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The Good Show? Broadcast, Cable, Quality, and The Good Wife

by Ethan Tussey

by Noel Kirkpatrick for IN MEDIA RES

Thinking through a show is a hallmark of the cable programming we’ve come to expect over the past decade. Except that The Good Wife is on CBS, a broadcast network. The show's (supposed) cable-like emphasis on clever storytelling and character has not gone unnoticed. Maureen Ryan, then writing for the Chicago Tribune, says, "The show allows fans of both meaty procedural fare and cable-style complexity to have their cake and eat it too." And Ryan's correct. Very few shows in the broadcast line-up aim for the kind of emotional and character complexity that we tend to associate with cable productions (as Ryan does in that quote).

Perhaps this ambition isn't enough for a show to be great? The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman, writing about the show's second season, argues that while the show is "very good" by broadcast standards, it cannot possibly compete with cable. Goodman sees broadcast's emphasis to be on what he calls "'big tent' programming" aimed at broad demos. This goal, he argues, prevents networks such as CBS from cable-level "artistic triumphs."

Tellingly, Goodman fails to specify that when he says "cable offerings," he (probably) means HBO and AMC. He likely does not mean USA, Disney, Syfy, or A&E — all of which air and produce programming that Goodman would (probably) not stick under the "artistic triumphs" heading. Goodman falls victim to a cultural divide that has been created and promoted aggressively by certain cable channels for the sake of market differentiation and recruiting the most desireable (read: affluent) viewers. And while cable has certainly been able to do things that broadcast hasn't been able to do, broadcast networks are proving themselves capable of engaging in those same practices, and doing them just as well.

In this final scene from "Hybristophilia" (s01ep21) Alicia’s cautiousness and suspicion bleeds through. While she shakes hands and presumably makes small talk, it's clear that Alicia wants nothing to do with these men, least of all because it would help Peter (who is probably courting them for support). The show never stated that Alicia wanted to avoid this overlap between the personal and the private. Instead, the show allows the audience to interpret this through Alicia, forcing the audience to think through the show, and not just about the show.

The Good Wife - Final scene from "Hybristophilia"

The finale scene from "Hybristophilia" (episode 21 of season 1) of The Good Wife

from The Good Wife (2010)
Creator: Robert & Michelle King
Distributor: CBS
Posted by Ethan Tussey