"The Good Fight" spent its third season under a cloud.
Over almost 10 episodes, it rained hard — Biblically hard — then by the season finale, the world appeared to come to an end when lightning fireballs struck Chicago and the entire city seemed to be engulfed in flame.
Meanwhile, there were the other rainstorms and fireballs for this CBS All Access series (and "The Good Wife" spinoff) which wrapped its third season in mid-May. These were of the metaphorical variety. While "The Good Fight" was and is considered by some to be one of the best shows on TV, the 2018-19 Emmy season came and went with scarcely so much as an acknowledgment. ("Fight" has only two nominations to date.) Not only were most viewers ignoring the show, but so were industry peers.
Then in early May, CBS excised an entire segment from an episode — an extraordinary act as well as bitterly ironic because the episode itself was about censorship. The married showrunners, Robert and Michelle King, threatened to quit. That would have ended the series that launched CBS All Access back in 2017. CBS refused to back down, although they were forced to, by inserting a card in place of the excised bit that read "CBS has censored this content."
Finally, the sun came out. The Kings and CBS recently agreed to a fourth season, and of equal if not greater consequence, to something that'll be happening soon: "The Good Fight" is coming to CBS prime-time Sundays. In a slightly convoluted plan to boost visibility and Emmy love, the first two episodes of the first season will air at 9 p.m. the next two June 23, which means they'll fall within "the Emmy voting nomination window that closes on June 24," the network explained. (The rest of the season will air through August.)
For newcomers, "Fight" picks up a year after "Wife," when a financial scam has wrecked the rep of young legal beagle Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) and vaporized the savings of her mentor/godmother, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski). They follow former colleague Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) to one of Chicago's top African American-owned law firms, where Diane becomes a name partner, resulting in Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart. Those other partners include Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Liz Lawrence (Broadway great Audra McDonald) who is daughter of the firm's now-deceased founder — a sleazebag who was assaulting female employees.
In a recent phone interview, Michelle King said the censorship standoff and Sunday run are unrelated — "they are completely disconnected from one another," she said, while "this summer broadcast was something decided a week or two earlier." Robert King added, "even though it was a bitter three or four days, we're on very good terms with CBS and hope they are on good terms with us. It was resolved as it should be."
"The Good Fight" inaugurated All Access back in February 2017, and like "Star Trek Discovery" which premiered later that September, the launch episode first aired on the main network, while the last nine streamed on the then-new service. But after that initial burst of visibility and buzz, "The Good Fight" fell victim to the plague of peak TV — too much on, not enough time to watch it all. CBS doesn't release viewing figures — apparently even to the Kings — but they're obviously a tiny fraction of what they'd be if "Fight" aired on the main network.
For any show, diminished visibility is fatal, but for "The Good Fight" it's mostly been an ongoing grievance. This is a series emphatically about the here and now, and the American Moment as it unfolds almost before it unfolds. President Donald Trump and the great red state/blue state divide fire up its stories, give life and not an inconsiderable amount of fury to its themes. That censored bit? About how American companies like Google and CBS tie themselves up in knots by kowtowing to Chinese censorship directives.
Like "The Good Wife" from which it sprang, "The Good Fight" needs to be seen because it has something to say about almost everything: Diversity, race, sex, workplace ethics, morality and above all politics. "The Good Fight" has been screaming from the rafters — engulfed in those flames, by the way at the end of the last season — but has anybody been listening?
"The Good Fight" can be puckishly subversive — this past season could easily be interpreted (and has been) as a running commentary on CBS' own diversity and #MeToo issues. But it's not always an easy, or obvious read either. While certainly — also emphatically, at times hilariously — anti-Trump, this past season had Diane join a false flag operation supported by Democrats, and which was involved in a series of devious, occasionally despicable acts. "The Good Fight" is reasonably consistent in one regard: It hates both major political parties with equal fervor.
It's a first-rate show, potentially a great one, but something has been missing — industry and audience attention. That's where Sunday night comes in.
"It's difficult when a show is not part of the conversation and for the past few years we haven't been," said Robert King. "We're Emmy members and we also get this two-ton package of all the shows [seeking nominations] and we just feel overwhelmed too. But sometimes, you know, network TV will wash over you and if CBS can engage … [Emmy voters] who are not into DVDs, and are sitting there and maybe seeing an actor that they like, then maybe they will be engaged. I'm thrilled they're doing it to get a wider audience, and if they can get some Emmy … [attention] that would be sweet too."
Naturally there are complications. "The Good Fight" is a densely written show, impervious to edits. Nonetheless, the Kings will still have to lop off 15 or so minutes per episode. Moreover, "The Good Fight" was not created for a CBS lineup that most viewers now recognize — the one full of shows with testosterone and guns and lots (and lots) of explosions. Simply put, "The Good Fight" is a hot house orchid about to enter the meatgrinder, and CBS viewers like their meat red. What will they ever make of Diane and company?
"It's an interesting question that is not going to be possible to answer until after it airs," says Michelle King. "But I have no worries. It's not as if we're creating it for the network. It already exists. And editing to time constraints? That wasn't really a concern, but one hopes the audience will embrace it."
One hopes. "The Good Fight" is certainly worth that embrace.