The premise sounded thin at best, a torn-from-the-headlines spin that promised neither depth nor intelligence.
And the ratings have never been what you'd call great. Beyond that, the people who watch the show are hardly any network's dream demographic — last year the mean age of viewers was 60.1 years old.
But for five years — it's sixth season premieres Sunday night at 9:30 on CBS — "The Good Wife" has been the best drama on broadcast television.
It's not sexy and sensational like "Scandal." It doesn't have the whodunit puzzles of "Elementary" or the tawdry turns of "Revenge" or the to-the-rescue thrills of "Chicago Fire." No one wears a uniform or has a super-power.
It's just the most solid piece of work on broadcast TV. The show has been praised from the very beginning and if anything, it's picked up more momentum over the years.
The keys to its success are many. Let's look at a few:
It was never trapped by its premise: The original idea was Alicia Florick (Julianna Marguiles) was a TV version of the corrupt politician's wife who stands by her man. But that relationship was quickly made secondary to Alicia's rebirth as an attorney, which opened the door for the show to become filled with legal and political intrigue, as well as family drama.
Story threads run everywhere: Most CBS dramas are straight procedurals; "The Good Wife" is nothing of the kind. It may choose to have a contained episode here and there, but it has season-long arcs, monthlong arcs and characters who may not show up for a year, but when they do, their history follows right along. The classic example of that would be Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox, always sublime), the wily attorney who has been popping in and out of the show for four years now.
Talent begets talent: The show started off with Marguiles, who was coming off one of the most successful TV shows of all time, "ER." It made the wise decision to balance her with Matt Czuchry, who'd been on one of the best TV shows of all time, "Gilmore Girls." Add in Chris Noth from "Sex and the City" and Josh Charles from "Sports Night" and you had a strong foundation.
From there, though, things went nuts. The show became the supreme actors' showcase on TV, and that includes cable. Broadway stars Alan Cumming and Nathan Lane joined on. Veterans like Jerry Adler and Zach Grenier took supporting roles. After Fox showed up, you had Michael Ealy, Joe Morton, Gary Cole, Melissa George, Stockard Channing, Amanda Peet, Rita Wilson, Dylan Baker ... the list goes on and on.
Do good work and have it recognized: Carrie Preston won the Emmy for guest actress for portraying the brilliantly scattered Elsbeth Tascioni in 2013, Martha Plimpton scored the same award the previous year as the duplicitous Patti Nyholm.
And let's not forget the judges: Jeffrey Tambor, Denis O'Hare, Ana Gastayer, David Paymer, Peter Reigert, Jane Alexander, Dominic Chianese ... at this point playing a judge on "The Good Wife" is one of the prestige roles in all of television.
Yes the show can falter: Most famously with the villainous ex of of investigator Khalinda (Archie Panjabi) in 2013 and last season with the clumsy insertion of Jason O'Mara as an Irish lawyer. But as an ongoing broadcast network enterprise, "The Good Wife" has no peers.
'The Good Wife'
9:30 p.m. Sunday