In the lives of New Yorkers, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the makers of Law & Order, who consistently churn out topical, interesting, and entertaining programming; and the Law & Order fans, who eagerly watch the show and its offshoots on NBC, TNT, USA, and wherever else possible. These are their stories.
The New York Times, in its bid to be even more of a leading cultural authority in the city, sponsored its second annual "Times Talks" during an "Arts & Leisure Weekend." In a clear move to pander to NYC intellgentsia, one of the panels was "Law & Order: The Real Reality TV." And the NYC intelligentsia loves to be pandered to when carrots like Law & Order producer Dick Wolf and star Jerry Orbach are dangled in front of them. In addition to the Law & Order faction, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and criminal defense attorney Bruce Cutler (whose most infamous client was John Gotti) were present to represent the reality.
Moderated by Times general culture writer, Julie Salamon, the room was packed with people, most skewing towards the over 40 demographic, but everyone had one thing in common: a passion for Law & Order. Salamon commented that her husband said it was like "a Star Trek convention for intellectuals." Or obssessive-compulsives. She also added that moderating this panel had made her very popular recently, with her phone ringing off the hook for passes into the show. As introductions were being made to the panel, it was noted that the panel would be done in time for everyone to get home to watch Law & Order Special Victims Unit.
The men were all dapper, all wearing French cuffs with cufflinks. Jerry Orbach was pretty dazzling, mainly because he got to smile, showing off his gleaming teeth, and bask in the Lennie-love from the audience. Dick Wolf was notably handsome (clefted chin, devilish eybrows), Bruce Cutler seemed like a pugilistic teddy bear, and Commissioner Ray Kelly was cool as a cucumber.
Interesting moments from the evening:
- Jerry Orbach was supportive the NYPD's anti-terrorism efforts but was very anti-Ashcroft.
- Julie Salamon had spoken to an Iranian literature professor in Teheran about Law & Order. The professor was fascinated with the show because in a totalitarian state, there is no respect for the law, no rights of the prisoner, so it was amazing to her how things are twisted and reworked in the criminal justice system.
- When asked what his favorite police/legal shows were, Commissioner Kelly said he loved Law & Order but admitted he hadn't "time to watch much TV lately." He also mentioned his disdain for gratuitous violence on television.
- In measuring the show's expansive power, Dick Wolf said that during a trial, a defense lawyer said to a jury, "You all watch Law & Order - you know the first suspect is never the one who did the crime."
- Law & Order was originally referred to as "Catch 'em & Cook 'em" - marking the show's compressed time for efficient police and legal tasks
- Commissioner Kelly pointed out that the murder rate in 2002 was 580, whereas in 1990 it was 2200.
- When then NBC president Brandon Tartikoff asked Dick Wolf what Law & Order's bible was, Wolf said it was The New York Post. "We look at the front page and say, 'Oh, yeah, we can do that.'" Jerry Orbach chimed in, "'Headless Body in a Topless Bar,'" recalling the most famous 1983 NY Post headline.
- Dick Wolf grew up in Tudor City.
- Bruce Cutler thought it was odd that in Law & Order, everyone speaks to the police, including the suspects. Dick Wolf snarked, "Well, not everyone's a professional suspects, like your clients."
- Dick Wolf's love with the detective procedrual began with reading Sherlock Holmes and watching Dragnet start its run in 1952.
- Jerry Orbach's favorite episodes have to do with bringing a criminal to justice long after the crime, such as in White Rabbit about a 70s radical who had gone underground and established a new life for herself and the recent Absentia with guest star Mandy Patinkin.
- Bruce Cutler may be knocking on the Law & Order casting director's door, as his acting bug caught hold when he found out William Kunstler appeared as himself in White Rabbit.
Gothamist asked a very Law & Order nerd question, which went something like this: "Part of the comfort in Law and Order is its framework, 22 minutes of crime, 22 of the law...but one episode that my friends and I like is Aftershock, which diverges from that form. All the characters are coming back from the execution and Claire Kincaid dies...in that episode, you learn more about the characters' personalities...there's more emotional texture ...is there any interest in doing another episode like that?"
Dick Wolf responded, "Well, the next time we want to kill off a character, we'll do it!" He added that it was not popular with fans, because it was not the usual Law & Order formula, it was too soap opera-y. Jerry Orbach acknowledged the interest in characters' personal lives with "What the fans really love is when Briscoe is having a drink with someone and they hear him drop some personal fact - they love that, they say it's so great." Then Dick Wolf joked that Jerry wanted to do "Aftershock" for an Emmy nomination. Jerry said, "Yeah, have someone die in my arms for an Emmy."
The room erupted in applause and it was a fitting end to a great evening.
Molly Haskell's tale of being a Law & Order addict
Micky Kinsley on how power women love Law & Order
Jerry Orbach on being Lennie
A thorough analysis of Aftershock
More pictures at Bluejake