Kristin Chenoweth was supposed to become a regular on The Good Wife when she joined the legal drama in its fourth season. But the Broadway star ended up departing the show after just two episodes. And a traumatic incident on set ensured that she would never return to the CBS hit again.
Chenoweth was cast as journalist Peggy Byrne on The Good Wife in 2012. The character was first seen interviewing Alicia and Peter Florrick following the latter’s announcement that he was running for state governor. And Byrne didn’t pull any punches during her chat with the Alicia, describing her as both a doormat and hypocritical. She also caused further trouble with an article that ended up losing Mandy her job.
Of course, by this point Chenoweth was already a well-established actress. She’d first caught attention in 2001 sitcom Kristin before bagging roles in Ugly Betty, The West Wing, and most famously Glee, where she played alcoholic faded star April Rhodes. In 2009 Chenoweth won her first Emmy Award thanks to her supporting turn in Pushing Daisies.
You may well have seen Chenoweth on the big screen, too. She’s appeared in several festive films including Deck the Halls and Four Christmases, while other movie credits include Running with Scissors, Stranger Than Fiction, and You Again. But it’s on the Broadway stage where Chenoweth’s career has truly thrived.
At the turn of the century Chenoweth bagged a Tony Award thanks to her turn in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Four years later she was the first actress to take the role of Glinda in musical phenomenon Wicked. Chenoweth has also co-starred in the Promises, Promises Broadway revival with Sean Hayes, and in 2007 she performed solo at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. This was only the third time that a name from the world of musical theater had been allowed such an honor.
Knocked out cold
But Chenoweth’s career was temporarily derailed in 2012 when she suffered an injury on The Good Wife set. The actress was rushed to hospital in a neck brace after a lighting silk — a piece of equipment designed to reduce the amount of artificial light on a shoot — fell on her. Speaking to website TMZ, a witness claimed that Chenoweth had been “knocked out cold.”
Leaving the show
Shortly after, Chenoweth announced that she’d be leaving the show prematurely as a result. In an official statement she wrote, “It is with deep regret to inform everyone that due to my injuries, I am unable to return to The Good Wife at this time. Getting better slowly, and thank you everyone for your concern.”
A month later, Chenoweth told talk show Live with Kelly and Michael just how badly she’d been affected by the incident. The Tony Award winner said, “I couldn’t really form a sentence after it happened… I have a skull fracture and a rib issue and a hip issue. I’m issue-ridden.”
Gust of wind
In 2018 Chenoweth discussed exactly how the on-set accident had happened in a chat with People magazine. The star recalled, “A piece of lighting equipment, about the size of this roof, fell on my face outside, in a big, big, big gust of wind. We were shooting outside on the river: I think it was Day Three for me.”
Chenoweth went on to add, “The set landed on me and kind of messed up my face, my nose, and my teeth, and then threw me into a curb, so there was a skull fracture and some rib pain. The biggest Achilles heel [sic] has been my neck.” But the actress had still been able to take some valuable life lessons from the incident.
A philosophical Chenoweth said, “You know how things happen in your life to make you pause? That was a big one for me. What I’ve taken from it is life’s short. Another thing I’ve learned was, enjoy life. It’s so short. Also, when you get injured, you have to take the time to heal. I went back a little soon.”
Returning to work
Yes, Chenoweth didn’t waste much time in returning to work. The following year she made the first of two guest appearances on Kirstie Alley’s eponymous sitcom. And by 2014 it was pretty much business as usual as Chenoweth added The Opposite Sex and Rio 2 to her list of movie credits.
Chenoweth told People that she remained something of an optimist. She said, “We all have stuff that bother us. I’m still learning how to deal with chronic pain. Yeah, I’ve still got it. But, you know what? I still work. I still am able to, so I’m lucky. I’m lucky I’m alive.”
Promoting her new sitcom Trial and Error at the time, Chenoweth continued, “I just work constantly, and I don’t take time to heal, rejuvenate, and recharge. But to be a better artist, I have to live life. But slowing down is hard for me because I feel like I have so much still I want to do.”
But it wasn’t for another four years that Chenoweth revealed the whole truth about the aftermath of the accident. In 2022 she penned an essay for the book My Moment: 106 Women on Fighting for Themselves. And what the actress wrote didn’t exactly put the showbiz industry in the best light.
