'The Good Wife'-verse expands with new series 'Elsbeth' starring Carrie Preston

It took about 14 years but Carrie Preston is finally playing her dream role full-time.

Preston stars in the new CBS procedural “ Elsbeth,” as Elsbeth Tascioni, a gifted attorney with a sharp eye for detail who is easily distracted. She also possesses joie de vivre and does not put on airs. Make no mistake though, Elsbeth is usually the smartest person in the room.

Viewers first met Elsbeth at the end of season one of “The Good Wife" which starred Julianna Margulies as a political wife who restarts her law career when her husband (Chris Noth) is arrested. Elsbeth was brought in as an attorney for Noth's character, Peter Florrick.

“I knew from the show that when they would hit on a guest actor that they liked or a character that they liked, they would bring her or him back," recalled Preston recently. “I didn’t hear anything for a whole season. And I thought, ‘OK, well, maybe that was that,' because I wasn’t in season two at all. Then they called back and we all hit our stride at that point. We found the chemistry with the writing and the acting."

Preston won a guest actor Emmy Award in 2013 for her portrayal of the character on “The Good Wife.” Elsbeth also appeared in multiple episodes of its spin-off for Paramount+ called “The Good Fight,” starring Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald.

“Every time I played Elsbeth, I played her like it was the last time because I was always a guest. I played her 19 times over those two shows. That’s really only a couple times a year if you spread it out. The opportunity to play her all the time is a dream come true," said Preston.

Michelle and Robert King, co-creators of “The Good Wife”, “The Good Fight” and “Elsbeth” have maintained a good relationship with Preston over the years. Besides playing Elsbeth, she directed episodes of their Showtime thriller drama “Your Honor” and also “The Good Fight.”

The Kings were always aware the Elsbeth character was a fan favorite, but it took a binge-watch of “Columbo” during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to prompt them to create a show for Preston.

“We realized what’s fun about ‘Columbo’ is him being underestimated and him kind of not being able to control how smart he was," said Robert King.

“That's Elsbeth,” added Michelle King.

“Elsbeth" debuted in February, took a break, and returns this week with two new episodes. The show will air a new episode weekly into May.

We meet Elsbeth now, still an attorney, but she has left Chicago for a job in New York helping the NYPD with their investigations.

“We are doing a procedural, so the writing does have to honor the case of the week (format),” said Preston. “I’m finding it interesting to see how Elsbeth is in that situation. We’re used to seeing her in a courtroom. We’re not seeing that at all here.”

Aside from being set in a new city, “Elsbeth” is written for a broader network audience and avoids the kind of political storylines that drove “The Good Fight” in particular.

“'The Good Fight' was such a ripped-from-the-headlines, overtly political show, which got harder and harder as the world became more and more complicated," said Jonathan Tolins, an executive producer and writer on “The Good Fight" who is now showrunner of ”Elsbeth." "It’s fun now to take (Preston's) character and throw her into something that’s less dire and a little bit more escapist and fun."

It's enjoyable to watch Elsbeth catch people by surprise with her intelligence but that's confounded because she's a woman.

“Elsbeth has the added advantage of the misogyny that comes of lower expectations just because she’s a woman and sort of a ditzy woman," said Robert King. "Her ditzy-ness is not an act in our minds. It’s kind of connected to her problem solving.”

“I like to say that she’s sort of putting everything in the Rolodex of her brain, because she doesn’t know when she’s going to need to go get that file out and use it," said Preston.

One of the hallmarks of “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” were recurring characters with distinct personalities who played attorneys and judges throughout the run of the shows. Fans were often tickled when a familiar face was brought back. “Elsbeth,” says Preston, will do the same.

“We will start seeing some repeats of our little stable of detectives and they all have wonderful personalities," she said.

A number of known actors have also been cast in guest spots for the show's first season including Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Blair Underwood, Keegan-Michael Key, Retta and Gina Gershon.

Alicia Rancilio, The Associated Press