David Bianculli: Bad News About ‘The Good Fight’

The Good Fight - Christine Baranski
Patrick Harbron/CBS
Baranski in The Good Fight

The Good Fight, the excellent spinoff to the equally outstanding CBS legal drama The Good Wife, will be back for a second season in 2018. That’s the good news, because The Good Fight is the best new series CBS has presented all year.

The bad news is that—as with all but the first of Season 1’s 10 stellar episodes, which continued the legal and personal travails of Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart and Co.—The Good Fight on the CBS broadcast network isn’t a show. It’s a no-show. If you want to watch it (and you should), you have to pay.

When CBS unveiled The Good Fight, the premiere aired free on CBS. After that, viewers had to subscribe to the series’ exclusive new home online, CBS All Access. A stellar spinoff of an established and acclaimed CBS series, by the same creators, was pulled from the lineup, teasingly, the same way Lucy would yank away Charlie Brown’s football.

In September, CBS will pull that same bait-and-switch with a spinoff of an even more beloved franchise. Star Trek: Discovery will debut on September 24. That same night, eager fans can also watch Episode 2—but only on CBS All Access. Ditto for every episode thereafter. The service, which offers live streaming access to your local CBS station as well as to a library of selected shows, currently costs $5.99 per month. (Or $9.99, if you pay to avoid all commercials.)

It doesn’t bother me that CBS wants to get into the streaming game, especially with a quality product. But airing The Good Fight only on CBS All Access, and in effect taking it away from viewers of CBS, isn’t just robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s robbing Peter, then making Paul pay extra for it. Imagine, NCIS fans, if CBS had shown the premiere episode of say, NCIS: Los Angeles and then made all subsequent episodes available only on a pay-per-month streaming site. You can understand the business model, but you don’t have to like it.

CBS has tried a pay-TV model before, launching CBS Cable in 1981. The idea was to offer high-class programming—symphonies, opera, theater, dance—but there was neither enough programming nor enough paying customers. CBS Cable lasted little more than a year. Using a new Star Trek series as catnip to lure viewers to CBS All Access may be the final frontier, if not the last straw.

What’s most upsetting, at least to me, isn’t that CBS is making us pay for the privilege of watching certain shows. It’s that, with The Good Fight, it’s making us pay for its best show rather than proudly sharing it with its national broadcast audience. If CBS All Access must claim first dibs to the likes of The Good Fight and Star Trek: Discovery, why can’t CBS give us second dibs a few months later?

David Bianculli is also a TV and film professor at Rowan University, New Jersey, and appears as a critic and guest host on NPR’s Fresh Air With Terry Gross.