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The recent riots in Charlottesville, Va., are about to get the scripted TV treatment.
Law & Order: SVU is set to tackle the events for an upcoming season 19 episode, showrunner Michael Chernuchin tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The riots began as the “Unite the Right” rally Aug. 11 in the downtown Virginia city. Participants included white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis, among others, who were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. Protesters began to clash not only with local authorities, but also with a growing group of counterprotesters. Tensions came to a head the following day when a man linked to white supremacist groups slammed his car into a group of counterprotesters, injuring 14 and killing one, Heather Heyer.
President Donald Trump angered many in the days after the attack when he failed to denounce white supremacy groups in his first statement on the attack and instead cited “violence on many sides.”
When asked what made the riots ripe material for SVU, Chernuchin was succinct: “Conflict. It’s just the state of the world today with everybody. Everybody’s political now and everything is political now and we want to deal with that.”
Law & Order: SVU famously dipped its toes into the political waters in season 18 when the long-running drama cast Veep‘s Gary Cole as a Trump-like politician whose campaign goes off the rails when several women go public with damaging accusations against him. The episode was originally scheduled to debut weeks ahead of the 2016 election Nov. 8, and was then moved to Nov. 16 before being pulled from the schedule indefinitely and has never aired.
“Sometimes the facts go against you in a way you can’t imagine and all of a sudden what you wrote two months ago feels different than what you might have wrote in the present because the facts have changed, and I think there was a bit of that,” then-SVU showrunner Rick Eid told THR about the episode in February.
When asked whether the pulled episode made Chernuchin, Eid’s successor as showrunner, any more hesitant about diving into politics, he said no.
“Because I’m not going to a choose a side. I won’t choose a side. I’m going to present both political views and let the audience decide which one is right. My goal, and I told the writers on this on the first day of our writers’ room, is at the end of every episode, I want half the audience to throw their shoes at the television and the other half to stand up and cheer.”
Among the other topics Chernuchin said the show will cover this season include cat-fishing, cyberbullying — which he describes as “our answer to 13 Reasons Why” — and an airplane episode covering “all the turmoil on airplanes these days,” such as that of David Dao, who was violently dragged off a United flight in April.
Another upcoming episode will be inspired by Charlie Gard, the infant in England who was born with a rare genetic disorder that causes progressive brain damage and muscle failure. His parents disagreed with medical professionals about whether to give him experimental treatment and his case subsequently became front-page news around the world. The Gards raised money to have their son transferred to a hospital in New York, but the hospital where he was receiving treatment, Great Ormond Street Hospital, asked the High Court to override the parents’ transfer decision. Eventually, it was determined that it was too late for Gard to receive treatment and he was transferred to a hospice where he died in July at 11 months old.
“That’s a life and death story,” Chernuchin explains.
Ripping from the headlines is old hat for the Wolf Films veteran, who wrote 54 episodes of the flagship drama, as well as five episodes of spinoff Criminal Intent.
“We are ripping things from the headlines,” he says. “Some of them are big, famous headlines and some of them are smaller headlines.”
Law & Order: SVU returns Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 10 p.m. on NBC.
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