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'SVU': Still Letter-Perfect!

March 8, 2007 By:
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Stabler and Benson/Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay of "SVU"
Who'd predict that the producer in control of keeping the heartbeat beating on the still heart-racing "Law & Order: SVU" would have a stethoscope wrapped around his neck at wrap parties?

As executive producer of the prime-time procedural still in its prime, Dr. Neal Baer has his finger on the pulse of what makes this top-notch TV series tick as it takes on its eighth season.

The doctor can see you now: And what Baer, a Harvard med-school grad and multiple medical award-winning-pediatrician, sees is a series about sexual crime victims that refuses to play dead and roll over to the competition.

"We are looking for ethical and social issues" to propel the program, insists Baer.

Indeed, a show that reportedly rips its themes from the headlines has made its own headlines, with social agencies using the series as a catalyst of change and imparting important information to viewers on topics initially brought up by "SVU."

Are these New York City blues the Blue Cross of the new millennium? Do stars Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni "Order" a more effective public-service HMO?

Through her character Olivia, "Mariska gives voice to the people who don't really have one," relates the good Jewish doctor. "And what's so powerful is that Mariska is the empathetic voice, while Chris [as Elliot] is the rage we all feel. We've split the feelings we all have into two characters."

It's a yin-yang yielding acclaim and accolades. And part of the beauty of "SVU" -- part of the triumphant trifecta of a franchise helmed by honcho Dick Wolf -- has been its sense of rotating players, actors who do a shift, sometimes for years, and then leave, replaced by other capable and qualified talents.

Baer bares up to the series legacy. He is its latest exec producer, if not its first, but then he knew how to jump in stat, as statistics and Nielsen numbers show: Before "SVU," there was "ER," both series with the "wow!" factor, on which he also served as exec producer.

This is an M.D. who never comes up empty for ideas. It helps, he avows, that his pedigree is in pediatrics, explaining why "I do try to present [programs] about health issues for children, such as those we've done on obesity and pharmaceuticals abuse."

Substance abuse is handled substantively, as are other issues that have been a prescription for success as the Tuesday series has created a precinct all its own, no matter what perps the other producers throw against them.

Not that Baer came into this cutting-edge operation unprepared. He was already infected with the film flu: Baer was a directing fellow at the American Film Institute before he turned to TV. And if the kid in him gets a kick at Hollywood happening now, again it is the child within the scripts of the series that he relishes serving. Rx for "SVU"? It's the same healthy approach to issues.

At a recent writers' retreat, where going forward was the focus of the meeting, Baer recalls how Wolf -- "Law & Order" lawgiver/kingpin -- talked about one episode from four years ago as his favorite. That one, about children afflicted with Tay-Sachs, the Jewish genetic disease that often serves as an immutable death sentence, was given an interesting airing, says Baer, as "every detective had a view on euthanasia."

All sides covered by cops patrolling the social -- and medical -- injustices, perfectly tying in with a series unwilling to be handcuffed by concern of controversy.

And if the series' caching, caching is both its catchy theme song opening notes and its ability to mint money after all these years, those who make "L&O" are not looking for the "R&R" way out, according to Baer: "We try to come up with tough stories that have no easy answers."

· · ·

What happens when the law of the land comes into conflict with the Land of Milk and Honey?

"Law & Order" on the right side -- or the left?

As is usual with this noble police procedural, nothing proceeded as expected when "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" announced its intent early on last week to handle a topic of law, loyalty and fealty to which flag Jews pledge allegiance.

Allegations, altercations, character assassinations ...

It started off as a Rachel Corrie-ripped from the deadlines story, in which a Palestinian sympathizer is bulldozed into oblivion by Israeli police in a Mideast mess evoking the real-life incident almost four years ago to the day of the gentile girl who refused to go gently into the night and whose death dealt Israel yet another global geshrei.

From the Mideast to the West Side: A shout-out about Jewish loyalties led to an "L&O"shouting match between Capt. Danny Ross -- Armenian actor Eric Bogosian portraying the Jewish boss -- and Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth), whose big contretemps with his superior betrayed his bitter concern that Ross was a Star of David-spangled banner holder no matter his denial until he was red, white and blue in the face.

Idealistic exchange done with extreme prejudice? It was must-seethe TV between the two "blues" over what came off as the "oy-pact," the relationship between committed American Jews and Israel and those who question their patriotic predilections. It made for a startling exchange exhibiting what can only be described as a reel take on a dangerous real undercurrent undermining this country's Jewish community.

TV detectives detonating an improbable prime-time plotline: Here was the network of the former "Fear Factor" providing a fearful frisson, a vision when the social fabric is ripped apart to reveal anomie and antagonism between two people that pablum-like political correctness can never cover up.

For TV, it was Tivo-worthy; an embattled view of the badge of honor protecting two different heartfelt cops too complicated to decipher in 60 minutes.

As is often the case with "L&O," nothing was as it appeared to be, and in this episode, with more twists and turns than a hora led by a line of Manischewitz-besotted Bar Mitzvah boys, justice was not so much served as severely questioned.

A police procedural that proceeds with caution thrown to the wind and caught by millions of viewers?

Just the facts, ma'am ... and the gray areas, too, from a series in which the order of the day is always interrupted by an interface with reality. 

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