Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Writing with Robert and Michelle King...

Robert and Michelle King are something of a rare breed in Hollywood: they are a writing team who are much more than just partners in a business sense; they are also married parents of a ten-year-old child, just trying to balance their professional and personal lives.

"We consider ourselves craftspeople," the male King says. "We really want to apply art. But it’s important to know what the networks want and what the audiences want [too]. We’re somewhere between whores and artists [because] I think it’s idiotic not to know where the market is going."

His wife doesn't want to tip the hand in their favor too much, though. After all, with just one season on the air-- though a full season at that-- their Emmy nominated CBS legal drama, The Good Wife, is the first real hit the Kings has had together. "You also gotta be lucky because every other writer in town knows exactly the same things you do," she says, aware of her competition.

And what every writer knows-- or at least what the Kings think they should know-- is that "in TV the hunger for complex characters is very strong." But more than that, the writer has to truly know the characters, and the show, inside and out before preparing to sell someone else on the idea of them. "It's very rarely about the pilot [in the initial pitch meeting]," Robert explains. "But where are these characters going; what does episode eighty-five look like? You have to see the big picture."

Michelle continues: "What is the concept of this show? And why would I want to watch these characters?"

The pitch process is still extremely important, though, especially to those who don't consider them rehearsed the way actors are, yet need to sell something in much the same vein. "So much of the pitching process-- because if you don't sell the pitch, you can't go forward, so...the one thing is to have it down almost to the word because the worst thing is to have the person we're pitching to feel nervous and then miss something," Robert advises.

But before a writer can even get into a pitch, he or she (or they) has to have a pretty solid project. Just how do the newly-minted dynamic duo go about fleshing one out? "We structure together; we write first drafts together," Robert shares. "We say 'What are the things that we want to pursue?' And then we create a list of what sounds fun to us. And they're all over the map! And then usually we decide what those top three [are] that we'd like to do...We sometimes say the dialogue outloud, but for us it’s not really about the dialogue; it’s usually about the structure."

And the structure includes preparing for mini arcs within the whole season, especially when considering you may not know your order right off the bat. For the Kings, they originally planned for a thirteen-episode first season, fleshing out an outline that had the final moments of the thirteenth episode being when Alicia (Julianna Marguilies)'s newly-released husband comes to the door. And when they found out they were actually getting a full season, they kept that as the moment to wrap up the first thirteen instead of trying to stretch it and moved up what they had envisioned their second season finale (Peter's hand outstretched at yet another press conference, awaiting Alicia's decision).

"You don't really know when the end is going to be," Michelle states astutely, "so you have to be sort of flexible."

It's also about knowing the marketplace because certain networks have to fulfill certain genres, and if the network executives can't see a show fitting in with their current universe, they won't give it a shot. The Good Wife fulfilled what the Kings thought CBS needed in order to get their target audience: the procedural. But having a gimmick isn't enough because it could end up being just like everything else already currently on-air. So the additional element of following the politician's wife instead of the politician himself was what the Kings saw as the phenomenon.

"We just thought it would be fascinating: what about this appendage? Someone who was trailing her husband along and had no control?" Robert smiles. "To me, one of the biggest chances of the show is [not] showing a woman who is a superhero in some way. Usually they're at the top of their game or too tough; you know, they're women cops who are tough because they have a military dad or something. But [we have] a woman at her weakest moment trying to rebuild her identity; she didn't know quite who she was."

Every now and then, the Kings think it helps to imagine certain people in the roles they create because it lends a voice to the character and opens up a whole world. Michelle points out, however, that it can be more of a hinderance to do such a thing because you can really stuck on one idea and then never get the person after all.

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