May 6, 2015
Guests: Michelle & Robert King - Scott Gimple
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Today, our guests are Robert and Michelle King, the husband-and-wife writing-and-producing team who created the CBS drama series "The Good Wife." The show, which stars Julianna Margulies as attorney Alicia Florrick, is now in its sixth season, and the season finale is televised Sunday night.
As a TV critic, I consider "The Good Wife" the best drama series on broadcast television right now and one of the very best TV series, period. Alicia is a deliciously complex character, a resourceful lawyer who put her career on hold after marrying Chicago politician Peter Florrick, played by Chris Noth, to raise their children. The series began when he was caught in a series of scandals, some political, some extramarital. And Alicia, after standing silently by his side at his press conference, re-entered the workplace to begin a new life. Since then, her journey has been unpredictable, often unstable and extremely entertaining to watch. She's joined, quit and started a new law firm and, this season, even ran for the office of state's attorney, where some of her husband's old habits became an issue once again. Here are Julianna Margulies as Alicia and Chris Noth as Peter, who has emerged stronger than ever from his scandalous past and is now the state governor. But Alicia has just been given photographic evidence that Peter may be sleeping with an old friend and junior staff member.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")
JULIANNA MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) You need to stop sleeping with her.
CHRIS NOTH: (As Peter Florrick) I'm not.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Peter, do me the honor of being honest for once.
NOTH: (As Peter Florrick) I had dinner with her. If your photographer had stayed around another week, he would have seen me having dinner with other staff members. It's what I did.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Were you sleeping with her in Highland Park?
NOTH: (As Peter Florrick) I'm not sleeping with her now.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) I was pregnant with Grace. Were you sleeping with her then?
NOTH: (As Peter Florrick) Alicia, listen to me. I will do nothing to embarrass you.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) These weren't taken by me. You think I give a crap - enough to follow you? They were taken by another campaign. They're going to use this against me and you, and I won't stand beside you. Not again, Peter. Not in a million years. So don't listen to me. Keep lying to me. I don't care. But do listen to your political instincts. You want to be re-elected? You want me to be elected? Then zip up your pants, shut your mouth and stop banging the help.
BIANCULLI: The first time she stood beside him, of course, was in the premiere episode of "The Good Wife" back in 2009. Alicia was a lot less assertive than. She just stands there onstage silently and stoically, watching her husband at the podium as he faces the press and resigns his office.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")
NOTH: (As Peter Florrick) Good morning. An hour ago, I resigned as state's attorney of Cook County. I did this with a heavy heart and a deep commitment to fight these scurrilous charges. I want to be clear. I have never abused my office. I have never traded lighter sentences for financial or sexual favors. At the same time, I need to atone for my personal failings with my wife, Alicia, and our two children. The money used...
BIANCULLI: Michelle and Robert King, welcome to FRESH AIR. So what was the inspiration for that first scene? Was it the political scandals at the time?
ROBERT KING: Yes, very much. You know, everybody kind of compares it to the Eliot Spitzer-Silda Spitzer one, but in fact when we pitched this project, there were like five or six. I mean, it felt like every other week or every other month there was this poor woman standing by her disgraced husband, and it was just this kind of nightmarish scene where the woman did nothing wrong. The wife did nothing wrong, but was kind of dragged up there as a prop, really, and kind of with mud thrown at her by all the press talking about it afterwards. And you'd see all these shots afterwards that were just of the wife.
MICHELLE KING: And we happened to notice that a lot of these women just coincidentally were also attorneys.
R. KING: Like, powerful women that, on their own, would have had successful careers and, in many cases, put their careers on hold to help their husband, and it just felt like you could not find a more pitiful and sad and interesting situation. And obviously what went through our minds was probably what went through everyone's minds. What happened backstage after that press conference? I mean, did they just part? Did they walk away from each other? And of course, in our minds, she gave the biggest slap anyone has ever hurled at anyone else.
M. KING: And the question, of course, was also why does she stick around, because so many of these women, in fact, did continue on with their marriages.
BIANCULLI: You have this main character who is growing and changing and evolving, which is nice enough in itself. But she's doing it, you know, not always successfully. There are these stutter-starts and stops and mistakes. And in her private life and even in her life as a mother, her life as a single woman, her life as a lawyer, she makes good moves, she makes bad moves, and sometimes there are very significant consequences. Was this part of your plan all along with the character and with the show, or did you find it along the way?
