The Good Wife is one of television's more understated shows, but it harbors one of the industry's juiciest rumors and/or open secrets: Its two Emmy Award–winning stars, Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi, are in a patient and enduring feud. Each time that rumor (or secret, if you believe it is) is told, the same facts are trotted out: The two haven't shared a scene together since 2013, and when Panjabi left the show last season, her farewell scene with Margulies was filmed separately and edited together. From there, there are whispers but no confirmation about whose fault it is, who can't work with whom, and what started it.
Despite the whispers of a feud hanging over the show, it's never affected the show's quality. Sure, some seasons are better than others, but if there's dislike between these two stars, it doesn't manifest itself onscreen. Perhaps the show's consistency is part of the reason the alleged feud has never become bigger than the show.
That changed this week.
During an interview at the New Yorker Festival, Margulies was directly asked about the alleged rift between the two.
"Who says that? It's totally gossip," Margulies said. "I heard that question had been asked to Robert King. There's no story there, sorry. … I actually had heard [that rumor], and I feel that it has been talked about and answered."
Specifically, Margulies was asked about the last scene between the two, in the sixth-season finale. The conversation between Panjabi and Margulies at a bar doubles as a muted farewell, but as my colleague Emily Vanderwerff explained in May, the actresses were strangely shot separately. Margulies said this was done because of Panjabi's schedule.
"It was shot the way Robert wanted to shoot it, and the storyline, too," she said. "You also have to remember, there’s difficulty … [Panjabi] was also doing another show called The Fall. I went along with whatever Robert asked me to do, and I did it happily."
Margulies effectively shut down the rumor. Or so she thought.
Panjabi implies that Margulies lied
Shortly after Vulture published its recap of Margulies's answer at the New Yorker Festival, Panjabi refuted the explanation. Margulies cited Panjabi's new show, The Fall, as the reason the two actresses couldn't shoot the final scene together. But Panjabi pointed out that The Fall hadn't even started filming:
Panjabi didn't elaborate — this was the only tweet she sent in regards to Margulies's comments about the alleged feud, and the only statement she's made — but she's implying that Margulies isn't telling the truth. The implication is that the scene was altered to accommodate Panjabi, but according to Panjabi herself, that doesn't seem to be the case. The scene aired on May 10, 2015. The Fall's third season premiere does not have a date attached to it.
The lore of The Good Wife's alleged feud
Panjabi's fact-checking tweet is, to the most zealous Good Wife fans, tangible proof of a slow-boil clash between her and Margulies.
The reason the rumors of a feud exist in the first place is because Panjabi and Margulies haven't shared a scene since the 14th episode of season four. BuzzFeed noticed this trend first, and the whispers of a feud came after that. That separation lasted until Panjabi's and Margulies's final scene together, even though the show's creators, Robert and Michelle King, promised that the two would be reunited.
The lack of Panjabi-Margulies scenes is weird in that The Good Wife is a legal drama where everyone interacts with everyone. They're supposed to be colleagues at a law firm where Panjabi's Kalinda is the point person when it comes to investigations (though there's a plot in a future season where Margulies's character splits off and starts her own firm). Their characters occupy the same city, sometimes the same office. They're both major characters who are heavily involved with, and sometimes even share, the show's major plot points.
The show has gotten around this with phone calls, characters playing middlemen (Margulies's Alicia Florrick will talk to someone, and that person will offer to call Kalinda), plot devices that have Kalinda outside the office or fighting with her estranged husband, and, well, using weird split-screen technology.
The only evidence we have that this is intentional is the onscreen maneuvering by the show's writers and producers — the latter of which includes Margulies. She's been a producer since 2011, which means she has a say in the storylines, the characters' interactions, and the scenes she's in. Margulies talked about Alicia and Kalinda's friendship, its dissolution, and its bleak future with the Huffington Post in 2013 at the end of the show's fourth season (the season the two stopped sharing scenes):
[The Huffington Post]: … Alicia's relationship with Kalinda has been rocky and it's kind of taken a backseat. Do you think in Season 5 we'll see them come together again?
[Margulies]: My guess is not. I think that's kind of played out because of circumstance. I doubt she'll be able to trust that friendship fully. I think Kalinda's character seems to have gone in a different direction …
[Alicia] needs female friendship, but she needs to start from scratch. She can't be pouring her heart out to someone who once slept with her husband. I mean, it's just not going to happen. It doesn't seem realistic.
Why do people like talking about The Good Wife's feud?
People don't get along with their co-workers all the time. Television shows aren't any different. We've heard stories from Community, Two and Half Men, and Grey's Anatomy of cast members fighting. And, of course, this is Hollywood, which means there's a bigger platform and more celebrity attached to this than to your regular office disputes.
Part of the reason The Good Wife's feud is so popular is that it's never — until Margulies spoke at the New Yorker festival — really been addressed. It only exists in the scenes Margulies and Panjabi didn't share and the lack of explanation of why these two can't be in a scene together.
In contrast to The Good Wife's lack of evidence, you have shows like Two and a Half Men, where writers took an episode to spear star Charlie Sheen. You have instances like Community, where Chevy Chase left the show. And in the case of Grey's Anatomy, creator Shonda Rhimes is quite frank about working with difficult people (such as former Grey's star Katherine Heigl). She told the Hollywood Reporter last October:
"There are no Heigls in this situation," she says, choosing her words carefully. She adds later of her "no assholes" policy: "I don't put up with bullshit or nasty people. I don't have time for it."
Panjabi and Margulies's alleged dislike of one another also plays as a case of life imitating art. There's some odd parallel that their fictional animosity has bled into the actresses' real lives.
In their fictional storylines, Panjabi's Kalinda hides that she slept with Alicia's husband; that's what Margulies referred to in her interview with HuffPo (above). This puts a strain on their relationship, and the two are never the same. Margulies weirdly refers to Kalinda and Alicia's plot as if it were real-life or common knowledge to people who don't watch The Good Wife during her New Yorker festival interview.
"It's a shame, because I wonder if it was two men, when one finds out that he fucked his best friend's wife, if it would get that same attention, you know what I mean?" she said.
As Margulies points out in that answer ("if it were two men…"), she believes there might be an element of sexism at play, too. And yes, pop culture has a history of painting women as jealous or catty. Just this week, a New York Times magazine contributor asked Nicki Minaj, the biggest female hip-hop star on the planet, if she "thrives" off drama. And one of the more persistent rumors about this feud is that Margulies is jealous of Panjabi's Emmy.
But I'm not sure if sexism is fully to blame here. If Mad Men's Jon Hamm and John Slattery went two seasons without sharing a scene together and no explanation of why this was happening, the same kind of questions about their on-set relationship would eventually sprout up.
"[T]he Margulies v. Panjabi quarrel exists, it is unusual, and it has shaped the show's creative arc. Being curious about what happened isn’t sexist—it’s human," Slate's Katy Waldman writes.
What happens now?
The feud, if it's ever brought up again, will be a thing only talked about in retrospect. Panjabi left The Good Wife at the end of last season. And on Sunday, the show went on without her in its seventh season premiere. There's also a theory that this seventh season will be the show's last. It's the show's other unconfirmed rumor, but one we will actually find a straight answer to.