ELSBETH Showrunner Jonathan Tolins on Crafting 'a Procedural with a Wink in its Eye' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

ELSBETH Showrunner Jonathan Tolins on Crafting ‘a Procedural with a Wink in its Eye’

February 29, 2024 by  

Elsbeth season 1

Carra Patterson stars as Officer Kaya and Carrie Preston stars as Elsbeth Tascioni in ELSBETH, a new drama based on the character featured in THE GOOD WIFE and THE GOOD FIGHT. The show follows Elsbeth Tascioni, an astute but unconventional attorney who, after her successful career in Chicago, utilizes her singular point of view to make unique observations and corner brilliant criminals alongside the NYPD. ELSBETH premiers in the 2023-2024 season on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. Pictured (L-R): Carra Patterson as Officer Kaya Blanke and Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni. Photo: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CBS’ latest police procedural, ELSBETH (bowing Thursday, February 29 at 10/9c) has an unexpected character as its lead: eccentric lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni (played by Carrie Preston)—who previously appeared on THE GOOD WIFE and THE GOOD FIGHT—who moves from Chicago to New York City to monitor the work of the NYPD. 

But, naturally, as Elsbeth shadows the law enforcement officers, she begins to notice key clues that shed insight into the crimes that are being investigated…and the cops have to pay attention to what she brings to the table.   

Here, ELSBETH showrunner Jonathan Tolins speaks with Give Me My Remote about figuring out the ground rules for the spinoff, building the world around Elsbeth, and more.

You’ve worked with THE GOOD WIFE/THE GOOD FIGHT/ELSBETH creators Robert and Michelle King for years. What was the journey to you showrunning ELSBETH?
I’ve known Robert and Michelle King for over 30 years. We were good friends for many years and then I first worked with them in 2016 [when] they asked me to work on BRAINDEAD, their summer series. I moved to the east coast in 2009 and they’d been doing everything in LA up until 2016. They asked me to work on BRAINDEAD, which I did, and it was a good experience. And then when THE GOOD FIGHT [writers’ room] moved from LA to New York in its second season, they asked me to join that show, and I worked on it the entire rest of the series.

And I happened to write two Elsbeth episodes in season 2 and season 6, and I think they liked the way I wrote her; they thought I had her voice. So when this came up, they thought of me to run it…we’ve always been looking to do more together. It was a thrilling, scary proposition. I love the character. And the thing that was a little bit scary is it is a procedural. We’re doing crimes and crime mysteries. 

But it just so happened that last season before the strike, I was asked by Billy Finkelstein, who I worked with on GOOD FIGHT, to join the room of his show EAST NEW YORK, which was a CBS cop procedural. So I didn’t realize I was getting valuable experience for this new job at the time because it was not something I would naturally fall into—I’m someone who worked on SCHMIGADOON. But Billy thought I would do a good job, and it was an incredibly valuable experience going into this. And so it all fell into place in this way. 

Elsbeth is in an entirely new job. What has been the fun and challenges of seeing her in this role, and perhaps seeing sides of her we didn’t see while she was practicing law? 
Well, we’re very conscious of her history and using the things that made her a great lawyer, making her someone who has special insight into the crimes that she’s exposed to. She is working as a lawyer on a consent decree, so she’s there observing, but she can’t help but butt into things. We always say that she is someone whose talent as a lawyer was to find that unexpected angle or to notice something that no one else notices. And those are great things to be when you’re investigating your crime. And so we’re exploiting the things that are so Elsbeth and how they apply in her new role. So that’s the fun of it. It’s nice because we don’t repeat things that we’ve already done with her legal career.

A lot of [her journey] is about her experience as a lawyer, in which she wasn’t always devoted to finding the truth. And now she’s gonna roll where she is and she likes the way that feels.

This is a character who appeared in two different shows within the franchise, one that aired on CBS and another that aired on Paramount+, over a nearly 14-year span. What are the challenges of crafting a series that is not only a spinoff, but also part of a universe that aired in different places, while also making the series new-viewer accessible? 
I will say there is nothing you need to know about Elsbeth that you won’t pick up almost immediately when you meet her. Because she’s in a new role, and because she’s in a new city, I think people who have a history of watching this character on GOOD WIFE and GOOD FIGHT, they will be rewarded for that. But there is nothing barring your entry into this show, because she’s immediately plunged into a new situation. And that’s the fun of it. 

