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The Telefile
We Talked to Dick Wolf and Sam Waterston About <i>Law & Order</i>‘s Ten Jillionth Season! Law & Order returns for its nineteenth season tonight, with a typically timely episode that will feature a stock broker being kicked to holy hell in broad daylight. I got a chance to listen in on a conference call with L&O genius Dick Wolf and my favorite District Attorney Jack McCoy ... er, Sam Waterston, and ask some probing questions about Law & Order making you fat and who Jack McCoy would be were he a Shakespearean character. Good questions, yes, but they stumped both of our otherwise very chatty interview subjects. I tell you, this call went on for hours, so I selected only the highlights, which included Dick Wolf talking ish on everything from the current TV season to Kevin Kline. Do not mess with Dick Wolf, people. Chunk-chunk.

On running out of ripped-from-the-headlines material for new shows

Dick Wolf: It's unfortunately a constantly renewable resource. When (Brandon Tartakoff) bought the show way back in the last century, he said what's the bible? And I said, "The front page of the New York Post." And it has not been a bad piece of source material because, you know, for better or worse we can't come up with stories better than "Headless Body Found in Topless Bar." We steal the headline but not the body copy. What usually reminds people of a specific case is the headline but if you think of what goes on after that, it usually doesn't reflect reality.

One reporter said, "I'm from Connecticut but I live in New Jersey and that episode two years ago managed to trash the governors of both states." And I said, "Yeah, but the reality is that none of them were killed. You know, there was no murder involved in either state so that's a major difference right there." We love the flavor of stories but not the specificity.

Sam Waterston: And I would add to that, the issues they suggest -- both in the newspaper and in the show -- they may not be the same ones even.

DW: Absolutely. But it's a way into the moral quandary in the best episodes, certainly.

On the study that was recently published that suggested a connection between Law & Order and weight gain

DW: I haven't seen that and I would not be the person [to ask about dieting]. My advice is don't watch in the kitchen. I can honestly say that's one of the more unique questions I've ever been asked. I guess on my own -- from my own point of view, I'd have to say yeah, I guess the longer exposure makes you gain weight. I'm going to ask my doctor.

On who in the spectrum of Shakespeare characters Jack McCoy is most like

SW: Gee I've never asked myself that question either. The court of law, Merchant of Venice. But that's a woman. So I don't know. There certainly are perseverant prosecutorial characters in Shakespeare by the barrel full. They pop up in conflicts all over the place and they are the instigators of conflict.They're a natural set of characteristics to attract any writer. But no -- I'm sorry, no particular name springs to mind.

DW: We try to avoid it since it's -- probably the most famous Shakespearean quote about lawyers is...

SW: Kill them.

On recent new stories that we can expect to see popping up in upcoming episodes

DW: Even in the first episode, it's amazingly time-appropriate, if not directly linked to anything that's going on. But if you've seen the promo with Anthony saying, "Gee a stockbroker beaten to death in the middle of the bay in this economy, could start a trend." You know, when I saw that, coincidentally it was when we were not going to go on until January and I went, "Nuts, I wish we were running that now." And low and behold, that's -- you know, it may be kismet.

On the current TV season

DW: You want one word? Disastrous. I mean have I missed something? Is there a new breakout hit? This is the second year in a row where nothing has gotten traction and it's November. And that's not good for the business. I'm glad to be back on Wednesday at 10:00 is the bottom line. I wish that more people knew we were coming because it's a daunting promotional climate now as opposed to four or five years ago where you had various big numbers scattered through the schedule, but if you got promos on them they were significant.

But this is like complaining about global warming. Everybody is having a lousy year. My fondest hope is that Law & Order is, you know, going to carry the water here and help the network because for better or worse, the rising tide raises all boats.

On nabbing high profile guest stars

DW:You never give up. But I don't think, "Let's be flip and say 'Gee, I don't think George Clooney or Brad Pitt are going to be on the show.'" We have been enormously blessed on all the shows of getting remarkable, especially character actors to appear. And I think that it's a credit to the writers that I think there is almost a path for doing the Law & Orders. It's not like "Oh my god, he's doing episodic television now?"

When people show up, they know that it's not going to damage their ability to still be on the big screen for roles or is going to preclude or pigeonhole them into a category that they had not been in before. And that is very advantageous.

SW: I'd just like to add that if you think of it in terms of the theater, this is a place where a pattern was established that other people have tried to copy. But Law & Order really set it up, which is that -- people from the New York theater at all levels of the business, including the very highest levels, have felt just that kind of confidence that Dick was talking about -- about appearing on this show, that it wouldn't harm them in any way. It's become like that café in Paris where if you sit there long enough the whole world passes by. This show has seen many, many, many, many people from the theater world. I think that they ought to give Dick an Emmy for it. I do. I'm saying that to everybody.

On whether they've ever attempted to wrangle esteemed theater and movie actor Kevin Kline

DW: Let me put it this way. Kevin is famous in show business for never being able to make a decision about whether to do $75 million or you know, or $100 million movies. Our decision-making window is usually about 48 hours. So I'm not being flip when I said we've known better than to ask because, you know, I know that the decision-making process for him is not that short a window. He is not one of those people who seems to get upset about not working. I mean I think that I wouldn't -- obviously, if he reads this he has an open invitation to come on. If he gives me a calendar week we'll make it work.

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