As a non-native speaker I had lots of trouble understanding the host. It got better, but at the beginning it was rough. He was talking quickly and swallowing words. And it wasn't the recording, because I understood Mr. Balcer just fine, and I understood the callers just fine, too.
This interviewer speaks faster than he thinks. You have to be a good listener to do a good interview and he just tried to pack as many words as he could.
Funniest reply: And your question is? Ouch, you're in trouble when the person you're interviewing asks that on the first question.
Ladies, I join with all the other members who congratulated you on your well-thought questions and comments. Wish that Simon guy would've let you speak. I could feel you wanted to ask/say more, and I wanted to hear more from you.
Mr Balcer really knows how to raise interest. I just cancel a dinner this Friday to watch L&O live. They will not be ignored indeed!
Thanks for providing and pointing me to the link. Susan and AL--Both of you acquitted yourselves very well. I had the impression Mr. Balcer was far more engaged with Al than he was with Mr. Applebaum.
Mr. Balcer was gracious and a pleasure to listen to. But Mr. Applebaum--good grief, man, at the very least learn how to pronounce your subject's name! And to admit you overslept--where's your professionalism? Interviews like this make me want to send Terry Gross a pound of her favorite coffee or tea.
Post by susan1212 on Sept 23, 2009 12:16:28 GMT -5
To be honest, my questions were not well thought out. It was a spur of the moment decision to call in because no one else seemed to be calling in and I wanted Mr. Balcer to know people were interested in his comments. AL had some great questions and comments that I am sure come naturally to her, as IMO she has an incredibly curious, intelligently inquisitive, and analytical mind. Bravo, AL. Thanks for bringing some excitement to the interview.
Post by annabelleleigh on Oct 5, 2009 18:11:47 GMT -5
In reference to the post above, the Harper's piece concerns L&O's Season 20 premiere, which has created enormous controversy and inspired polarized punditry on numerous Internet sites. (One blogger claimed "Rene Balcer murdered Law & Order.")
For the convenience of members and in accordance with this board's custom, here's the text:
The People v. The Torture Team: Six Questions for Law & Order’s René Balcer
By Scott Horton Harper's October 5, 2009
“It is not disloyal to hold our officials to the highest standards of conduct.”
That statement comes from a prosecutor near the end of the trial of a group of senior Bush Administration officials. Law & Order...put the Bush Administration’s torture memo writers in the dock in a homicide prosecution. In so doing, the writers made several points that have been almost entirely neglected by the Beltway punditry–for example, that the core of the torture controversy revolves around homicides, and that torture prosecutions by their nature involve conspiracy offenses implicating all those in the decision-making chain. I put six questions to the episode’s author, and Law & Order’s Executive Producer and Head Writer, René Balcer.
1. You launched Law & Order’s twentieth season with an episode focusing on the potential culpability of one of the Bush Administration’s torture lawyers. The episode opens with the plight of Greg Tanner, a U.S. soldier who served at Abu Ghraib, witnessed torture, suffered post-traumatic stress, and was then separated from the military without medical assistance. Your programs are always “torn from the headlines.” Give us a sense of the cases you looked at in constructing Greg Tanner. Alyssa Peterson? Eric Fair?
[RB Answer]: My co-writer Keith Eisner and I were aware of the Fair and Peterson cases and of many other instances of former participants in enhanced interrogations who had difficulty processing and rationalizing their experience. In 2005, while researching an episode of Law & Order Criminal Intent, I read interviews with medical personnel, psychiatrists in particular, who had served as advisors to such interrogations. Many of them had trouble justifying in their own minds their participation and incremental violation of their Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” This research indicated that torture permanently scars not only the tortured but also the person ordered to conduct such interrogations. It seems clear to me that torture injures everyone who comes into contact with it and corrodes the country that abides it.
As for the military’s unfair treatment of Tanner’s ptsd, that topic had been widely reported in the media and was the subject of a 2007 episode of Law & Order. In general, I’m sympathetic to the decent and hapless footsoldier into whose lap falls the unenviable duty of carrying out fubar policies.
2. The episode’s torture lawyer is Franklin, a former Justice Department lawyer, now law professor, who shoots Tanner after being accosted in a parking garage. He sounds like John Yoo and looks like Jay Bybee, so you’ve done an interesting montage. Franklin exhibits real sangfroid in this episode—almost to the point of creepiness—and he wields some unusual legal tricks to avoid indictment, including a writ of prohibition and personally appearing before the grand jury to talk them into a “no true bill.” All of this is theoretically possible, of course, but almost unknown in real criminal justice practice. Weren’t you straining the real world feel of Law & Order with these twists?