Recalling exactly what happened once she’d been struck by the lighting equipment on The Good Wife set, Chenoweth wrote, “I was rushed by ambulance to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. My injuries were severe. My ribs were cracked. My nose and some of my teeth were broken, and I had a skull fracture.”
And the list of injuries didn’t end there. Chenoweth went on to explain that she also suffered tissue, muscle, and nerve damage for several years after the incident. So why had it taken so long for the Broadway veteran to properly address the moment that had so heavily curtailed both her career and her life in general?
“Weak and broken”
Well, Chenoweth feared at the time that she’d be dismissed as “weak and broken” by the Hollywood powers-that-be. She explained, “In the entertainment industry, as is the case with so many other lines of work, when someone considers hiring you for a part, they want to know that you’re ready to run. Ready to work the long hours.”
Fierce work ethic
A candid Chenoweth continued, “Ready and able to push as far as ‘getting the job done’ might require. I have always been known for that: ‘Cheno is a workhorse.’ It’s been a big part of who I am known to be, and I’m proud of it. My parents instilled in me a fierce work ethic.” But this hadn’t been the only factor in the actress’ decision to keep schtum.
Chenoweth’s team also gave her the advice to stay quiet to avoid the risk of upsetting The Good Wife’s home network. At the time of the accident, CBS had issued a statement which read, “All of us at the studio and the show are thinking about Kristin and wishing her a quick recovery.” But some believed the company wouldn’t be so charitable if they were taken to court.
In fact, Chenoweth had been told she would struggle to find work in Tinseltown ever again if she filed a lawsuit against CBS. The star admitted that this warning had frightened her from going down this path. She wrote, “I let fear take over and did what so many people do — especially women — in the face of going up against someone or something more powerful than they are. I shrunk.”
Keeping up pretenses
And Chenoweth didn’t just feel like she had to keep quiet. The actress also believed that she needed to pretend that her situation wasn’t as severe as it actually was. In her essay the Glee star remembered heading out in public with a brave face on multiple occasions — and the response from CBS that followed.
Chenoweth recalled one particularly frustrating experience. She wrote, “I was told by my attorneys that CBS called them right up and said, ‘Judging from the pictures out there, Kristin appears to be doing GREAT!’ I wasn’t doing great, but my sucking-it-up smile for a paparazzi photo was weaponized against me.”
Intimidated was how Chenoweth described her main feelings about this. She continued, “Not to mention, it’s no secret that if we female celebrities dare not smile or are less than friendly when someone is snapping our photo in public, we’ll be called particular names saved exclusively for us girls. It was all such a trap.”
Far from great
Yes, things were definitely far from great. Chenoweth had to visit the doctor on hundreds of occasions in the wake of her on-set accident, enduring “head-to-toe pain on a daily basis,” too. But as she’s aged, the double threat deterring her from telling things like they really are no longer carries the same potency.
A defiant Chenoweth wrote, “I really don’t care if CBS never hires me again. They knew I was hurt really badly, but they exploited the power they held over a person like me. I’m a working actor — keyword working. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be at CBS at the time did not take responsibility for what happened to me.”
The man in charge during Chenoweth’s The Good Wife ordeal was Les Moonves. And the former CBS boss has since been given his marching orders having become embroiled in a #MeToo scandal — allegations which he denies. Chenoweth believes that his replacement and their team are much more responsible employers, adding, “Leadership matters. Full stop.”
Return to CBS
Chenoweth is speaking from experience, too. She’s returned to CBS several times in recent years. In 2018 she made a cameo on one of the network’s popular sitcoms, Mom. And then three years later the actress popped up as a musical guest on game show reboot Let’s Make A Deal.
Then in 2022 Chenoweth accepted an invitation to appear on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The actress discussed Ariana Grande playing one of her former characters, Glinda in Wicked, and also promoted her book, What Will I Do With My Love Today? Just a few months previously Chenoweth once again graced the CBS schedules for its annual Christmas-Tree Lighting ceremony.
No doubt that Chenoweth still adheres to the advice she gave readers of her essay, though. She concluded, “And finally, I want to say this to girls and women. Try not to operate from a place of fear like I did for so long, but rather, listen to the voice inside of you that knows you are valuable and strong. Listen to that voice, girls. She’s your guiding light.”