Julianna Margulies

Julianna Margulies wasn't eager to sign on to another legal drama after Fox's short-lived Canterbury's Law was canceled. So why is she starring on The Good Wife (premiering Tuesday at 10/9c on CBS) as an attorney who returns to the workforce after a 13-year absence?

Well, you've seen CBS' tensely edited promos, in which Margulies slaps Chris Noth with much gusto. It doesn't exactly look like a legal drama, does it? The actress, who won an Emmy for her role as ice-cold nurse Carol Hathaway on ER, reports that there are no camera tricks to that pivotal scene; she really belted him. "There was no other way to do it," she says. "And Chris Noth is so great.  He's like, 'Oh please, I've been hit so many times.'"

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In this case, his character really deserves it. The Good Wife is about what happens to Alicia Florrick (Margulies) when her husband, Peter (Noth), an Illinois state's attorney, is implicated in a sex and corruption scandal and sent to prison. The show's "ripped-from-the-headlines" quality is particularly topical in our post-Spitzer, post-Sanford world.

The show's husband-and-wife producers, Michelle and Robert King, however, emphasize that this is not a show about powerful men and their bad behavior; it's about the people left in scandal's wake, including Alicia, Peter's mother and the couple's two teenaged children.

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"[Telling Alicia's story] seemed much less certain, much more interesting," Robert King says, "because how do you really remake your life when everybody seems to have an opinion about how you should remake your life?"

The first scene of the pilot episode echoes the news conference in which Gov. Eliot Spitzer confessed his misdeeds — with his wife staring blankly at his side. Margulies recalls watching the scandal unfold. "In my head I kept thinking, 'Well, why are you standing there?'" But bringing Alicia to life has changed her opinion about people like Silda Wall Spitzer and Hillary Clinton. "It gave me a tremendous amount of respect for them because I was so quick to judge them until I stood in Alicia's shoes," she says.

After the slap and her husband's incarceration, Alicia needs a job, and that's where the show takes its basic structure. She's offered a position at a high-powered Chicago law firm by Will Gardner (Josh Charles), an old friend from law school. The firm's top litigator, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), mentors Alicia as she regains her legal footing.

Though future episodes will deal with Alicia's work at the firm, both Kings emphasize that her cases will mostly act as a prism through which the show examines her predicament. For example, Peter won't always be in jail, Robert King hints.

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But isn't a hectic law firm a lousy place for someone as vulnerable as Alicia? Michelle King advises the audience to always keep the show's title in mind, but not necessarily to take it literally. In other words, just how good is Alicia? "That will play out in her decisions," she says. "Does she stay? Does she go?  How does she move her life forward?"

Margulies has some ideas. "I said, 'Well, maybe this show will be on long enough where Alicia starts having affairs." But as a working mom, the actress wonders how plausible a scenario that would be, even for television. "Honestly, I think women are too busy. We're exhausted."