For fifteen years, Law & Order and its spinoffs have fictionalized virtually every major New York crime story. Even the Jayson Blair saga became a murder mystery. Creator Dick Wolf talked to Jacob Bernstein.
This season’s first episode appears to be a take on Abu Ghraib. How do you turn that into a local story?
The guard got murdered four months after she got home—so there’s no immediate linkage.
Do episodes ever mirror a news event directly?
No. Most murderers are caught within 36 hours, which is not very interesting for a crime show. It’s sort of trompe l’oeil cinéma vérité.
What other crimes are you using?
Well, the second episode starts as the Staten Island Ferry disaster, turns into a murder investigation, and then goes to 9/11 widows winding up with firefighters.
Have you ever been sued by a subject?
Never, though people do occasionally stomp their feet. We certainly heard from Gary Condit’s people.
How about Martha Stewart? There was that episode about a domestic doyenne who kills her stockbroker.
No, but I know her, and I know she likes the show. And no one ever suggested there’s a homicide connected to Martha.
New York’s crime rate keeps dropping, but Law & Order gets more spinoffs.
There are still 10,000 felony arrests a year. Crime in New York is a constantly renewable resource.