Dick Wolf knows his way around a crime procedural. For 13 years and counting, the writer/producer's beloved NBC crime procedural Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has provided faithful entertainment to both the network viewers and addicts of cable syndication. And with its 300th episode airing tonight, SVU stands only as Wolf's second-longest running series, losing out to the original Law & Order (and by seven years at that!). Wolf, who recently spoke to the press about this forthcoming milestone, knows that it's not just dumb luck that has given SVU its staying power.
“It has served a defined social benefit that has been acknowledged for years," Wolf said of his powerhouse series. Since SVU went on the air, it has been a really profoundly influential show in terms of the reporting of sex crimes, in terms of the reporting of both child abuse and elder abuse, a whole range of topics." Wolf added, "The actual percent in increase, in the early years of the show, of reported sexual crimes astounded police. It took away the curse of silence.”
Even the show's cast has taken on progressive efforts towards solving the problems highlighted onscreen: "Obviously, Mariska [Hargitay] has really devoted her life, way beyond the show, in terms of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which is dedicated to helping the victims of sexual abuse," said Wolf. "I don’t know any other show that’s ever done anything remotely close to those. But I’m very prejudiced.”
The creator weighed in on what we might expect in the 300th installment of the program, hinting at how the story for the new episode stands out among its brethren: "It was an opportunity to do some things creatively that the show has really never done before, which is using the lifespan of the show as a story point in a landmark episode … Six months ago, we said, ‘Oh, this is the 300th.'" He even mentioned a few guest, including Tom Sizemore — “It’s an interesting role. It’s not a major part, but it is an important part of the episode. He is an expert at this type of character.” — and stars from days of yore: "“There are a bunch of people from the first episode. Mili Avital was the mother. The guy who was a convenience store owner… who was a Sikh cabdriver… there were three actors."
Of course, celebrity guest appearances are a staple of the Law & Order franchise. You might be surprised by someone Wolf is particularly interested in having on the show: Jimmy Fallon. "I talked to him, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’d love to do that!’," Wolf affirmed. "First of all, he’s a very good actor. Second of all, I think he’d have a lot of fun. And it’s way inside the NBC family. I think it’d be fun to do … In passing, I said, ‘Do you want to do the show?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’”
But Wolf is not entirely on board with the idea of any Law & Order reunions. “It’s a six person ensemble, and 26 actors were in it. So which cast do you bring back? You’re talking about something that would be creatively not only very difficult to pull off, but also frustrating to a lot of the fans. ‘What do you mean they don’t have Dennis Farina in the show?’ … I wouldn’t really know how to do a reunion show.”
Obviously, when talking Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the topic of Chris Meloni is bound to come up. The actor portrayed Elliot Stabler from start of the series until the 2010-'11 series; his departure led many to question whether SVU could go on without him. “There were a lot of people who said the show can’t survive Chris Meloni leaving," Wolf stated. "I never believed that … the writing is the most important element of long-term success. Mariska is obviously a very integral part of the show … I’m hopeful that she’ll be here for as long as the show is.”
He was confident thanks to experience with Michael Moriarty's departure from Law & Order in 1994. “I got an hysterical phone call from Warren Littlefield [former president of NBC] at 7 in the morning," Wolf recalled. "He said, ‘What are we going to do? He’s the entire soul of the show? He’s the moral raison_d'être.’ And I said, ‘I’ve got two words for you: Sam Waterston.’ He went, ‘Oh. Okay.’”
But there was another reason that Wolf was confident in the replacement of Elliot Stabler: “I learned the myth of necessity of anybody when I was 16 and, unfortunately, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That night, there was Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office, and he was president. The horrifying fact of human is, nobody’s indispensable. In television, it’s just part and parcel.”
Wolf's series has subsisted as one of NBC's tent-pole figures for 300 episodes, and as far as he's concerned, can live for many more: “You’ll think I’m insane, but the next goal would be to go 21 years and beat Law & Order,” Wolf laughed. Stranger things have happened.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's 300th episode airs tonight at 9 PM on NBC.
[Photo Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC]
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December 28, 2009 4:50am EST
Despite some high-profile missteps, nets still betting on series remakes (NYT)
The New York Times' Bill Carter today wonders why, despite recent failures like "Bionic Woman," studios keep churning out remakes of old series as new prime time fodder.
Among the most prominent projects under consideration at the networks for next fall are these familiar names: The Rockford Files on NBC; Charlie's Angels on ABC; and Hawaii Five-O on CBS.
All of the projects were announced with some fanfare by their networks, but the show creators and top network entertainment execs were reluctant to discuss any specifics about the new versions yet, the NYT says, because they are still in the writing stages.
