A "Law & Order: SVU" showrunner explained how the series plans to tackle the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests, as well as the coronavirus pandemic in their upcoming season.
Law & Order: SVU will be returning to the small screen for its 22nd season soon, and the series plans to explore the major events that have taken place in 2020 thus far, including the coronavirus pandemic and the protests against police brutality set off by the murder of George Floyd. Executive producer and SVU showrunner, Warren Leight, recently spoke to Lesley Goldberg and Daniel Fienberg, the hosts of The Hollywood Reporter's TV's Top 5 podcast, about how the longest-running primetime drama will approach the current global climate in its new season, especially considering the nature of the show.
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"I think we've tried really hard in the last year to show how class and race affect the outcomes of justice in society, but I'm beginning to suspect ‘really hard' wasn't enough," Leight admitted. "This has to be a moment where people make themselves uncomfortable, where people in power have to make themselves uncomfortable." Leight revealed that he often invites activists to speak to the writers of the show about how to approach social issues in particular storylines. He also mentioned that he's been in touch with Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, about consulting on the upcoming season.
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However, he is not willing to shift the the show's approach to law enforcement completely. "I can't make every episode about a bad cop," he said. "I think we're trying to depict how justice should be handled for victims and for perps. Olivia [Benson] makes mistakes...but she's empathic, which is I think what separates the cops on our television show from a lot of what we're seeing these days on our live streams." Still, he acknowledges that "police shows need to do better."
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"People watch the shows to see heroes," he points out. "You have the responsibility to at least depict the reality—as close to the reality as you can. There are shows with flawed cops at their center…I don't mind a flawed cop at the center, but a flawed cop with a tendency towards violence who's glorified, to me, is a real recipe for legitimizing police brutality."
Leight said his writers room was already back up and running and trying to figure out how to touch on the coronavirus pandemic on the show when George Floyd was murdered by police. "How do you reflect, in the midst of a pandemic, an insurrection caused by systemic racism and police brutality?" he asked. "There's a lot going on, we're reeling…We altered a teaser today to have somebody who's assumed to be guilty because he's black and he's in the wrong place. We added the extra beat that they could arrest him on the spot because he was arrested during demonstrations and he didn't show up for a desk appearance, so there's a warrant out for him. That was today's addition."
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As for Floyd's murder specifically? "It has to come up and it will," Leight said. "There are ways, we will find our way in to tell the story. Presumably our cops will still be trying to do the right thing, but it will be harder for them and they will understand why it will be harder for them." Listen to the full episode of The Hollywood Reporter's TV's Top 5 podcast with Warren Leight below: