Whether a television series deals overtly in the political times of the day, as in CBS All Access’ “The Good Fight,” or uses complicated subject matter such as race and identity in a more thematic or metaphorical way (as in the streamer’s “Star Trek: Discovery”), the key for writers and producers is to handle the topics with care.
“If we’re making interesting shows, we’re dealing with difficult topics,” said Michelle King, co-creator and co-showrunner of “The Good Fight” at the Television Critics Assn. press tour Wednesday. “And so, if you’re bringing up religion or politics, you have to make absolutely certain that everyone is speaking not only their beliefs, but also being respectful of everyone else.”
While King acknowledged that that’s not an easy thing to always accomplish, “it’s on us” as the leaders both in the writers’ room and of the shows in general.
“We need to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard,” added “Star Trek: Discovery” executive producer Michelle Paradise of her writers’ room process.
This becomes even more essential when “we are talking about tricky things or difficult subjects, things with multiple points of views, characters that could be perceived different ways,” she noted, because it is not just about the “messages we want to put out,” but also “having a space where people can share their feelings about that, raise potential red flags.”
Doing that kind of work in the safe space of the writers’ room is a kind of “pre-groundwork for the storytelling itself,” Paradise continued. “And then we just let the characters do the work for us.”
One of the messages of “Star Trek: Discovery” is “if we embrace our differences, if we can embrace our better selves, we can overcome anything,” so it is imperative such an attitude begins with those making the show, Paradise said.
For King, the conversations raised in the room are also often ones she wants to see raised among her audience. “It’s much too easy to create a villain who is racist or homophobic,” she said, noting that what “The Good Fight” endeavors to do is show that even the quote-unquote traditional heroes of the show have imperfect moments. She cited the moment when Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) “can’t remember the names of all the African American victims of police shootings but Matthew Shepard’s name comes to mind. Hopefully that’s something that keeps the audience thinking.”
Still, there are some lines these writers and producers don’t want to cross.
“I don’t want to do a story where a rape victim is lying,” said King. “That is not something I am interested in having my name on. Other shows can do it; that won’t come from our house.”