Inside ‘Elsbeth’: How Robert and Michelle King Landed on the Eccentric Lawyer to Lead Latest ‘Good Wife’ Spin-Off

“It’s fun to see how she navigates that world,” star Carrie Preston tells TheWrap of reprising her Emmy-winning role on the CBS crime procedural

Carrie Preston in "Elsbeth"
Carrie Preston in "Elsbeth" (CREDIT: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS)

Robert and Michelle King came up with the idea for “Elsbeth” at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. Like many others during quarantine, the Hollywood power couple revisited old pop culture favorites — specifically the crime drama “Columbo.” The binge-watch inspired them to expand their beloved “Good Wife” franchise with a show paying tribute to the classic’s serialized procedural format, centered around one of their universe’s most beloved recurring characters.

The eccentric lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni — a fan-favorite across “The Good Wife” franchise played by Carrie Preston, known for her naive facade but killer instincts — felt like the ideal lead from the start.

“[This is] someone who is always underestimated, and who is more intuitive than anyone else in the room. She has that distracted quality that allows people to think she doesn’t really understand what’s going on when, in fact, she’s three laughs ahead of them. That lent itself to this structure of story,” Michelle King told TheWrap in a recent interview.

“This show started with Carrie and Elsbeth. It was only because of her that we thought this would be fun to do,” Robert King added. “The thought of her across from some snobby opera lover or whatever doing her thing … it makes comic fissures in your head.”

Preston’s comedic turn as Elsbeth (she was first introduced in the role in 2010, and earned an outstanding guest actress in a drama Emmy for it in 2013), along with the new show’s case-of-the-week premise, allows the series to confidently stand apart from its predecessors. While “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” spin-off centered around Chicago-area lawyers fighting to win in the courtroom, CBS’ “Elsbeth” takes the titular lawyer into active crime scenes.

After landing a position as a supervisory consultant working alongside the NYPD, Elsbeth relocates to the Big Apple and uses her skillset to uncover the truth behind various murders in the city. The new role thrusts her into a team led by captain C.W. Wagner (Wendell Pierce), where she befriends officer Kaya Blanke (Carra Patterson). Both take time to warm up to Elsbeth’s unconventional methods, but eventually start finding the method to her madness.

Carrie Preston and Wendell Pierce in "Elsbeth"
Carrie Preston and Wendell Pierce in “Elsbeth” (Elizabeth Fisher/CBS)

“It’s fun to see how she navigates that world. She still has that same genius brain that is going to look at a situation from a different angle than any of the other kids … and in this case, she’s really stepping on a lot of toes,” Preston told TheWrap. “She’s not supposed to be a detective, but she can’t help herself.”

Like “Columbo” and the recent Peacock hit “Poker Face,” “Elsbeth” takes a whydunnit approach to the crime drama. Each week, viewers are introduced to a special guest star — Stephen Moyer, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski are among the star-studded roster for Season 1 — who commits a gruesome crime. Then comes Elsbeth and the team of investigators to untangle the reasons behind the crime and bring the culprit to justice.

Showrunner Jonathan Tolins — who previously worked with the Kings on “The Good Fight,” among other projects — emphasized that while fans shouldn’t expect to see any familiar faces from the franchise on the new show anytime soon, Elsbeth’s past certainly helped craft the stories coming in the ten-episode first season.

“We were paying close attention to everything that has been established about Elsbeth, but she’s in a new city and in a new role,” Tolins told TheWrap. “People who know the shows will enjoy this, but you don’t have to be an expert.”

For Preston, revisiting Elsbeth not only means reuniting with the Kings for a much larger collaboration. It also brings the privilege — and responsibility — of leading a primetime show for the first time.

“The moment is not lost on me, not for a second,” the actress told TheWrap. “I have loved my career. I really have felt so fortunate to be able to do what I love, in front of and behind the camera. To be trusted with this leadership role [now], I think I appreciate it exponentially more than I might have when I was in my 20s, dreaming about something like this.”

“[Elsbeth is] usually the one who’s spicing things up and now she’s the main course,” Preston added. “I’ve been ready for this for 14 years.”

“Elsbeth” premieres Thursday, Feb. 29, on CBS. Episodes are available to stream the day after the premiere on Paramount+.

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