first two seasons only to receive nominations for its fifth and sixth years. It was then snubbed again, finally returning and winning for its eighth season.
"Whichever way the Emmys decide, we're very happy about this year," Robert King says. "When you look at all the great shows on, it's an almost impossible decision. They could hand out Emmys like they give awards to kids at soccer games, for all I care, as long as these great actors and creators keep doing fantastic work."
The distinct difference between "The Good Wife" and competitors such as "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and "House of Cards" is in the length of its season. The Kings produce 22 episodes a year — when we spoke, they were putting the finishing touches on Season 5 while ramping up the writers room for next season — which necessitates creating two major story arcs each season.
"We complain," Michelle King says, "but there's a real upside to it too. It allows us to stay current with what's going on. There's a newspaper element to it."
A bigger hurdle, at least for some male voters, might be the show's title.
"My writer friends won't be caught dead watching a show called 'The Good Wife,'" Robert says. "I wish we had come up with 'Game of Thrones' first and called it that."