LOS ANGELES, July 12 (UPI) -- With this week's announcement that WarnerMedia will launch its HBO Max service next spring, the AT&T-owned company becomes the latest old-line media giant to enter the streaming fray. Yet with new streaming services appearing almost daily, CBS All Access is engaged in a reversal of course.
The Good Fight, the sequel to the CBS legal drama The Good Wife, though created for CBS All Access, is airing in a limited network run with hopes of attracting more viewers.
The first original drama offered through CBS All Access, The Good Fight picks up one year after the events depicted in the final broadcast episode of The Good Wife, detailing the further exploits of Good Wife attorney Diane Lockhart, played by Emmy winner Christine Baranski. Working alongside fellow co-creator Phil Alden Robinson, showrunners Robert and Michelle King constructed Fight as a starring vehicle for Baranski, who had proven a fan favorite throughout the CBS run.
When the possibility of a spinoff arose, the network's fledgling streaming service seemed an obvious home for the series. Despite multiple Emmys, and strong critical acclaim, Wife was never a ratings powerhouse for CBS, rarely breaking into the Nielsen top 20. Yet even with marginal broadcast ratings, Wife was often a top-three show for the streaming platform, ranking ahead of many higher-rated broadcast series.
"The reaction from subscribers was phenomenal," says CBS Interactive President Marc DeBevoise, noting it was that online reaction that lead CBS to conceive The Good Fight as a premium offering.
Converting to broadcast
While the initial episode of Fight had a broadcast premiere in February, 2017, the series had not surfaced again on broadcast, leading to surprise among industry analysts when CBS announced plans to begin airing first-season episodes on June 16th -- the first All Access series to make the jump to network. Yet the laissez-faire constraints of streaming aren't easily aligned with broadcast standards, and producers faced challenges in adapting the series for air.
Trimming Fight to a suitable network run time -- 42 minutes, 30 seconds -- led the Kings to adopt a rapid-fire editing style that removed air from characters' conversations, without necessarily cutting lines.
"I've watched a few of the network airings," said first season staff writer Keith Josef Adkins. "Honestly, the edits feel seamless. I can't tell what's missing. The profanity blackouts are funny (because there are a lot of them), but the integrity of the show remains intact."
In addition to dialogue edits, shortening the opening title sequence was another time saver. While brief title sequences -- or even title cards -- are common for modern networks, many streaming series still include traditional opening titles. In cutting the episodes to length, Fight's stylized title sequence, filled with shattering stemware and exploding monitors, was the first thing to go. Good Fight composer David Buckley, Emmy-nominated for his work on the series, rewrote the classical opening theme, shortening the run time by nearly a minute.
"It was such a strange task," Buckley said. "How do we get a 90-second piece of music into a 20-second form for network? I have to say it was a bit depressing. The unfolding of the full streaming version is part of its charm -- the fact that it starts very timidly, then grows more bombastic. That's the effect we were trying to go for, obviously, with the images to match."
"Robert King said he wanted the new version to feel like the end of the '1812 Overture,' with all the cannon sounds and cymbals," said Lawson Deming, owner and visual effects supervisor at Barnstorm VFX, the company that created Fight's opening visuals. "So that was his direction to both David Buckley and me -- fit in as much from the full sequence as we could, and just go for it."
Rather than attempting to edit the original theme, Buckley chose to write a new version, bespoke, for the broadcast run.
"I had to basically reach for the guts of the piece. In the network version, there's very little time before the first explosion occurs," he said. "It gets to the point much quicker, whereas I was always fond of the slow burn from the original."
"You have all these limitations," Deming said. "Within that, you're trying to tell a creative story. Some of it's technical, some of it's luck, and some of it is just working on it and hoping for the best."
The necessity to truncate each Good Fight episode by as much as 12 minutes -- streaming run times often hover around the 54-minute mark -- meant that, in some cases, entire story lines had to be cut. And though staff writers weren't consulted on the edits, Adkins notes he's pleased with the results.
"The Kings know their show very well," he said, "and I don't challenge their authority over what it should look like on regular network."
Future in question
As to the future of the Kings' show, much may rest on the current network run. After announcements that the Kings would not return to Fight's parent series, The Good Wife, following Season 7, CBS chose to end that series in May 2016 rather than continue under other producers.
With the pair having recently announced their plans for a forthcoming CBS series, Evil, scheduled for a world premiere screening at Comic-Con later this month, it seems their attention could be turning elsewhere. As such, Good Fight's temporary move to the network may well prove a pivotal moment for the series. A subscriber surge is likely to mean continuation, but status quo numbers could signal the end for Fight.
CBS executives say they have no plans to air additional seasons of the drama, and with ratings dropping steadily for the current Sunday night airings -- off more than a third in the coveted 18-49 demographic -- the network is unlikely to achieve any further bump in online subscribership. Though the network refuses to release numbers for individual series, CBS claims 8 million combined subscribers between its Showtime and CBS All Access properties.