R. KING: I would say that we found it when we started talking to Julianna Margulies. What's great about working with her is she's not wanting to play the character who always triumphs, who always solves the case, who always is the one who can buck people up with a good speech, like let's solve this. What we found was very effective were episodes where she was humbled, where she thought she knew what the score was.
M. KING: And the other thing that's a gift about working with Julianna Margulies is that even when she gets things wrong, she manages to play it in such a way that the character remains sympathetic. So that allows us to push more boundaries.
BIANCULLI: I actually have an example that I want to play that shows both of those points. This is - one of Alicia's many changes was having a secret affair with Will Gardner, her law firm boss and eventual co-partner. Even though they were lovers, she planned to leave their law firm with another of the firm's lawyers to start an independent practice. In the episode where Will found out, he entered her office to confront her and quickly got so angry, he knocked everything off her desk. Julianna Margulies plays Alicia and Josh Charles plays Will Gardner.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")
JOSH CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) I took you in. No one wanted you. I hired you. I pushed for you.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Will, this is a business decision.
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) You were poison. This firm got you back on your feet.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) And I will always be thankful.
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) And this is how you show it, by stealing our clients?
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) We didn't steal anything. These were clients that...
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) You have a fiduciary responsibility to this firm, and you are going behind our backs.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) I didn't go behind any backs. I...
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) You negotiated Diane's exit package.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) You asked me to.
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) And the whole time, you knew you were leaving.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Nothing I was doing impacted that negotiation.
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) Oh, God. God, you're awful, and you don't even know how awful you are.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) This is how you and Diane started this firm.
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) Don't you dare compare - OK. OK. First of all, you're fired. Second, I'm taking this company cellphone until such time...
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Excuse me, that's my personal...
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) And I'm taking it into possession until I can determine which clients you've attempted to steal.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) You can't do that.
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) Get out of here, Alicia - right now. You're fired.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) No.
CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) You don't want to push this.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) I'm a partner. You want to remove me, you need the majority vote of the executive board, and then you need a vote of the full board.
BIANCULLI: That's Josh Charles and Julianna Margulies in a great scene from "The Good Wife," a series created by our guests - I'm going to ask you about it in a second - by our guests, Michelle and Robert King. What's the beauty and the strength for writing for both sides like that, where you sympathize or empathize with Alicia, but you also really get, you know, what he's saying?
R. KING: It's - creates complexity. You know, it's - so much of TV is, even though we're in the golden age, is kind of usually having someone to root for, where it's a very clear line to go from point A to point B. You're always aware where the writer wants you to stand, where he or she wants you to sympathize and go. And I think what kind of mixes it up is when you don't really know, and you get the sense the writer doesn't know what he or she wants the viewer to think or who they sympathize with. It feels a little more like life.
M. KING: I was going to say, I mean, so often it's either a hero or an antihero, and I think we're aiming just for a regular person, with all their complexity and messiness.
R. KING: And that's what was so fun there is because you - your heart thought you were supposed to go out to Julianna, but, in fact, what Josh Charles says is exactly right. I mean, he is - and so the episode there, it's this race between them. You don't really know who you're supposed to cheer for.
BIANCULLI: So presuming that you have legal consultants on your show, how much do they bring to the table?
R. KING: Oh, a ton.
M. KING: A ton.
R. KING: Yeah.
M. KING: There are seven writers in addition to us. Three of them are also attorneys, plus we have a legal consultant, Erv Miller, in Cook County.
R. KING: And they, you know - look any stupidities in the plot, anything where the lawyers - and the audience go, oh, that would never happen. That would never happen. You can blame us for that, I mean 'cause we're drama fiends. You know, it's like OK. That's a reality - good. What can we do to - what is the unusual thing that would happen based on that reality? So we're always looking for ticking-clock situations that, you know, Alicia has fought more cases than any lawyer in there. I mean, that's - the only thing you might argue with lawyers who kind of take task with the show, is there is - there has to be that dramatic element of things moving faster than they would in reality 'cause TV should be hyper-reality, just reality on speed (laughter).
BIANCULLI: Why the law?
