Life Imitating 'Law and Order' The television show has the mantra of "ripped from the headlines." This week's headlines include stories about O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector and Warren Jeffs. Law and Order writer William Fordes talks about how these cases could inspire new episodes.
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Life Imitating 'Law and Order'

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Life Imitating 'Law and Order'

Life Imitating 'Law and Order'

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A pretty blonde actress shot and killed at the lavish home of an eccentric record producer. She had a career going nowhere; he has a history of threatening women with guns.

(Soundbite of "Law and Order" theme)

COHEN: It could be the perfect plotline for a "Law and Order" episode. For years, the TV show has featured stories that are ripped from the headlines.

Here to tell us more about that is Bill Fordes. He's co-executive producer and a writer for the show. He joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BILL FORDES (Co-Executive Producer, "Law and Order"): Great to be here.

COHEN: So you guys have to have a Phil Spector episode in the works, right?

Mr. FORDES: You know, maybe we do; maybe we don't. It's...

COHEN: You'd have to kill me if you told me.

Mr. FORDES: Well, I'd have to hurt you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: So when you guys do one of these ripped-from-the-headlines episodes, how do you write it? I mean, you've obviously going to make some changes. It can't be the exact same story.

Mr. FORDES: We're not really that worried about the legal ramifications of getting sued, but we like to disguise it and twist and turn it so that the audience initially thinks, oh, I know what this story about. This is Phil Spector. By the time we're done, they're saying, wow, who would have thought it would have gone in that direction. The best way to do that is to take two great stories, meld them together so that one leads into the other seamlessly, and it's really pretty simple. It's effortless. It usually takes a few minutes of a day and we goof off the rest of the day.

COHEN: I'm very envious. It seems like this month must have kept you pretty busy. You know, it's been all sorts of juicy cases. You've got O.J. Simpson allegedly involved in burglary and kidnapping. There's the case of the polygamist sect run by Warren Jeffs. And, of course, no one died in these cases but there are certainly a lot of legal fodder there. Do you guys just get really excited when it's a month like this?

Mr. FORDES: No, actually, we don't get excited so much as we get territorial. People are looking to grab good stories. I get up very early every morning, and I scour the Internet and the New York Times and the L.A. Times and I grab good ones and put dibs on a great story. It's a territorial competition between our writers and also some of the other shows "SVU" and "Criminal Intent." We want to glom the good stories first.

COHEN: How do you decide between the three different "Law and Orders?" Who gets what?

Mr. FORDES: Over the years, it - that decision-making process has changed. Right now, it's sort of we get to do pretty much what we want.

COHEN: The "Law and Order" original?

Mr. FORDES: The "Law and Order" original. We don't do anything that impacts on SVU, which does a lot of children's crimes and sex crimes.

COHEN: I remember a few years back, there was it was one of these ripped-from the-headline episodes. It was called "Missing," and it was about a politician and his young female aid. She mysteriously disappears. It definitely echoed the story of Chandra Levy who was the intern who worked for California Congressman Gary Condit.

Mr. FORDES: Mm-hmm.

COHEN: And I remember after this episode, Gary Condit's wife was very angry and publicly demanded that NBC retract the episode. You said you guys don't worry about the legal stuff. You're not concern about getting sued?

Mr. FORDES: I think we've been sued twice in two - in 18 years. We don't care about it, certainly, NBC might care about it, and they have a crack legal staff going over everything like that. But that was a great episode. It was not about Gary Condit. It was based on a real story, obviously, but if he had thought he had a case, he has probably an attorney, probably would have sued us. Didn't have a case, didn't sue us.

COHEN: So Bill, what interesting and exciting ripped-from-the-headlines shows can we look forward to in the next couple of weeks?

Mr. FORDES: We're doing one based on a blackout that leads into an Enron-Energy-type scheme of jacking up energy prices. We're doing others that I don't really want to talk about at the moment, but they're really return to the classic year where you'll never see it coming, or hopefully you'll never see it coming.

COHEN: Bill Fordes is a writer for NBC's "Law and Order." Thanks so much.

Mr. FORDES: Very great to be here.

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