As we go to camera for Fear or Favour’s first episode a fight-or-flight response kicks in and we fight for our pilot until it flies. What I mean by that is that the first episode is a base to see whether the series will be picked up and can hold the attention of an audience. It is a snapshot of a much larger story and hope it will make you want to follow it until the finale, and with only so many minutes in a pilot to do so we must work with all cylinders firing.
Working on a Law Drama means you need to understand what excites people while teaching them. What makes the drama of law interesting to an audience. TV shows fall into two categories: Procedural, which focuses on one case and episode to solve, and Serial, which follows a gradual arch in a larger story.
The Good Wife is a procedural and serial television show. The serial arch for the Good Wife focuses on the protagonist’s (Alicia Florrick) politician husband, and his career and relationship to her. In the first scene the writers set up exactly what the show is going to be about, making it clear that The Good Wife will not be another television series about the anti-hero husband, caught red-handed with hookers, who has to leave his job because of his transgressions, and rise to the challenge of his life, in a classic comeback story. Instead The Good Wife doesn’t follow what the ‘media’ within the show is focused on, choosing to look at the wife and her story.
Though the serial arch is the husband and his story, there is a reason we aren’t paying attention to the words Alicia’s husband, Peter Florrick, is saying in his opening scene because it is not about the husband, it is about Alicia’s relationship to her husband. The serial action in the pilot episode is Peter’s resignation and at the end of the episode, which results in him gaining an appeal, but he never gets the last word. It is Alicia’s reaction to his resignation which is highlighted by the fact that it’s her face before the credits roll that we see as she reacts to the news of Peter’s appeal. It is how Alicia’s life is affected by her husband’s actions.
Alicia’s drive is her husband, she is conflicted about being ‘The Good Wife’ or just being herself, and as such she often dances between right and wrong. Deciding between going back to work and doing good (something her husband didn’t always do) but also using his advantages, his name and his power, to do that good. Alicia is blocked by her husband and her baggage, but is also propelled by it. In the pilot episode Alicia gains her co-worker’s trust despite her husband’s reputation. She never forces her co-workers hands, but instead works on not being entitled by her experience. Alicia has conflict with her mother-in-law and how to raise her children.
Fear or Favour’s main focal point is lawyer Scott who is accused of harbouring child pornography. We are follow a small Victoria firm, while they deal with a massive scandal, and focus on a family that suffers because of it, but who aren’t as flashy as the big Chicago law firm that sets the stage for The Good Wife. Our series will focus on human mistakes and real life problems, like being in-between homes and balancing school and work, situations which everyone can get into in this realistic law drama.
Looking at The Good Wife’s arch from pilot to finale you see a direct pay-off of character conflicts along with a set-up for next season. Peter Florrick is free and is planning his campaign back to get back into office as State’s Attorney. Being free, Peter is directly in conflict with Alicia, something she didn’t need to think about until then, as he was literally locked away. Now she has to deal on her marriage head on. Alicia’s got more obstacles than ever before, with her husband, mother-in-law, and his new PR man, Mr. Gold, who are all concerned with everything she does and how it affects Peter instead of what is best for Alicia as a human being.
The secondary story arch that fostered even more conflict into Alicia’s job, is the knowledge that her firm will only have room for one New Associate position, which causes her once friendly counterpart Carey whom she respected, into the State’s Attorney’s office Mr. Childs who has it out for both Alicia and Peter Florrick. To complicate things even more, over the course of the season, Alicia and her good friend (and now boss) Will Gardner both have feelings for each other. However Alicia can’t do anything about it, because she is married causing Will to try to forget her with another woman. There are two great visual metaphors in the finale that speak to Alicia and Will’s motivations. In one scene we have Will drinking the wine of a woman who is interested him while he is on the phone trying to win Alicia over with his declaration of love when she says she needs a plan. The second visual metaphor is in the scenes where it is clear that Alicia is torn between Will trying to call her and her husband’s hand outstretched towards her. This might have been an after thought while filming, but most likely it was written in as an object standing in for a character.
You need to know where you are headed in the pilot so that even if you have one season you deliver your best. You go season to season in television, that’s why a pilot is so important. Concrete characters, driven wants and goals, even if not immediately laid out, are what make an exciting tension driven drama. Fight-or-flight responses are just the beginning- it’s wondering about the character’s final decisions and what leads them there, that keep us watching.