R. KING: The law seemed to make language a battlefield, where it's how people argue and how people debate subjects that becomes the nature of the drama. That just seemed like a fascinating area, and then I think that creeps over into the creative side of it. I think we are interested in the debate. I'm from a very big family, and we would debate every subject nonstop. Michelle and I have a lot that we agree on and a lot we disagree on (laughter). So it's a good way to explore that.
BIANCULLI: Robert and Michelle King, creators and executive producers of the CBS series "The Good Wife." More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. We're talking with Robert and Michelle King, the husband and wife team behind the CBS drama series "The Good Wife," which presents its season finale this Sunday. One of the best things about this excellent show is its cast, both the series regulars and the recurring guest stars. And one of the best is Alan Cumming as Eli Gold, a shrewd political operative. He guided Peter Florrick from prison to the governor's office and this season, pushed Alicia into running for office herself. Here's Alan Cumming as Eli and Julianna Margulies as Alicia in a scene where they're walking almost as fast as he's talking.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")
ALAN CUMMING: (As Eli Gold) Why would I leak a push poll like that. Have you read it?
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Who else, Eli? Who else would poll on my candidacy?
CUMMING: (As Eli Gold) Castro. Right now he's a shoo-in for reelection. He's worried about you.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) I don't believe you.
CUMMING: (As Eli Gold) Have you read the polling questions? They make you look bad. Do you think the wife of a sitting governor should take advantage of her position to run for office? This is Castro, not me. Don't you see? And I had nothing to do with Ernie Nolan offering you money. He did it on his own. Yes, I got Valerie Jarrett to call you, but that was it. This is just happening.
MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Nothing just happens.
CUMMING: (As Eli Gold) Yes, it does. As cynical as I am, I know that sometimes the world just takes over. People write letters. Kids stand in front of tanks. College students vote. And even this crook Nolan - that's a good sign. I never trust when the good guys support you. It's when the bad guys come around you know it's real. People think you're important enough to bribe.
BIANCULLI: Let's talk about the actors on your show. I adore Alan Cumming as Eli Gold and Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart. But you go deep into the recurring guest stars and even the people that just come on as clients, and they're all so colorful and quirky. How do you do this logistically? You have so many good actors who are doing lots of other things. You know, Alan Cumming is, you know - you were doing this while he was doing "Cabaret." Do you figure out the schedules first and then write, or - how do you do it?
R. KING: (Laughter). This is...
R. KING: You asked us, when we're prepping for this, are we tired.
R. KING: I would say the biggest element of being tired is the scheduling. And we have two amazing ADs.
M. KING: The assistant directors.
R. KING: Assistant directors who do - I can't imagine the work they do 'cause, you know, you would have - you have only one day to shoot out Chris Noth. And he has to shoot a scene with Alan Cumming, but Alan Cumming has to get out by 5 because he has to rinse the dye from his hair to go into "Cabaret" at night.
R. KING: But you might have a guest star - David Hyde Pierce - who's going to start directing a play in January. And you know that these three have to arrive in a scene together. I'm just giving you an example.
R. KING: And it's a - it is a poker game and a combination of that and chess I've never seen.
M. KING: And part of the problem is it's a self-inflicted wound. It's the way we're choosing to tell this story that is causing all the problems. If we just told a procedural law story where you met the perpetrator and the judge and the lawyer on the other side every week and they were different every week, we wouldn't run into any difficulties. But we are choosing to tell a continuing story with actors that we don't have any call upon except if they're available and they like being on the show. So that is creating all the problems.
R. KING: We would be remiss if we didn't mention Mark Saks, who is this hero of the show. He's been nominated, I think, every single year for an Emmy.
M. KING: He's the casting director.
R. KING: He's the casting director of our show, and he is someone who sits in on every play in New York and is constantly looking for those new nuggets of talent that he can bring our way. And he's been on from the very beginning. He did the pilot, and he's been doing every episode since.
BIANCULLI: One of the most attention-getting things of your series in the last couple of years was the surprise murder of Will Gardner, played by Josh Charles, in a scene that was so wonderfully put together. I'd love to ask you just about how you hid it from everybody.
M. KING: The hiding of it was great, good luck. I mean, we spoke to producers of "Game Of Thrones" and "Breaking Bad" and asked, OK, how do you hide your big surprises? And they had a few tips. But at the end of the day, there were hundreds of people that knew the secret, and they knew it for months. And they were just so good to the show that they - and good to the fans - that they kept it all to themselves.
