Reality TV

07.18.13

Eliot Spitzer’s Comeback: ‘The Good Wife’ in Real Life

Four years ago, Eliot Spitzer disgraced his wife with a then-career-ruining prostitution scandal, inspiring the CBS drama The Good Wife. As he makes his political comeback, it seems like The Good Wife is inspiring him.

It’s a peculiar thing, when art imitates life, and then life in turn begins imitating that art. But that’s what’s happening in the case of Eliot Spitzer’s recent political resurrection and his relationship with spouse Silda Wall Spitzer—or as the story ought to be called now, The Good Wife…in Real Life.

When the CBS legal drama/political soap opera hybrid debuted in 2009, it was easy to identify the glaring similarities between the show and the still-fresh details of the Spitzer prostitution scandal that was unveiled the previous spring. The series launched with an all-too-familiar scene: Alicia Florrick (played with elegant ferocity by Julianna Margulies) stands stunned and stonefaced next to her politico husband (Chris Noth)—who had just been caught cheating on her with a hooker—at his press conference announcing his resignation. It was as if Margulies had taken care to recreate, second-by-second, the expression worn by Silda Wall Spitzer as she stood by her husband in the press conference that served as inspiration for the series.

But if the antics of Eliot Spitzer played any part in inspiring The Good Wife, it may be fair to say now that The Good Wife might have played a part in inspiring him.

Fast-forward through four seasons and 90 episodes, and Peter Florrick, the man who disgraced his wife in that opening scene, has managed to rack up enough goodwill (and good luck) to win back his position as state’s attorney and, eventually, the governorship of Illinois—with Alicia at first cautiously and then enthusiastically standing by him again. Now as Spitzer navigates the transition from “Client-9” and social and political outcast into leading Democratic primary candidate for New York City comptroller, it seems as if the narrative of Spitzer’s life is catching up again to that Good Wife narrative for which it provided the initial impetus.

At the time of Good Wife’s premiere, co-creator Michelle King admitted that the show was inspired in part by the Spitzer scandal, but said that the story was more an amalgamation of the different streams in the waterfall of similar affairs: Bill Clinton, Dick Morris, John Edwards. It’s the media that took particular notice of the glaring similarities between The Good Wife and the Spitzer scandal particularly.

Just compare. Like The Good Wife’s Peter Florrick, Spitzer was caught with a prostitute. Like Florrick’s trick, the woman in question was far closer in age to Spitzer’s daughter than his wife. (“Some girl said Dad slept with a hooker my age,” teenage Grace cries to her mom in The Good Wife; Ashley Dupré was just four years older than Spitzer’s 18-year-old daughter, Elyssa, at the time.)

It seems as if the narrative of Spitzer’s life is catching up again to that ‘Good Wife’ narrative for which it provided the initial impetus.

With their husbands unemployed—Alicia’s in jail, Silda’s resigned—and children to support, the women were forced to return to work—Alicia in a junior position at a law firm, Silda at a private hedge fund and the charity she founded, Children for Children. Swiftly, both women began, for lack of a better word, killing it at their respective jobs.

There are other parallels. Though both women remained married to their husbands in the years after the whistles were blown on their respective affairs, they both also kept separate residences, which became public knowledge as the men threw their hats back into the political ring. Wednesday’s front page New York Times story on the tricky relationship between the Spitzers—he reenters politics while she hangs back quietly—reports that the couple is living 18 blocks apart, but “have been observed coming and going from their respective apartments over the past week.”

As far as political comebacks go, some may argue the more apt Good Wife comparison would be Anthony Weiner and wife Huma Abedin, as Abedin is by all accounts acting the good political wife these days, hand-in-hand with Weiner on the campaign trail. By comparison, some are translating Silda’s conspicuous absence from her husband’s campaign as a sign that she “isn’t standing by her man,” as Cosmopolitan says. The Times notes that she’s “been all but invisible … a stark contrast from her days trekking to Niagara Falls and Buffalo to rally voters to his cause.”

But just as Spitzer  is learning that careful strategy can win back voters’ favor following scandal—as Peter Florrick first demonstrated on The Good Wife—his wife, Silda, is carefully playing the powerful hand she’s been dealt—just as Alicia Florrick learned on the show. Former Democratic strategist Matthew Hiltzik tells the Times, “[Silda] is going to be an important part of evaluating the credibility of [Spitzer’s] candidacy. If she even provides minimal public support, that could go a long way.”

Among the most engrossing plots throughout The Good Wife’s run has been Alicia’s growing realization that she controls the puppet strings, then using that power to her advantage, first by refusing to take part in her husband’s campaign, then gradually making herself and her family available once her own personal demands are met. In fact, Silda’s quotes regarding her relationship with Spitzer over the years could easily have been a line of Alicia’s dialogue in The Good Wife. Take this terse evasion of offering anything substantive, for example. “I value Eliot as a colleague,” Silda told Vogue in 2009. “He is a wonderful human being.”

The most recent season of The Good Wife ended with Alicia, though with some hesitation, agreeing to renew her vows to Peter, who had just won the governorship. It was a complete turnaround from that series-opening scene four years ago, in which she was scorned and he disgraced. As of now, it may seem crazy think of Silda in such a position with Eliot Spitzer—though Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner are appearing every bit the happy couple. But then again, four years ago it would have been deemed made-for-TV nonsense to imagine the political comeback of someone like Eliot Spitzer. And now that, at the very least, is not just on TV, but is live in living color.