[Answer]: On my watch, we’ve never done anything on Law & Order that was not legally possible nor sustainable by an actual court decision. We have a number of former prosecutors and defense attorneys on the payroll as advisors who keep us from crossing the line. That said, we have found novel ways of using the legal tools at our lawyers’ disposal. In this case, I wanted to demonstrate that the lawyers who wrote these memos weren’t third-rate hacks. Many were from prestigious schools and had graduated at the top of their class. And yet their memos often seem like the work of first-year law students—Yoo’s memo bizarrely quotes a health care statute’s definition of an “emergency condition” to explain the meaning of “severe pain” in the context of torture. These memos would not have passed our own internal “Law & Order smell-test” of legal verisimilitude. That these bright people could come up with such nonsense perhaps reflects that, faced with the impossible task of legally justifying the President’s use of torture, they had to strain their legal wizardry to absurd limits. Instead, they would have better served their bosses by telling them, “Nope, sorry, can’t be done. No way no how it’s legal.”
3. You rested very heavily on John Yoo’s actual language from memos and debates for Franklin’s justifications of what he did. The horrific torture incident that Tanner describes also sounds like the torture-homicide of Manadel al-Jamadi. Most of the debate has focused on waterboarding or other practices that torture apologists justify as college fraternity pranks. But you come to focus squarely on a homicide. Why?
[Answer}: A murder case is far more compelling than a simple assault case—the stakes are higher, it commands attention. And since there were many actual cases of torture-homicide resulting from the war on terror, we saw no reason to pull our punches.
4. In one of the most dramatic courtroom moments, you have a defense lawyer confront an interrogation expert with the famous “ticking bomb” scenario, who answers it quite simply. Are we hearing Ali Soufan combined with Matthew Alexander?
[Answer]: You heard what I’ve been hearing for years from a variety of professional interrogators—torture, physical abuse, and mental abuse don’t yield reliable information. I’ve been interested in the subject of interrogations for many years, principally because of my friendship with the noted forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, who has used with consistent success an empathic approach to elicit admissions and information from the most depraved and recalcitrant offenders. Putting aside for a moment whether torture is legal or ethical or consistent with our values, if we are interested in a results-based strategy to gain actionable information, the overwhelming evidence—including the recent Trinity College neuroscience study—seems to indicate that torture isn’t the way to go.
5. Torture is a classical conspiracy offense, and your script makes that point by joining the whole chain of command to the list of defendants. This has been the ultimate political argument against a prosecution of the torture conspirators—namely, it would inevitably go to the top of the command. You have a couple of dense scenes, but do you think you were able to unpack this issue fairly enough?
[Answer]: DA Jack McCoy prosecutes the Bush torture teamGiven we only have 41 minutes of actual running time to tell our story, probably not. But I feel the issue was raised in a credible manner—if perhaps not answered to everyone’s satisfaction by our DA Jack McCoy. After all, it’s not his job to worry about where the political chips might fall; his job is only to prosecute offenders. In writing this episode, I was reacting to the basic unfairness of a real-world investigation that limits itself at the outset to investigating wrongdoing by only the lowest-level operatives and contractors. In many ways, they—along with the guards and minders at the detainee camps—are like mice trying their best to navigate a crazy maze not of their design. Arguably they are the least culpable, while those who articulated, implemented, and enabled a policy of torture should be the particular focus of a special prosecutor’s scrutiny.
6. You got a lot of criticism from the right, with some of it implying that you are carrying water for the Obama Administration—a pretty strange criticism in light of the direct criticism your DA expresses of their “look forward, not backwards” shtick. In view of the criticisms you’ve heard, is there anything you’d change if you were doing it again?
[Answer]: I wouldn’t change anything. What many of these critics fail to realize is that Law & Order has always been an equal-opportunity offender, and if a Democratic administration had implemented this despicable policy, our show would have taken them to task for it. Ultimately the episode was advocating for the public’s right to inquire into what our government did and is doing in our name. All great nations make mistakes. What is unique to the American system is that powerful self-correcting mechanisms are enshrined in our Constitution—checks and balances, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, etc. Some on both sides of the ideological spectrum would deny to others the exercise of those mechanisms while appropriating it to themselves. We by nature mistrust authority no matter who wields it—and I think that’s healthy. Though I disagreed with him on the facts, I fully support Rep. Joe Wilson’s right to call out President Obama—I just wish Democrats had had the balls to call out President Bush when he was peddling his lies to Congress."
You can comment on this article at its home website by using the URL posted previously by nick5oh.
Thank you to nick for the link, and to AL for the text.
Very illuminating. After actually seeing the episode, I don't see how anyone could accuse Rene Balcer of leaning in one political direction. As he states, Law & Order is an equal opportunity offender. Over the years both political parties have been brought to task for their wrong doings.
I honestly believe that most people who've complained haven't seen the episode. They've just heard of the subject matter and reacted accordingly.
Post by dragonsback on Oct 5, 2009 23:06:43 GMT -5
Outstanding Balcer Q&A, but then again, RB is a consummate - and aggressively poised - debater in in both exposition and in rebuttal.
FINALLY, though, after years of reading/seeing/hearing RB, I have a point of real disagreement with Dr Balcer.
We by nature mistrust authority no matter who wields it—and I think that’s healthy.
Not by a long. loooong shot. Not nearly enough mistrust, not nearly enough healthy refusal among grass-roots Americans to challenge and shout down Presidential authority, or lobbyist-puppet Senators, or American Medical Association pronouncements or - oh, name your own pet peeve.
Those of us outside the USA only look at the policies of the US Goverment, Democratic and Republican alike, and shake our heads. How did you all buy into so much plenty-of-evidence-to-the contrary.crap dished out about so many things, from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to the wonderfulness of HMOs, to the No Child Left Behind near-annihilation of the American education system?
What were you Americans thinking? Why were/are you so generally trusting of your leaders, or at least so acquiescent? is it the imperial aura of the Presidency?
I would love to see an ep of L&O that takes to task not just the policymakers and the special interest groups, but puts the very will of We The People on trial.
Dragonsback: I have no answer for your questions about how the people in the US could accept these policies. I was listening this morning to an NPR report on Max Cleland, who lost his legs and one arm in Vietname. He served as a Democratic Senator from Georgia, and his seat was targeted by Republicans--including the loathsome Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's political bulldog--in 2002. Mr. Cleland lost partly because of ads saying he wasn't a patriot. The man gives up three of his limbs and he's not a patriot! I don't begin to understand these things.
What I find very interesting about this is that L&O has frequently been criticized by liberal groups for its great faith in the police and the prosecution. The view of the show as a right wing mouthpiece is clearly as wrong as accusations that it apologizes for the Obama administration.
Post by annabelleleigh on Oct 24, 2009 21:24:47 GMT -5
This from a blog of the News Observer, a publication that serves the "research triangle" in North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). I post it here instead of the mothership section because the interview refers to general broadcast TV business as well as the L&O episode "Dignity."
"Law & Order" producer talks about Leno and longevity
By Brooke Cain newsobserver.com October 23, 2009
"Instead of being crowded into obscurity by an overabundance of television crime shows, "Law & Order" has entered its 20th season like gangbusters, with some of its strongest episodes in years. The show is an institution, not only building and maintaining a loyal following over the past 20 years, but doing so despite innumerable cast changes that would have killed lesser shows.
Tonight the venerable crime drama takes on a topic to which it is no stranger: abortion. More specifically, the killing of doctors who perform them. But tonight, the episode (ripped from the headlines, of course) essentially becomes a moral debate which challenges the characters closest to the arrest and prosecution of the killer to reexamine their own beliefs.
We talked to the show's executive producer and head writer Rene Balcer this week about that episode and about other things, including the Lt. Van Buren cancer storyline and NBC's decision to drown viewers with reality shows and Jay Leno in prime time. Balcer, who is also the creator of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," which currently airs on the USA network, told us that tonight's episode "turns conventional wisdom on its head."
WarmTV: I know this has been discussed to death, but what do you think of NBC's decision to put Jay Leno on every night in prime time? Is this a death knell for scripted dramas?
BALCER: NBC and Universal are two separate entities with competing interests -- networks versus studios. For studios, it's better to be in the drama business than the Jay Leno business. For studios, it's about the aftermarket and building up a library. Shows like "Law & Order" or "Magnum PI" keep making money for decades after they're off the air. With reality shows and talk shows, once they're off the air, that's it, there's no real aftermarket for them. So for a studio, that's not a great business to be in. For a network, they just have to pay a license fee to make enough back in advertising for them when a show is broadcast. It's a dollars and cents business decision. Maybe "The Jay Leno Show" is in some ways more profitable. That's yet to be seen. The effect on affiliates is already being felt with huge losses of audiences going into the local news. It all depends on if NBC intends to be in the network business down the line.
