'Good Wife': Showmanship with secrets

Staff writer

Without zombies, dragons or back-from-the-dead characters, "The Good Wife" has to tell compelling personal dramas to win viewers.

Star Julianna Margulies, an outstanding regular cast and big-name guest stars have bolstered the CBS drama. But the storytelling is the main thing, and the series has revealed a flair for showmanship in springing surprises on viewers.

The latest twist was the biggest: the fatal shooting of Will Gardner (Josh Charles), the show's male lead.

To the series' credit, that secret was kept until the telecast. No entertainment reporter or blogger hinted that turn of events was coming. CBS promotion simply said the episode would be one everyone would be talking about.

And so we are. On David Letterman's show Monday, Charles revealed that the plot had been in the works since last year because his contract was up and he was leaving.

He returned this season to film 15 episodes. That approach "was great for the show and also was a really proper goodbye to the character," Charles told Letterman.

"We've been able to keep it a secret for an entire year," Charles said. "I told some family members that I know could keep a secret."

He's lucky. So are series creators Robert and Michelle King, because no one on the set gave away the secret. Everyone at "The Good Wife," from top to bottom, was working to deliver the best possible show.

And they often do that without fanfare. "The Good Wife" doesn't score the biggest ratings at 9 p.m. Sundays. It doesn't generate the media buzz that "The Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones" do. The CBS drama isn't the hot new thing that "Resurrection" is this season for ABC.

But the CBS drama has been steady for five seasons, and there's a lot to be said for steady. "Law & Order" was steady for a long time, and it's now considered a classic. 

If you don't know "The Good Wife," it is worth your time. No series treats guest stars so well. I'd list Michael J. Fox, Martha Plimpton, Carrie Preston and Nathan Lane as some of the best. Eric Bogosian has been sensational in recent episodes.

This Sunday's episode features Matthew Goode, James McDaniel, Will Chase, Jordana Spiro, Jerry Adler, Becky Ann Baker, Hunter Parrish and John Bedford Lloyd. If you don't know all those names, you'll certainly know most of the faces.

On Letterman, Charles joked about his appearance. "That's what you gotta do to get on the Letterman show," Charles said. "I had to get killed off to get on your show."

An astonished friend writes about Will's death: "I expected critically wounded, not dead. Kept expecting him to open his eyes and look at Kalinda. Guess I watch too much SF fx stuff."

Will's death was just so unexpected. In the Letterman appearance, Charles said  he had no plan for what he'll do next.

The studio audience laughed.

But "Good Wife" creators Robert and Michelle King do have a plan. With their smooth showmanship, they keep producing the best drama on broadcast television. They also know how to keep a secret, and that is a major skill these days.

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