Still, Warren Littlefield, who was the top programmer at NBC and is now an independent producer, told the NYT, "It's a good idea to try. Movies have proved you can do well with a presold concept."
And yet, the NYT contends, in the history of network television, no remake of a previous hit series has ever become a hit itself on network television. (Battlestar Galactica, had a favorable reception on the Syfy - then SciFi - network in 2004, but that was on cable, not broadcast television.)
One could perhaps make an argument for some shows spawned from original hits, Carter suggests. Star Trek birthed four separate series, but those were all spinoffs.
The current development slate titles are true remakes. The Rockford Files could certainly be helped by the fact that it features a creator with one of the best recent resumes in television. David Shore, the chief creative force behind House has said that Rockford was one of his favorite shows growing up and that he hopes to find a way to replicate its mixture of comedy and action.
But replicating a star on the level of James Garner may prove more challenging, the NYT notes.
Littlefield said having a talent like Shore running the show would be a great advantage, but he added, "I don't think there are many gumshoe detectives around anymore, so the key will be how they reinvent the character."
How much to remake and how much to reinvent has been an issue with previous efforts at bringing back familiar shows and characters.
"The identity of a hit TV series is so intimately tied to the original stars, style and attitude that made it a hit in the first place that any deviation from that creates a real sense of aesthetic dissonance," Robert J. Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, told the paper.
Littlefield said that the woeful track record of previous remakes should not discourage network programmers from continuing to buy projects based on old hits. "But there has to be a series there," he said. "It can't be like a movie. You can't trick them."
He further added, "At the risk of being oversimplistic: it also has to be good."
Based on a series of six Marvel Comics created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 The Hulk revolves around a scientist named Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) who following a laboratory snafu absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. Bruce thinks he has escaped unscathed--until he gets mad ... real mad which causes him to turn into a huge rampaging green monster known as the Hulk. In order to make this 40-year-old gamma theory somewhat more believable for today's science-savvy moviegoers screenwriter James Schamus and his team decided to arm the script with a somewhat more convincing scientific rationale. The story follows Bruce's father David Banner (Nick Nolte) who as a young scientist conducted prohibited genetic experiments on himself thus changing his son's life before he was even out of the womb. While modernizing the scientific reasoning behind Bruce's transformation makes sense it's a pity it had to be done in such a heavy-handed way. By adding such an elaborate layer to the story The Hulk becomes more about Bruce and David's tormented past and any semblance of a plot is buried in melodramatic dialogue between the characters. The result is a comic book adaptation that is much too serious for its own genre.
Despite the theatrical discourse don't expect complex characters to emerge from The Hulk. Although Bana (Black Hawk Down) is a good choice for the lead of the nerdy scientist and reluctant hero his character is so busy pretending he doesn't have any problems that the audience never gets to see his emotional side. Bana's character grimaces convincingly as he represses his anger for example but he fails ever to open up on a personal level to his love interest in the film his co-worker Betty played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Betty is Bruce's old flame but the two are obviously still in love: she is obsessed with fixing whatever is broken about him. As the Hulk Bruce need only look at Betty once for his anger to subside and allow him to morph back into human form. They have weighty discussions about the significance of their dreams and Bruce's past yet they never seem to connect on any level. One of the film's best performances comes from Nolte (The Good Thief) in the role of Bruce's mad scientist father David. Almost Shakespearean at times Nolte--scraggly hair and all-- completely immerses himself in the role. The cast's performances however are muted by the general heaviness of this would-be actioner. Look for quick cameo appearances by Lou Ferrigno (from the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk) and Marvel legend Stan Lee.
For his follow-up to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Ang Lee has turned to bigger greener matters. The Hulk the director's visual effects-intense picture (with a little help from Industrial Light & Magic) is stunning and startlingly well done. The green beast's computer generated movements from his heaving chest to the single leaps that spring him well into a different zip code are convincingly real. Not only does the ground shake when this goliath lands but his momentum even throws him off balance at times sending his lumbering arms flailing. But while the CGI Hulk has been meticulously honed Lee's homage to the world of print comic books--using multiple screens to present concurrent storylines and alternate angles of the same scene--is off-putting: Rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) suspiciously walks out of the lab Betty reacts in one panel Bruce sits back in another. The simultaneous screens don't necessarily show anything pertinent going on making the far and wide close and medium shots of the character's reactions a distraction rather than a helpful storytelling technique. But the most disconcerting thing about the film is that in its leap from the four-color paneled pages to the big screen it lost its wit.