WarmTV: As a producer, do you start to feel squeezed out or feel nervous about these kinds of changes?
BALCER: As a producer, I'm not really nervous. I think prime time isn't what it used to be even five years ago. As far as revenues for a producer, the pie is much smaller and you get smaller pieces of it, too. That's from a business standpoint. From a creative standpoint, as long as you're in prime time, whether you're on a network or on cable, you can still find outlets for your ideas. Ultimately it won't really matter. Something like "Southland," if it ends up on cable network, that may be better for the show.
I just read the Anthony Edwards piece about NBC not being out to destroy dramas. I don't think NBC is out to destroy the drama. They're just out to save their own skin as much as possible. It's the end of a pipeline of disastrous decisions. NBC as a whole is putting its money in the cable basket.
WarmTV: Is Law & Order safe?
BALCER: I don't think anyone is safe on NBC. Somedays we feel like the orchestra on the deck of the Titanic. We're playing our best music in ten years but no one is paying attention. But the episodes of "Law & Order" generate a lot of profit for the studio.
I don't know why [Jay Leno] wants to be on TV anyway. I guess it's his own insecurities. He could have a much more profitable career on the road, which I think he's also doing. I think it's only vanity that he stays on television. At some point you gotta think it's humiliating being the butt of jokes and having the weight of a failing network on your shoulders. When you're becoming the face on the prow of the Titanic.
WarmTV: Is it more difficult to stay relevant and visible with all the other crime shows on television now?
BALCER: When we were the only show in town, sure, it was easier. It'd be nice to have the field all to ourselves. But we have enough hardware and awards.
WarmTV: Please tell me Arthur Branch really is going to be a judge on a reality show.
BALCER: We have a scene in an upcoming episode where someone is watching a television show. We won't see it, but we'll hear and maybe he'll be a judge. Maybe we'll hear an announcement telling us to stay tuned for a judge's decision.
WarmTV: I can't remember if the show ever said what happened with Branch or why he left the DAs office. Do the writers have a reason in mind?
BALCER: No. We didn't say. It's not important.
WarmTV: Has Fred Thompson contacted you about coming back to the show?
BALCER: His agent might have, as any good agent would.
WarmTV: Is there any chance he might come back?
BALCER: No. There's no interest in bringing him back.
WarmTV: So DA Jack McCoy is safe?
BALCER: Jack McCoy is not going anywhere.
WarmTV: This season you've departed from the show's strict rule of not getting into the personal lives of characters, by showing Lt Van Buren's battle with cancer. What made you decide to do that? Have fans reacted positively, or are purists crying foul?
BALCER: I think the fans are responding very well. She's a beloved character who has been on the show at this point longer than anyone else. Our writing evolves and our thinking on the show evolves. As writers, we want to keep ourselves interested. That role, which you find in a lot of cop shows or medical shows -- a character who is a pivot where other characters go to exchange information -- is usually a thankless job. Like the James McDaniel role on "NYPD Blue." The police captain or lieutenant, it's kind of thankless part on a show, so at some point the writers sort of run into a wall writing for that character, and you want to do more for that character. And the actor gets a little bored. So, a: We wanted to do something more with that character, and b: the actor wanted to do more and welcomed the chance to do something interesting.
And Epatha (Merkerson) is just a terrific actor, so it was a resource we weren't really using to its full potential. Then, we said, it's the 20th season, let's do something a little different. Keep the audience on their toes.
WarmTV: Are you working on any other non-L&O projects right now?
BALCER: I'm working on a miniseries for A&E about the Los Angeles police department in the 1960s.
WarmTV: Tell us a little about tonight's controversial abortion episode.
BALCER: If people thought they had us pegged -- the Sean Hannities and Bill O'Reillys of the world -- this one may confuse them. It's about the shooting of an abortion doctor specializing in late term abortions. And a reexamination of Roe v. Wade 36 years down the road, considering advances in medical science and the changing attitudes of Americans. We'll see how all that impacts our characters. We take conventional widsom and turn it on its head. It will engender a lot of discussion and a lot of anger from some corners, but so be it. I think the pro-choice people will l find issue with it.