"The Good Wife" and Real Life

As the show enters new phase, some of the dramas that inspired the program continue to play out off-screen in unpredictable ways

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Mar 2, 2010  |  Updated 3:45 AM CDT
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"The Good Wife" and Real Life

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Julianna Margulies gets rewarded for playing "The Good Wife."

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"The Good Wife," the freshman CBS drama about the spouse of a disgraced politician, enters a new phase Tuesday night amid an uneasy homecoming – and the seemingly endless echo of real-life headlines.

For the uninitiated, here's the fast-forward recap of the first season so far: It’s taken 13 episodes for former prosecutor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) – who is undeniably guilty of consorting with a prostitute but may well be innocent of corruption charges that put him behind bars – to get sprung on house arrest.

His wife, Alicia (Juliana Margulies), meanwhile, has gone back to work at a high-pressure law firm, where she constantly confronts tough cases, her husband’s scandals and the kind of moral ambiguities that have all-but destroyed her shaky marriage. The only thing she and Peter, who is plotting a comeback, can be certain they share is a desire to protect their teenage son and daughter.

The show is smart, adult  – part "Law & Order," part political drama, part family drama – and well acted.

A good portion of the appeal also rests in that "The Good Wife" is unfolding in unpredictable ways – much like some of the ongoing off-screen political-and-domestic strife that inspired the show.

Perhaps the most-direct comparison can be found in New York where Eliot Spitzer stepped down as governor two years ago this month after getting caught in a prostitution scandal. Last week, his trouble-plagued successor, David Paterson, nixed his own election bid amid questions about his handling of a domestic abuse case involving a top aide.

So while Spitzer makes his unlikely public comeback as a go-to sage – he writes for Slate and recently weighed in the Obama presidency on " Real Time With Bill Maher " – Paterson, who is legally blind, is mocked as stumbling bumbler on "Saturday Night Live," and his ability to govern is hotly debated.

Spitzer is still married. The same can’t be said for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. A judge granted Jenny Sanford a divorce on Friday, eighth months after the governor admitted he was off visiting his “soul mate” in Argentina, instead of wandering the Appalachian Trail alone.

Jenny Sanford’s recently released memoir is on The New York Times’ Best Sellers list. The book is titled, “Staying True.” It could have been called “The Good Wife” – but that was already taken.

“Staying True” is No. 9 on The Times’ list – seven slots behind “The Politician,” Andrew Young’s tell-all about the alleged exploits of his ex-boss, John Edwards. The former Democratic vice presidential candidate was married to perhaps the ultimate political “good wife.” But Elizabeth Edwards, who is battling cancer, finally separated from her husband in late January after he admitted fathering a child out of wedlock, capping months of tabloid headlines.

By comparison, all that makes the Florricks seem like one not-so-big, happy family. But as with the real-life political and domestic dramas, you can never tell what’s happening next on the CBS show – Peter Florrick’s homecoming could be the start of the toughest test yet for “The Good Wife.”

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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