There's A New 'Law & Order'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
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SIMON: "Law & Order." But this time, "Law & Order: True Crime" with a case, not only ripped from the headlines, but ripped straight out of actual headlines - the murders of Kitty and Jose Menendez in their Beverly Hills home in 1989 by their sons Erik and Lyle Menendez.
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SAM JAEGER: (As Detective Les Zoeller) Every time something bad happens here, the good citizens of Beverly Hills say it's got to be the bangers or the mob or Charlie Manson - always an outsider because nobody bad lives in Beverly Hills.
SIMON: It's an eight-episode season that's stars Edie Falco, Sam Jaeger, Josh Charles, Heather Graham, Josh Stamberg and lots more familiar faces. It's another incarnation of the Dick Wolf "Law & Order" franchise.
The creator is Rene Balcer, who won a Peabody Award and Emmys aplenty as a writer and executive producer. He joins us from the studios of NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.
RENE BALCER: Very happy to be here.
SIMON: I'm not sure I've ever interviewed anybody with more blood on his hands.
BALCER: (Laughter) It's movie blood. (Laughter) It's not real blood. It's not - Jean-Luc Godard says it's not blood, it's just red.
SIMON: I had sketched out a question to ask - why begin this "True Crime" series with the Menendez brothers? And then I thought, oh, my God - sex, money, celebrity, family. That kind of answers the question, doesn't it?
BALCER: Yes. As far as the fascination with the Menendez, I think it kind of coincided with a confluence of things that were going on in society. We'd just come out of the Reagan years - sort of this rampant materialism. And people were fascinated with rich people and how the rich lived.
I think also, you know, the Menendez, in many ways, represented, on the one hand, an American success story. Jose Menendez was an immigrant from Cuba who came to the U.S. when he was 16, worked his way up. And I think people were shocked to see that his reward was to be killed by his sons. And people wanted to know why.
SIMON: The legal aspects of this case took seven years from beginning to end.
SIMON: How do you compress that?
BALCER: Well, you do one pass. And so, what is essential for telling the story? Then you do another pass. What is essential to reveal character and reveal motivations? For example, in the testimony of Erik and Lyle, it wasn't enough just for them to tell the facts of what happened, but also, there were moments where what they said and how they said it revealed something about their inner life and their turmoil.
SIMON: I have - I've only seen the first two episodes. And, of course, I have some memory of the case. But so far, it's hard to feel sorry for a couple of guys who nursed their grief over the murder of their parents by buying hot cars and gold watches.
BALCER: Well I don't know about hot cars. Well, first of all, the first two episodes we steer into what people mostly know about the case. And, obviously, this is just the beginning. For example, you mentioned the spending. Well, Lyle already had two, quote, unquote, "hot cars." He had an Alfa. He had a BMW. They're spending after the murders was exactly the same as it was before the murders.
SIMON: Of course, the Menendez brothers wound up offering up in, say, the defense but the mitigating factor that they had been abused as children, including sexual abuse. Do you - without giving anything away - wind up coming down decisively in either to endorse or question their version of events?
BALCER: Well, there was corroborating evidence to the abuse, not only the testimony of cousins to whom they had confided about the abuse when they were 8 years old. There were also photographs that were taken by the parents of the kids when they were 6 and 9 that were rather unusual photographs that you wouldn't expect a parent to take. And if a police officer had found those photographs in someone's possession, they would probably arrest that person. So it's - it was more than an allegation.
SIMON: Yeah. And, of course, they're in prison for the rest of their lives, aren't they?
BALCER: Yes. Without - life without parole.
SIMON: Is there more "Law & Order: True Crime," or you'll - we'll find out?
BALCER: We'll find out. I'm sure it depends, you know, how this one does, how this one is received. Dick and I have talked about possible storylines for future series. So I think we're up for it.
SIMON: You don't run out of material, do you?
BALCER: Well, you know, crime is an endlessly renewable resource.
SIMON: Rene Balcer, creator of "Law & Order: True Crime" premieres next week on NBC and Oxygen the week after. Thanks so much for being with us.
BALCER: Thank you very much, Scott.
(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE POST'S "'LAW AND ORDER' THEME")
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