July 18, 2019

Fighting the Good Fight

“Last Thursday, fans of “The Good Fight”—the darkly funny Trump-era spinoff of “The Good Wife,” created by the married showrunners Robert and Michelle King, which is currently airing, barely, on the locked-garden streaming site called CBS All Access—were faced with something unusual. A placard reading “cbs has censored this content” filled the screen, silently, for eight and a half seconds. To many viewers, it looked like a joke. It wasn’t.

In fact, CBS had censored that week’s “Good Fight Short,” one of a series of “Schoolhouse Rock!”-like cartoons—written and performed by the singer Jonathan Coulton and animated by Steve Angel, the co-founder of the Canadian shop Head Gear Animation—that punctuate the legal drama, educating viewers on topics like impeachment and Russian trolls. The segment had been fully written and animated, then vetted by legal and run through all the regular corporate oversight. Then, less than two weeks before the episode was going to air, CBS told the Kings to cut the animated sequence. In response, the co-creators threatened to stop writing the show. In a subsequent conversation, the two sides reached what CBS called a “creative solution”: the Kings wouldn’t quit, but CBS would agree to display that placard where the short was meant to go.

The Kings’ initial plan was to leave the placard up for the entire ninety seconds that the song was meant to run, accompanied by a countdown clock. During the sound mix, they reconsidered: that approach felt potentially self-indulgent and bratty, and maybe punishing to viewers. Eight and a half seconds of protest seemed like enough, after which they would cut back to the regular episode. As a result, many “Good Fight” viewers interpreted the sign as a satirical gesture, not a real indication that CBS had censored a forbidden subject. “It did not occur to me that people would think that it was a joke—until, literally, we saw our family this weekend and people didn’t realize it had happened,” Michelle King told me.”

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