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.
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.”