R. KING: And I would add that we just kind of wanted to avoid what could have seemed like a calculated and ugly way to get Josh off the show and yet would seem like, dramatically, what we wanted to go for, which is when death surprises you during life - in the middle of life.
M. KING: And of course, our great collaborator in this was Josh. He was willing to keep quiet that he was going to be leaving.
R. KING: Which is usually how these things are revealed. Josh is, you know, cast in another show or a movie, and everybody who can read between the lines realizes, oh, he can't do that and do our TV show. So Josh was amazingly good and is still one of our friends, which is nice.
And how we did it, you know - Brooke Kennedy, who's one of our EPs, directed that episode, and it was a delicate little dance because it was written much - there was much more involved in the dramatizing of Josh Charles - of Will Gardner's death. And then in the editing room, we were very much whittling away - kind of pulling back on all these elements that would've hyped it too much or made it too melodramatic so that it would be more seen through Kalinda's point of view, and Diane's kind of hearing it. And it was more impressionistically the way if you were an observer to a friend's death - how that would happen.
BIANCULLI: Do you ever yearn for cable, or do you see advantages to being on commercial broadcast TV?
M. KING: I'll just speak for myself. The only thing that I envy cable is the fewer number of episodes. I don't personally wish we had more nudity or - you know, occasionally the language, but rarely. And it's not about content because CBS has been fantastic to us and allowed us to tackle any issue we want. It's purely they have more time to devote per episode on cable, and that's very appetizing.
R. KING: And more time to devote to their lives.
M. KING: Yeah. I mean, the other good thing about network TV is that there's more - it's more current because you are closer to airtime.
R. KING: And then have it show almost immediately. So it's a little more magazine-like in that way. That part is actually kind of fun. It would terrify us to build a whole year and then put it aside and have it - and direct it and then edit it all, and then you're just throwing out there something you've already done. We have some ability to change based on our feelings of watching it, on feelings of our family's response. Our family has very strong opinions (laughter) about things.
R. KING: So you can kind of have it be a more living thing as you go.
M. KING: Yeah. The ability to course correct is very useful.
BIANCULLI: Finales have become so important to a TV series as a way to cement or improve or weaken a show's reputation. Do you have an exit strategy yet for Alicia and "The Good Wife?"
R. KING: Oh, yeah.
M. KING: Yes.
R. KING: We did after we did the first 13. We didn't know - you never know on network how long they're going to let you play, but we always knew what we were writing towards 'cause it's the only way you can not make it feel like this is a, like, a merry-go-round that we'll never get off. I mean, you want the audience to feel like it's building toward something. And so we are - we know what we're building to.
BIANCULLI: And you haven't had to change that direction in all these years? You're still building towards what you thought you were?
R. KING: Correct.
M. KING: That's correct.
R. KING: Which is lovely. Even Josh Charles leaving was - we knew there was going to be a death. We didn't know whether it would be one of her children, which is an awful thought now, or Peter Florrick, but we knew there was going to be this death that made her re-evaluate her life. So it was lovely to have - (laughter) lovely - that's a terrible way to put it - to have Josh Charles want out.
M. KING: But we miss Josh.
R. KING: Yes.
M. KING: Don't get us wrong.
BIANCULLI: Well, I'm really glad that you have a plan to end the show. Just please don't plan to end it too soon. Michelle and Robert King, thanks for being on FRESH AIR.
