FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

Big- name guest stars and heavy so­cial is­sues are just some of the se­crets of Law & Or­der: SVU’s suc­cess. Guy Davis in­ves­ti­gates.

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pick­ing up awards is that the show will of­ten tai­lor its guest roles to the tal­ents of the peo­ple in­volved.

“ Usu­ally what we do is we pick an ac­tor we want to work with and then de­velop a story, the way we did with Robin Wil­liams or Cyn­thia Nixon or Ellen Burstyn,” said the show’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, Neal Baer.

“ For a big star, typ­i­cally we go to them first and pitch it to them so we know we have them on board as op­posed to where we write it and then cast it.

“ We have Rosie Perez in an episode [ Hard­wired], and we re­ally wrote it for her be­cause we’ve wanted her to do the show for a num­ber of years. She knew we were writ­ing this episode for her.”

Baer views the show’s use of high-pro­file guest stars – a di­verse line-up that runs the gamut from teen star Hi­lary Duff to Os­car-nom­i­nated Cry­ing Game star Stephen Rea – as a way of in­creas­ing the au­di­ence’s in­ter­est in the hot-but­ton top­ics SVU is con­stantly looking to ex­plore.

“ I’m al­ways in­ter­ested in sci­ence and so­cial pol­icy and things like that,” said Baer, who has a back­ground in pae­di­atrics and so­ci­ol­ogy.

“ So you’ll see a lot of pol­icy is­sues spring­ing up on the show. This year, for in­stance, it’s soli­tary con­fine­ment tor­ture – there’s a lot of re­search that sug­gests putting some­one in a soli­tary-con­fine­ment cell is so detri­men­tal to their men­tal health that it’s a form of tor­ture, so we’re ex­plor­ing that.

“ We have a full-time re­searcher who pulls sto­ries all the time for us to read, so we’re looking at all the cor­ners of so­cial pol­icy and hu­man be­hav­iour to find in­ter­est­ing, provoca­tive sto­ries to tell – we have huge binders full of them.”

Baer also ac­knowl­edges that SVU trav­els into some pretty dark ter­ri­tory from time to time but ad­mits that the show tries to show some re­straint.

“ We’ve done some pretty in­tense episodes but we try to show more of the psy­cho­log­i­cal el­e­ment rather than graphic vi­o­lence,” he said.

‘ It’s what makes our show very dif­fer­ent from, say, Crim­i­nal Minds, which is more vis­ually graphic. With the na­ture of our par­tic­u­lar sub­ject mat­ter, just the na­ture of it we’ll try to pull back on the gore and the blood and all that.”

One of the key el­e­ments of SVU’s suc­cess since it be­gan has been the teamwork of Christo­pher Meloni and Har­gi­tay in the lead roles of po­lice Stabler and Ben­son.

A while back, there was talk that the two ac­tors were on the verge of quit­ting be­cause of a con­tract dis­pute, which was sub­se­quently re­solved.

Baer ad­mits things were tense dur­ing that pe­riod.

“ In the last episode of the 10th sea­son, I wrote a line: ‘ What a way to end’,” he laughed. “ I was pretty hope­ful that they would re­turn but I didn’t re­ally have an al­ter­nate plan.”

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