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FALL TV SEASON

'Good' to go ... wicked

Julianna Margulies' lawyer turns up the sex appeal as the CBS drama takes on 'Desperate Housewives.'

September 24, 2011|Joe Flint

Is "The Good Wife" about to become the naughty ex-wife?

When the critically acclaimed legal drama returns for its third season Sunday, fans may have more to get accustomed to than its new night and time. Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick is changing -- she's breaking free of her philandering husband Peter and wants to get her groove back.

If the CBS show's promotional ads are any indication, Alicia may be spending as much time between the sheets as she does in front of a judge or playing office politics. The sultry billboards featuring the show's star definitely reveal a different side of the usually reserved lawyer.

In one black-and-white shot, she poses in lacy black lingerie, and in a color photo, she is outfitted in a tight black dress, having just kicked off her Christian Louboutin black pumps. And for those who may have missed these messages, there's the network's promotional TV spots that have the words "it's sexy" -- in red and white type -- leap off the screen.

CBS Marketing President George Schweitzer called the ads "provocative" but not racy. "She's taking a much more aggressive direction and we're going to see that," he said.

"When I saw that black-and-white photo for the first time I literally gasped," said Michelle King, who along with her husband, Robert, created the show about a woman trying to move past her Chicago politician husband's very public infidelities and reestablish her own legal career.

King said that though the ad initially startled her, she grew to love it. "I think it is actually very true to the show," she said. "She is discovering her sexuality ... she is discovering the power within herself."

To be sure, it's not as if "The Good Wife" was ever confused with anything on the Hallmark Channel. In the show's very first episode, Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) resigns amid a hooker scandal and is later carted off to jail. At work, there is an ever-present heat between Alicia and her old college classmate-turned-colleague Will (Josh Charles). And then there's Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), the firm's secretive private investigator who often uses sex to manipulate both genders.

But there is also a subtlety and quiet dignity to "The Good Wife," which last Sunday earned the drama nine Emmy nominations and an actress statue for Margulies. And the new campaign, designed to widen the program's appeal as it moves to a time slot against ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and NFL football on NBC, has some loyal fans worried that their favorite show will go from thoughtful to tawdry.

"I love the show, but why are you making her look like a prostitute?" asked Christina Greenberg of Staten Island, N.Y., on CBS' Web page for the show. Another commenter, Maria Weiser of Hernando, Fla., said of a new publicity picture showing Margulies looking kittenish on a couch, that "this is not what Alicia is about

Not everyone was so negative about the photos.

"Bold, beautiful and bad," declared Lee Maxwell. "Three great ingredients for this season."

CBS executives bristle at the notion that the promotional push somehow cheapens the character. "There's a distinction between the slutty wife and the sexy wife," said CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler. "She's not in lingerie in the courtroom ... the show can be smart and it can be sexy."

The campaign's tag line -- "Don't let the name fool you" -- refers to the show's title, which has sometimes been viewed within CBS as a deterrent to attracting a bigger audience. The title may be off-putting for men since it sounds more like a weepy tear-jerker for housewives than a sophisticated hybrid legal/political/family drama.

But with the title character now pursuing a romance with Will, CBS took the new plot point as an opportunity to essentially relaunch the show in hopes of garnering a broader audience. The network has been hyping it on its own air, particularly during NFL football coverage on Sunday afternoon.

CBS also took the highly unusual step of running a half-hour special about "The Good Wife" three weeks ago. Margulies, who declined through her spokeswoman to comment for this article, is doing her part too. Besides posing for all those steamy shots, she also popped up with some of those very same photos on David Letterman's late-night program to talk up the show.

"It's one of our big priorities for the fall," said Schweitzer. "We are treating it like a new show."

However, the Kings want to make clear that just because Alicia may be dressed differently in these ads, doesn't mean the show will be renamed "Cougar Law."

"We're not taking our cue from what time slot we're in or what an ad looks like and building the show around that," said Michelle King.

Still, if showing a little skin brings in some more viewers, the Kings won't complain.

"I'm cynical enough to say if they thought they could sell the show by putting me naked up there, I'd probably go with that," joked Robert King.

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joe.flint@latimes.com

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