M. KING: Thank you.
R. KING: Oh, thank you.
BIANCULLI: Robert and Michelle King, creators and executive producers of the CBS series "The Good Wife." The season finale is televised this Sunday. Coming up, a visit with Scott M. Gimple, an executive producer of the AMC series "The Walking Dead," and jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews the new album from Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. Drummer Dafnis Prieto moved to the U.S. from Cuba in 1999. Twelve years later, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. Prieto leads a few bands, including an improvising trio with a singer. His new album is for a three-horned sextet. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the drums are at the heart of Prieto's conception.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAFNIS PRIETO SONG, "TWO FOR ONE")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Dafnis Prieto's sextet on "Two For One" from their new album, "Triangles And Circles." Prieto is in step with other jazz modernists who love looping lines and complex rhythms. His Cuban upbringing pointed him toward those before he ever got to the states. He'd been superimposing divergent beats since he took up the drums. In Cuba, any instrument can have a percussive function, and Prieto's compositions often sound like they're built from the drums up.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAFNIS PRIETO SONG, "THE EVIL IN YOU")
WHITEHEAD: Mike Rodriguez on trumpet and Manuel Valera on piano. Those crisp rhythms sound good on their own, but they're also functional, kicking the soloists from the rear. On the tune opening, Johannes Weidenmueller's electric bass locks in with the drums to bump the horns ahead. Peter Apfelbaum is on the tenor saxophone.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAFNIS PRIETO SONG, "OPENING")
WHITEHEAD: Felipe Lamoglia on alto sax at the end there. Dafnis Prieto's music is about more than intricate rhythm. He writes good melodies too, putting tuneful figures through inversions and variations, much like his drum patterns. On the title track to "Triangles And Circles," he'll pass a catchy lick from one horn to another or move it around the scale, reverse direction or stretch it out and snap it back.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAFNIS PRIETO SONG, "TRIANGLES AND CIRCLES")
WHITEHEAD: There's an old hipster's joke that got invoked when discussing world affairs. Yes, but is it good for jazz? The thaw between the U.S. and Cuba - this will be good for jazz. Historically, the music gets a jolt of Cuban rhythmic sophistication every so often, and it's ready for a new shot now that so much jazz is about permutation and metrical complexity. Dafnis Prieto's music sketches some modern possibilities when Afro-Cuban beats meet blues feeling and more spontaneous rhythmic variations. That pretty much describes how just jazz got started in the first place.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAFNIS PRIETO SONG, "BLAH BLAH")
BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead writes for Points of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Triangles And Circles," the new album by drummer Dafnis Prieto and his three-horned sextet. Coming up - zombie apocalypse. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross. Hey, look out.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, no (screaming).
BIANCULLI: Oh, great. We lost another. Fans of the AMC series "The Walking Dead" are used to that. The incredibly popular and exciting television show about a band of survivors in a zombie apocalypse is known for killing off characters without much warning. Even popular lead characters die, which can cause explosions of fan grief and rage on social media, often directed at our guest, the program's showrunner, Scott M. Gimple, but he gets a lot of praise, too. "The Walking Dead" is based on a comic book series of the same name written by Robert Kirkman, who's also an executive producer for the television show.
Both the show and comic follow a group of hardened survivors led by former sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln. As if avoiding hordes of zombies wasn't enough trouble, they also must deal with people who are often more dangerous than the living dead. Scott M. Gimple took over as showrunner for the 4th season. Season five ended in March. He's also an executive producer. Gimple spoke with FRESH AIR producer Sam Briger. Let's start with a clip. Rick and his group have been welcomed into a walled community of people in Alexandra, Va., who seem incredibly naive and vulnerable. Rick's been asked to serve as constable, but he feels that Alexandria must accept how far civilization has fallen and that survival demands a brutal form of justice. Here, he's speaking with Deanna, the head of Alexandria, played by Tovah Feldshuh. Rick is concerned about a member of the community who's been abusing his wife.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")
ANDREW LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) We have a problem with Pete.
TOVAH FELDSHUH: (As Deanna Monroe) I hoped that it'd get better.
LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes)You knew? It hasn't gotten better. It won't.
FELDSHUH: (As Deanna Monroe) Pete's a surgeon. He saved lives. He might be saving Tara's life.
LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) He's beating his wife. We have to stop it.
FELDSHUH: (As Deanna Monroe) How?
LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) We separate him. We tell him that's how it'll be from now on.
FELDSHUH: (As Deanna Monroe) What happens when he doesn't want to do that?
LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) It's not his choice.
FELDSHUH: (As Deanna Monroe) So what happens?
LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) I kill him. We kill him.
FELDSHUH: (As Deanna Monroe) We don't kill people. This is civilization, Rick.
LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) Warning someone to stop or die, that is civilized nowadays. So what? So we just let him hit her? We let him kill her?
FELDSHUH: (As Deanna Monroe) No. We exile him if it comes to that.
LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) If we do that we don't know when he comes back and what he does to them. Letting him go makes this place vulnerable. You really want to wait till someone in that tower has to take care of it? And that's if we're lucky.
FELDSHUH: (As Deanna Monroe) We are not executing anyone. Don't ever suggest it again. That sort of thinking doesn't belong in here.
LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) People die now, Deanna, they do. There's times like this you can decide who and when, or it can be decided for you.
SAM BRIGER, BYLINE: That's a scene from the second to last episode of season five of "The Walking Dead." My guest is executive producer and showrunner Scott M. Gimple. Welcome to FRESH AIR.
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: Thank you.
BRIGER: So that scene really gets to one of the main themes of this season, which is just how much civilization is left for the survivors of this zombie apocalypse. They're in a situation where there's, you know, zombies that are trying to kill them. There's also all these very predatory people out there. And so how do you protect the people you love and yourself safe, and do you need to resort to a swifter and more brutal form of civilization? Why did you want to pursue that theme this season?
GIMPLE: Well, I'll say whenever we sort of tackle this stuff it comes from two places. The first place always is the comic. I started my relationship with "The Walking Dead" as a comics reader before the show was out. We also, though, have to apply it to the current timeline in the show. The show is very different from the comic in some ways and very much the same. There's characters alive on the show who are dead in the comics and vice versa. And really, the audience has been following on the show, Rick Grimes - this small town sheriff's deputy - and have followed his evolution, or devolution, from someone who wanted to retain an old style of civilization in this apocalypse and how the apocalypse has changed him and changed his beliefs. The contrast between who Rick was and who Rick is now has never been higher.
BRIGER: So "The Walking Dead" continues to have huge ratings. What do you think it is that - about your brand of zombie that's just so popular with audiences?
GIMPLE: I can only speak for me, but in the comics and then in the show, I just loved seeing these characters from all these different backgrounds facing the same thing. I will say, though, there is a little bit of a fantasy that we're so consumed in our lives with so many things that maybe aren't very real. We lead lives of distraction. You know, a lot of us, no matter what job you do, you sit in front of a computer. The computer is on the Internet, which seems almost built for distraction. And there's something about the situation that these characters are in that everything superfluous has been taken away from them. It's just a very simple life of survival.
BRIGER: Right. Well, you can look at, like, monster movies from various periods, and you can really see how they reflect cultural anxieties. Like, the "Godzilla" movies from Japan, they mirrored a fascination horror with nuclear fallout. You have, like, movies from the United States like "Them!" from 1954 that, you know, was about these giant terrorizing ants that were created because of bomb tests. What do you think your show reflects about our culture?
GIMPLE: You know, now more than ever I think people are aware of the threat of pandemics. Whether it's Ebola or whether it's the bird flu or whether it's just the flu, that might play into it as well because the threat here is people - sick people. People who have died from this sickness, but it spreads. It's an infection on the planet - a walker infection.
BRIGER: Let's talk about the sound of the show.
GIMPLE: Oh, yeah.
BRIGER: There's a lot of terrific gory sound effects that you use.
GIMPLE: (Laughter) Yeah.
BRIGER: You know, you have these crunchy, crisp kind of sounds when someone's piercing the skull of a zombie and then there's these really gross, wet sounds when humans are being eaten. Are you ripping fruit apart or what? Is it lettuce being shredded? Like, what is all that? Do you know?
GIMPLE: I mean, it's usually - it's usually from a library now. But - well, no - and we create them as well - pardon me. I think one - I'm just trying to think of one crazy instance, and I think recently somebody throwing a melon of some sort at a car. It is weird stuff like that. And then the walkers, though, those are live performers. They aren't the walkers on the day that we film. Those are looped in, and those are very specifically sort of performed by a very - very, very dedicated and brilliant artists
BRIGER: Very scratchy-voiced people, too, I imagine; a lot of horse voices it sounds like.
GIMPLE: Yeah, and, you know, there's a lot of different versions. There's breathier ones. There's growlier ones. There's sort of gurglier ones.
BRIGER: Well, let's hear a sample of some of that great sound. We're going to play a clip that's from the final episode of season four, which you co-wrote. And this is a scene where Rick's been surrounded by a bunch of terrible people who are threatening to kill his son, and he gets a chance to kill one of them and stab them. And as you'll hear in this clip, he just keeps stabbing and stabbing, and you'll hear the sound of the stabbing, so let's listen to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Please (screaming).
(SOUNDBITE OF STABBING)
BRIGER: Well, I have to notice that the scenes that have disturbed me the most in the past few seasons you've been the writer on. I mean, there's - or the co-writer.
GIMPLE: It might be Robert's fault, too.