I think what the show does have, and what will reward those people who are fans of the previous series in the universe of it, is it has the same sort of level of I think intelligence and style. We have the same costume designer, who makes everybody look fabulous. And I think the gimlet-eyed look at the world that those shows had is maintained here. But you do not have to have seen one minute of those shows to enjoy the show. 

THE GOOD WIFE universe has existed for almost 15 years, which complicates things in its own way. Early in ELSBETH season 1, Jesse Tyler Ferguson guest stars as a different character than his prior stint on THE GOOD FIGHT. What ground rules have you set about who can and can’t be reutilized?
Early on, we had these grand ideas about maintaining the universe’s consistency forever. And, as you noted, Jesse appeared on season 5 of GOOD FIGHT as another character. We’ve really come to the decision that every good actor, almost, appeared on THE GOOD WIFE and THE GOOD FIGHT. We can’t leave them all in Chicago. So we are giving ourselves some freedom. 

Obviously, you’re not going to see [TGW/TGF star] Christine Baranski come on as another person, because that would be strange. But there is a wonderful history of using good actors who are good in this kind of show. I always like to say Robert Culp was the murderer on COLUMBO season 1, episode 2. And he was the murderer on COLUMBO season 2, episode 3. And then he appears later as another character. There are a number of actors who appeared several times. 

I would love, in success, to have this show not burn those character and actor bridges, and to find fun creative ways to use people. I like the freedom of that. I think it’s part of the fun of the show. I keep saying it’s a procedural with a wink in its eye.

I have friends that have been on LAW & ORDER [multiple times]. And we did break the universe once on GOOD FIGHT, but very few people noticed it: We had Danny Burstein come on as a lawyer even though he had once been [as another character]. So obviously you don’t want to make it super noticeable. But if you have the chance to have Jesse Tyler Ferguson come on in a great part that’s perfect for him, we’re gonna do that.

That makes sense. This also marks the first time the franchise is being shot in New York for a NYC-set series. What is that bringing to your storytelling?
The location’s manager was fantastic at getting great New York locations. The idea is that Elsbeth is on a consent decree watching over high-profile cases, so we’re looking for sort of glamorous, fun worlds for our episodes to take place in. Robert likes to say it’s sort of a tourist’s eye-view of New York. It’s not this gritty [landscape]. This is the New York we all wish New York looked like.

Elsbeth is a big presence. What were you looking for when you rounded out the ensemble around her? 
Wendell Pierce [who plays Captain C.W. Wagner] is always delicious and warm and interesting and intelligent. So it’s always great. And I kind of see a Mary and Lou Grant [from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW] relationship developing. Elsbeth is foisted on him in his department, but there’s a grudging respect that grows between them. 

And then Carra Patterson, who is playing Officer Kaya [Blanke], who is sort of ordered to babysit Elsbeth is a by-the-book patrol cop. You see this lovely relationship blooming between them, a little Oscar and Felix stuff. But what’s nice is that there are only two full regulars, other than Carrie, and so in each episode, you’re going to see a lot of fun little characters who are mixed up in that week’s case that has to be solved.

Wagner and Kaya are new to the world. What can you tease about how you’ll be revealing their backstories to viewers?
In the beginning, we’re establishing the fun of this show and Elsbeth’s role in it. But keep watching and we’re gonna get to it all.

ELSBETH, Series Premiere, Thursday, February 29, 10/9c, CBS


Follow @GiveMeMyRemote and @marisaroffman on Twitter for the latest TV news. Connect with other TV fans on GIVE ME MY REMOTE’s official Facebook page or our Instagram.

And be the first to see our exclusive videos by subscribing to our YouTube channel.

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases made through links/ads placed on the site.

Filed under Elsbeth

Comments Off on ELSBETH Showrunner Jonathan Tolins on Crafting ‘a Procedural with a Wink in its Eye’


Comments are closed.