Photo Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been snatching its storylines from the national news for 15 years. At this point, how do you up the ante? Here's how: Combine two headline-grabbing events into one show.
In a creative moment of synergy, the SVU producers have decided to combine elements of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman murder case with the Paula Deen racism scandal. In the iconic crime show's third episode in the upcoming 15th season, Cybill Shepherd will guest star as a Deen-esque celebrity chef who shoots and kills a Martin-esque teen. She has mistaken the hoodie-wearing kid for a rapist who's been loose on the Upper West Side.
In a series of photos from the shoot, fictional protesters outside the courthouse hoist signs just like the ones that were actually held up by Trayvon supporters last month, when Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
Just like the nation overall, the Law & Order: SVU team's sympathies were deeply divided. “When the script was published it became a litmus test for everybody here,” exec producer Warren Leight said. “It was really interesting to see people read that script and have different interpretations about who did what and whether or not they deserved prison for it. It was fascinating.”
Like Deen, Shepherd's character is a generally beloved celebrity who suddenly finds herself being shunned as a racist. Jeffrey Tambor plays her hotshot lawyer. According to Leight, the Arrested Development star is "a great defense attorney for us because he is willing to play loathsome." (Can't you just picture him?)
As for the controversial tone of the episode, you need look no further than the comments section of the Buzzfeed photos to be reminded just how thorny these issues are -- and how frustrated the public has become. Here's a sampling:
"I hope it's portrayed accurately as a kid who picked a fight with the wrong stranger."
"If the news media didn't portray it accurately what makes you think entertainment TV will?"
"Ugh I'm so done seeing this treyvon bs. Especially on my favorite show :( too bad ill just not watch that episode."
Leight promises to tackle the polarizing subjects head-on. “Is racial profiling justifiable?" he asks. "Can self-defense involve racial profiling? We’re diving right into that."
No doubt some people will ask whether America really needs to go over all this again. But when producer Julie Martin tweeted about the episode, the responses appeard to be positive. Like this follower, who replied:
@JulieMartinSVU Gutsy, can't wait to see this one. I'm sure you will make america talk about this case even more.— Isabelle C (@Uponebuck) August 21, 2013
You got that right!
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premieres Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.
Jennifer Graham Kizer is an Atlanta-based writer who covers pop culture and watches too much TV. Luckily, iVillage gives her an excuse to watch even more. Follow her on Google+.