BRIGER: Well, yeah - so you have - well, let's see. Let's see if they are. So you have, like, Rick's biting someone's throat out. There's a scene...
GIMPLE: And that's a moment from the comic.
GIMPLE: So that's just me appreciating.
BRIGER: There's a scene where the cannibals are efficiently slaughtering people to prep to eat. There's a truck...
GIMPLE: Yeah, that was...
BRIGER: That's you, I think.
GIMPLE: That would be me.
BRIGER: There's a truck full of still animated zombie torsos that spills out onto Rick's car.
GIMPLE: OK, that's - guilty as well.
BRIGER: (Laughter) And then - one more. And then the final episode you have Rick pinned down by a zombie, and the only way to get rid of the zombie is he, like, pushes his hand through the brainpan of the zombie and crushes the brain. So what does this say about you, Scott?
GIMPLE: Just to make myself even more guilty, you know, as the showrunner of the show - whatever kill is on whatever episode, regardless of the writer's name on it, it was up to me to say yes or no. I don't know what it says about me, but yeah, I think - I think if charges were brought, I would probably have the most jail time, so...
BIANCULLI: Fair enough; Scott M. Gimple - showrunner and an executive producer for "The Walking Dead" - speaking to FRESH AIR producer Sam Briger. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to FRESH AIR producer Sam Briger and his conversation with Scott M. Gimple, showrunner and an executive producer of AMC's "The Walking Dead."
BRIGER: You work on this incredibly violent show. And I'm wondering if, like, you're done at the office, and you have to go home, like, do you have to sort of reset your mind and sort of get back into the civilization that we live in?
GIMPLE: You know, I think watching it is one thing, and doing it is another. And even the most violent moments on this show, even the moment you were talking about where Rick bites out that neck of that gentleman, it's a very strange thing because I know how hard it is to make that look real. And I know the work of everybody who went into it, and I know the people who worked on it.
And so when I'm on set and it's 2 o'clock in the morning and Andy is biting into pieces of chicken on somebody's throat and somebody is standing off to the side, pumping the blood that's coming out of that person's neck and I'm thinking about the actor being freezing with the blood running down his shirt, it isn't getting desensitized to the violence. I see everything that went into it to make it horrifying and to make it, hopefully, emotionally resonant. But it's more like looking, you know, at a football play or a dance.
I'd say the hardest part is in script form because that's before all of this work to make it real gets involved. And there have definitely been times that I've been so deep in a script, in writing these moments and sort of backing away from the screen and being a little uncomfortable or just horrified myself that it went that way (laughter). Then I'm watching it, and I'm like, oh. You know, I'm writing, and I'm like, oh, yeah, here's the thing that makes it worse for this reason and that reason. And then you sit there and read what you just wrote.
BRIGER: But do you have any examples of something that you wrote and then saw in playback and were just like, that's just too far. We can't show that. Do you have an example of something like that?
GIMPLE: There was - and this actually wasn't very emotionally horrifying. It was just gross - which was this walker - because all of these walkers were swarming the prison fence, a walker was being pressed into the fence. And you know, we scripted it that the walker is being, you know, almost cheese gratered or...
BRIGER: Oh, God.
GIMPLE: Yeah - sort of Play-Dohed through the fence. And they made, you know, a pretty remarkable head for this. And initially, I thought, you know, maybe we shouldn't do this because it really wasn't connected to any emotional moment in the story. It was just to show the circumstance of the amount of pressure that the people were under. And ultimately, I did do it. I did put it in.
And there's a strange thing about it. I think some of those moments play, oddly, as relief to the audience. It isn't a joke. You know, we're not trying to make a funny, and we're not trying to, like, do anything ironically or anything. But things have just gotten so bad that you're just seeing how impossibly dark things can get.
It's a tone of the show, and it's a part of the show that I think is very specific to our show 'cause we're not trying to make the audience laugh in any way. And we're trying to keep everything real. But when things get that dark, there's just a bit of recognition of it, and there's a strange - I feel there's a strange sort of relief in it.
BRIGER: Well, it's almost like absurdity, not humor.
GIMPLE: Yeah. I mean, the threat is real, and they are - they're dealing with it, but things have gotten that bad that it's - yeah, I would say - perhaps absurd.
BRIGER: So no one on the show ever calls the zombies zombies. There's - they use terms like walker, roamer, biter, shuffler.
