Brooke Kennedy has produced hundreds of hours of television, much of it in New York City. But of all her experiences in the trenches, nothing quite compares to directing the first episode of “The Good Fight” at a Park Avenue location on the night of Nov. 8, as Donald Trump pulled off his stunning political upset in the presidential race.
As Christine Baranski and Delroy Lindo got to work on a particularly emotional scene in “The Good Wife” spinoff — which premieres Sunday on CBS All Access — Kennedy looked out and saw the darkness around the edges of the office-building set flecked with the blue-ish glow of smartphone screens.
“Everyone in the crew was on their phones, and you could start to read it on everybody’s face,” Kennedy recalls.
As horrified as Kennedy was on a personal level (she’s no Donald Trump fan), her first instinct was to protect the actors from the news to allow them to focus on the work at hand. The company worked hard right up until midnight. Afterward, as Kennedy walked Baranski back to her dressing room, she started to break the news that her star already knew. “She had checked just before her close-up,” Kennedy says. “She couldn’t stay away from the news.”
The upheaval in the cultural and political landscape sparked by Trump’s ascent to the White House makes the “Good Fight’s” conceit all the more meaningful. Baranski’s steely legal eagle Diane Lockhart is booted out of the comfort of her white-shoe Chicago law firm and winds up working with a prominent African-American-led firm on civil rights and social justice cases.
Kennedy is one of the pillars who makes “Good Fight” work behind the scenes with showrunners Robert and Michelle King. Kennedy was an executive producer and occasional director during the seven-season run of “Good Wife,” and she made a natural segue to the same role for “Good Fight.” (In between she also exec produced the Kings’ CBS summer drama “BrainDead.”)
Kennedy is an experienced director — she serves as a VP for the Directors Guild of America — but truth be told, her favorite part of her job is producing. She sees the role as not just producing a show but an environment for creative people to do their best work.
“I like building these companies,” Kennedy says. “I like carrying out the vision of the writer. I like dimensionalizing the scripts. It takes 150 people to turn the words into stories that have guest stars and location shoots and hair and make-up. I like the job of keeping everybody on the same page working toward all that the page has to offer.”
The “Good Wife” production team became such a close-knit family that the impetus for the spinoff series came about in part out of the strong desire to keep everyone together.
“We’re usually such carnival people,” Kennedy says of film and TV production. “We come together, we do something, we split apart.”
But even before the “Good Wife” end date was formally set last year, efforts were underway for a Diane-centric spinoff.
“A lot of it was wanting to keep the family together,” she said. “The only question was, was there a story the Kings wanted to tell. Once your writers find that, the rest is easy. Give us a roadmap of where the gold is buried and we’ll find it.”
Baranski has carried on the working ethos established by “Good Wife” star Julianna Margulies. If the person at the top of the call sheet works hard, treats everyone with respect and cares about the final product, the rest of the company acts accordingly. “Both women are filled with grace,” Kennedy says of Baranski and Margulies. “They lift us all up.”
Kennedy’s work with the DGA and her many years on sets have taught her the importance of maintaining a safe environment at all times.
“Our stages look different than other stages,” she says. “We’re very concerned about access and fire (hazards). The biggest job here is making sure that everyone feels safe. When you’re directing and the job is going well, you’re really collaborating. You’re not telling people what to do. Directing is about dealing with what goes wrong.”
Kennedy got her start in production as a location scout for 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer,” thanks to a chance introduction to production designer Paul Sylbert at P.J. Clarke’s restaurant. She spent five months on that film — and hasn’t stopped working since.
Kennedy’s television work has ranged from Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” and “Crime Story” to Bryan Fuller’s “Pushing Daisies” to numerous John Wells series. (To wit, a vintage “Trinity” crew raincoat hangs on the coat tree in her office at Broadway Stages in Brooklyn.) She moved into directing during her years on NBC’s “Third Watch.” She wrote a pilot that was developed years ago but she realized from her work with accomplished showrunners and scribes that writing was not her calling. “When you’re around someone like Robert King, you don’t call yourself a writer,” she says.
After years of working on so many “masculine shows,” Kennedy said the experience of moving to “Good Wife” in 2009 was eye-opening.
“I was always the only girl in the room and it was always nothing but sports metaphors on the job,” she says. “That was just the world and you didn’t think much about it. On ‘Good Wife’ it was so female-dominated at the top. Everybody’s a mother, or a grandmother, or a sister. The whole approach to problems is decidedly feminine.”
That same spirit has continued on “Good Fight,” where Kennedy says about 80% of the top jobs on the set are held by women. (Many of them took a chartered “Good Fight” bus last month to participate in the Women’s March on Washington.) Kennedy has been working closely with DGA president Paris Barclay on diversity initiatives to bring more women and minorities into the DGA tent. A big part of that is building the network of contacts among those already working in New York.
“The more we know each other, the more we see each other, the more we’re willing to help each other,” Kennedy says.
Despite the move from CBS to the less restrictive atmosphere of the CBS All Access streaming video, the nature of the material on “Good Fight” hasn’t changed much, Kennedy says. Each episode is organized around four act breaks, compared to five for “Good Wife.”
“The challenge with ‘Good Fight’ was to make a new show and the same show,” Kennedy says. “The trademarks of (‘Good Wife’) are all there — the humor, the way we define the characters. But the components are different. … We know there’s a very high bar set for who we are in front of the camera and who we are behind the camera. There’s a integrity level that is expected of us that we have to keep going.”