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Secrets and Rumors of Secrets

Good Wife vs. Bad Congress

by WALTER BRASCH

For almost a year, the people of the critically-acclaimed and popular CBS drama, “The Good Wife,” kept a secret, one so powerful that viewers were shocked by the abruptness of what happened on screen, March 23.

Will Gardner (portrayed by Josh Charles), one of the major characters, was killed by his client during murder trial. Within seconds, even before the show’s conclusion, viewers were texting and tweeting, shocked and confused and angry and upset and sad, all at the same time. There was no hint in the entertainment media that Will would be killed off.

Charles wanted to be dropped from the show after his four year contract expired at the end of the 2012- 2013 season, but didn’t want to do anything to harm the show. So he, the producers, and writers decided to extend the contract for a 15-show arc in the 2013-2014 season that would take his character and those around him, including Alecia Florrick (portrayed by Julianna Margulies) spinning in another direction, one that would change the characters’ dynamics and interactions.

What’s amazing is not that Will Gardner was killed—several major TV characters have been killed off abruptly—but that dozens of people working on “The Good Wife,” as well as some of their immediate families, knew about it and revealed nothing. In addition to the major characters, producers, and writers, anyone involved with the filming of the episode, which concluded about a month before its air date, knew. That would be dozens of crew members, including camera operators, sound and lighting technicians, and digital editors. They knew how important it was to keep the secret. Although some might have liked to alert their favorite reporters, perhaps to get favorable personal publicity later, they did not. That’s because they are professionals.

Now, let’s contrast the cast and crew of “The Good Wife” with the cast and crew of “Washington Follies.”

There are no secrets in Washington, D.C.,—and it has nothing to do with what the National Security Agency knows or doesn’t know about Americans.

The reason there are no secrets is because the nation’s capital has more leaks than all the antiquated gas pipelines in the country. It’s good there are no secrets—but, many of the “secrets” have as much integrity as a junk bond trader.      There are “whistleblower leaks.” These come from individuals who believe that a politician, staffer, lobbyist, or a corporation has committed and then hid an illegal act, and violated the public trust.

The second kind of leak comes from individuals who have a self-interest in alerting the media to what may be scandals. These leaks could come from political candidates, elected and appointed officials, and those in corporate business who want to eliminate a competitor, but don’t want to have their hands dirtied by the revelation. Most of these leaks fall into the sub-category, Gossip. Far too often, the media take the allegations, do minimal investigation, publish their findings, but never ask the critical question—“Why are you telling me this?”

A third kind of leak is the “trial balloon.” A government official or corporate executive wants to find out what the public thinks of an idea or plan, but doesn’t want anyone to know who is behind it. Often, the media will report something to the effect, “Rumors abound in Washington that  . . .” If opinion leaders and the public like the idea—and politicians spent millions of dollars to have polls tell them what to think—then the proposal is implemented. If there’s a negative reaction to the trial balloon, the plan is locked into obscurity, and the source is exonerated from all negative feedback.

A fourth leak, a variant of the trial balloon, is the veiled news source. Reporters and politicians love this kind of leak, which takes the form of, “Sources close to President Obama say . .  .” or “A highly-placed source close to the House Speaker says . . .” Readers’ first questions should be, “Who are these people? And is the reporter just making up this quote out of whole cloth?” It’s for that reason that veiled news sources should be rarely used. But, reporters still think they should be channeling the thoughts of presidents, corporate executives, and bartenders.

Unlike Washington, D.C., where the left hand doesn’t even know there is a right hand, all involved on “The Good Wife,” from the newly-hired production assistants to the show runners, work as a team, dealing with their conflicts and solving the problems. In the nation’s capital, solving problems doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s bucket list.

For “The Good Wife,” secrecy was important to maintain artistic integrity. For the daily “Washington Follies,” secrets are just rumors and a few facts that are leaked primarily for political reasons.

 Rosemary Brasch assisted on this column.

Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and health and environmental effects of horizontal hydraulic fracturing to mine gas.