BRIGER: Why is that? Is that from the comic book?
GIMPLE: That is very much from the comic. It was something, as a reader, I dug. Once you start saying zombie, then - you know, they've seen all the Romero films. And as a reader of the comics, I was like, yeah, if they knew about zombies, they would never stop talking about all of the pop-culture zombies that they have seen.
BRIGER: So the show has a really devoted following, but they can get very vocal when one of their favorite characters dies. And in our world of social media, they can say some pretty nasty things about you. And I read...
BRIGER: ...One tweet, and I'll quote it here. It says, so help me God, if Daryl dies, I will attack Scott Gimple. I mean, how do you handle that stuff? I'm sure you've seen it before.
GIMPLE: Yeah. You know, if there's a really threatening one, you sort of have to get certain, like, security people involved that we employ, but luckily, that doesn't happen so often. I don't know. It's a strange thing. I - 'cause yeah, some of those tweets are super mean, and - but I will say, I appreciate it 'cause it keeps me off twitter and keeps me working.
But there's another side to it, which is, this audience likes these characters, and they're passionate about these characters. And we wrote these characters, and these are characters that I have been conceptualizing and building up and hopefully connecting with - making audiences connect with them. So it is a sign of some storytelling success. It's just people swearing at you a lot too, so it's a very strange thing.
BRIGER: "Walking Dead" just finished its fifth season. And I also noticed that "Downton Abbey" just finished its fifth season. I was wondering if there's a possibility for a crossover show there?
GIMPLE: Oh, man. Now you're talking. I doubt it. They're both very popular. I think - you see, that's where you make a movie like - you know, they're doing Batman, Superman - "Walking Dead" versus "Downton Abbey." That's a great movie.
GIMPLE: I would watch that.
BRIGER: Just to tempt you a little further, I put together this sound...
GIMPLE: Oh, I love it.
BRIGER: ...This montage, so we're going to play this for you. This is Maggie Smith, who plays the Countess Dowager at the Downton Abbey Christmas party, and she notices a zombie...
GIMPLE: Oh, that word.
BRIGER: ...Among the members of the party. So we're going to play this for you here.
BRIGER: Hold on a second.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOWS, "DOWNTON ABBEY" AND "THE WALKING DEAD")
MAGGIE SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) Is everything going well here?
(SOUNDBITE OF ZOMBIE GROWLING)
SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) Because I don't like dissension.
(SOUNDBITE OF GORING)
SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) (Laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BRIGER: So what do you think, Scott? Do you think we've got a winner there?
GIMPLE: I think we have to change the score a little bit.
BRIGER: (Laughter). You're going to critique my edit?
GIMPLE: Well, I mean, you know, it was sort of light at the end. And she - did she do the stabbing?
BRIGER: She was stabbing, yes.
GIMPLE: 'Cause she was laughing too, so she was enjoying it.
BRIGER: Maybe she's gone...
GIMPLE: So I think she's...
BRIGER: ...To the dark side or something.
GIMPLE: Yeah. She's, like, a Governor kind of character.
BRIGER: Yeah. Well, I didn't say she was a good character.
GIMPLE: Well done, Sir. Well done.
BRIGER: Well, Scott. M. Gimple, thank you so much for being on the show.
GIMPLE: I appreciate it. Thank you very much. This was great.
BIANCULLI: Scott M. Gimple is the showrunner and an executive producer for the AMC series "The Walking Dead." He spoke with FRESH AIR producer Sam Briger.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAITING FOR THE WORLD TO END")
RAUL MALO: (Singing) You're overstating, pontificating the meaning of your life, my friend. I'll tell you one thing but not for nothing. We're all waiting for the world to end. And you may enter the gates of heaven while some are dying to be born again. It's intuition, not superstition. We're all waiting for the world to end. Do you believe in things unseen, or are you one of those that just pretends? Are you aware - let me be clear - we're all waiting for the world to end. Oh, let's wait for it.
BIANCULLI: On tomorrow's show...
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")
JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) What do you see for the future?
ELISABETH MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) I'd like to be the first woman creative director at this agency.
BIANCULLI: AMC's "Mad Men" is in its final season, with two episodes left. We welcome back Matt Weiner to reflect on where the series began, where it's gone and what might be up next for him. Hope you can join us.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.