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Good Wife favourite Elsbeth Tascioni goes from kooky attorney to kooky detective in a spinoff that wears its Columbo on its sleeve

Two shows on which she was featured are over now, but you can’t keep Elsbeth Tascioni down.

The eccentric, high-spirited lawyer portrayed by Carrie Preston, who won a Primetime Emmy for the role as a guest star on The Good Wife, then reprised it in the spinoff The Good Fight, now has a show all her own. Premiering Thursday, Elsbeth transfers Tascioni from Chicago to New York, where she has a secret agenda as she works with the city’s police department in a special investigative job. Wendell Pierce (The Wire) plays the stern police chief, Capt. C.W. Wagner, while Carra Patterson (Straight Outta Compton) is Kaya Blanke, the beat cop partnered with Elsbeth.

Elsbeth on Global & CBS. Pictured: Elsbeth (Carrie Preston)works her magic on NYPD captain C.W. Wagner (Wendell Pierce).

“I could not be more thrilled,” Preston says of giving Elsbeth this kind of showcase. “It’s been such a wonderful and interesting journey with this character. I started to play her 14 years ago, at the end of the first season of The Good Wife, and you do these guest spots and don’t ever think they’re going to repeat. You hope you do it well and then you move on to your next job, but I knew there was something special about that character even back then.

“I felt so lucky and privileged that they would entrust me with it, because she was so unique,” Preston continues. “She seemed to resonate with audiences, and then a [TV] season went by and I was like, ‘Well, OK. I guess that’s that.’ Then they brought me back for more, and the audiences again seemed to respond to her and her unconventional way of doing things. And as the seasons [of The Good Wife] went by, I would hear, ‘Why don’t you do a spinoff that centres around her?’ [Creators] Robert and Michelle King and I would touch base about that, but it wasn’t the right time.”

Instead, the Kings launched another spinoff, The Good Fight — with Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart character front and centre. “They would bring me back periodically on that drama,” Preston notes, “and I even got to direct on that. Then at the end of The Good Fight, we started talking a little more in earnest [about what has become Elsbeth], and COVID-19 happened.”

Elsbeth on Global & CBS. Pictured: Carra Patterson as Officer Kaya Blanke, Elsbeth’s somewhat reluctant partner.

But now, it’s finally time for Elsbeth. Less a courtroom drama than a quirky sleuth romp, the series starts each story by showing the perpetrator committing the given week’s crime. Elsbeth then matches wits with the felon — her cheerful, scatter-brained persona cloaking a keen method of interrogation. (In tonight’s premiere, her antagonist is a homicidal stage director played by guest Stephen Moyer, with whom Preston co-starred on True Blood). If it all sounds like the approach of a certain other television series and character, that’s not a coincidence.

Preston says that at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Kings “found that they were going back and watching re-runs of Columbo, and they just kept getting drawn to the structure of that show. Coincidentally, out of nowhere, a reporter wrote a piece about how she also was watching Columbo, and at the end of it, she wrote, ‘We don’t need a reboot of Columbo. Just give Elsbeth Tascioni her own show.’ [The Kings] already had the idea of Elsbeth doing something like that, then they called me and said, ‘Let’s come up with a pitch.’”

A New York resident anyway, along with her actor husband Michael Emerson (Lost), Preston counts that as a definite perk to her Elsbeth gig. Also seen lately in award-winning movie The Holdovers, she starred for four seasons in hair salon dramedy Claws (on which she also directed). She recognizes that some viewers may not be familiar with Elsbeth, but says she’s happy to reintroduce the character, which is accomplished in part as the attorney gushingly marvels at the wonders of New York during the show’s opening hour.

Preston reports that during the testing process with potential viewers of Elsbeth‚ the network “found that a lot of those people who really responded to the show hadn’t ever seen The Good Wife or The Good Fight. Or if they had, maybe they didn’t necessarily see the episodes that Elsbeth was in, so the people at the network and the studio wanted to make sure that this show could stand on its own. And that’s based on the way this woman behaves. She’s not like the other kids.” With that, Preston maintains she’s ready to have Elsbeth be the main course rather than a garnish: “I trust the writing, and I trust Robert and Michelle. And I’m really very mindful of keeping the character grounded, even though she is a bit flighty on the exterior. She’s actually a very complicated, rounded person, and there’s a reason that she does everything she does. Plus, there’s a great ensemble cast, and the guest stars have a lot to do in every episode, so it’s very full.”

Elsbeth premieres Thursday, February 29, at 10 p.m., Global & CBS

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