An Updated Interview with Susan Green and Kevin Courrier
When the Law & Order Unofficial Companion was first published in 1998, fans finally had hard-bound recognition of the show they already knew was the best drama on television. Authors Susan Green and Kevin Courrier were kind enough to speak with us then, and they're back now for some updates -- and a few choice words aimed at L&O's spawn -- Special Victims Unit.
Law & Order's doing better than ever this season. It's like the slow roll finally got them noticed after ten years. What do you both think? Susan Green: It's amazing! I think maybe there's been some shifts in terms of their competition, so there may not be as much strong competition on other networks. I wouldn't want to suggest it's because Benjamin Bratt left! My theory on it is it takes a while -- ever since they won the Emmy, people began noticing, and got hooked. Kevin Courrier: I can't help but thinking about how much of an impact A&E had on the show and making it popular. More and more people we've talked to have said that Law & Order is a show they discovered on the A&E network, and that might have led them to NBC. I will say this: I think NBC is also promoting it, finally. They'd done a few ads before, but now they're promoting it like one of their own shows. And I don't think they did that for many years. Kevin: It's true. Even during -- when I started watching it in Sam Waterston's first season on NBC, I don't remember seeing much of anything in the way of ads for the program. And Law & Order seem to be getting some notice -- wasn't it voted in Canada best drama of all time? Kevin: It was a poll done by the National Post, our most recent national newspaper, did last summer, and they had people vote on the Internet as well as letters and phone calls, and they broke it down into all the different categories, drama, comedy and so on, and Law & Order was voted unanimously the number 1 drama.
Susan: It's such a sane country.
Even after True North! Susan: It's too bad you didn't come to the reception at the Canadian Counsul General's place, because he really made a point about talking about "True North." It was following the signing, there was a Consulate party.
Kevin: The Counselor General of Canada had a party reception for us. Rene couldn't be there, and "True North" had run about a week or two earlier, when we were first getting this set up. So obviously the people in the Canadian consulate had seen this episode and weren't amused. So suddenly there was the person who was the head of the arts and culture department, comes up and says, "Oh, we have these two writers who wrote this book on Law & Order, we're thinking of throwing a party for them," this person was looked at, like, "You kidding? Did you see all those Canadians with bowties on that show?" But they turned it around, and they had the reception.
So what happened at the reception? Were you two tarred and feathered in retaliation? Susan: The Counselor General referred to it, and everybody sort of laughed. Only Jerry Orbach was there from the show, and he was standing there like, I didn't write it. So at one point I toasted, "To Canada!" to try and make it better. apocrypha spoke to Park Dietz, and it was interesting to see how much free reign they gave him to write dialogue, including in "True North." He gave them these ideas about writing it as a hick town. Kevin: It was unfortunate, because they had some of the smaller details accurate -- Collingwood is a ski resort town, and Hamilton does have a huge quantity of used car lots, and Niagara Falls is this kitschy tourist place. So there were little details like that that I was actually glad they got right. Because in the United States nobody knows Collingwood. But the fact that they got all those details was nice. I think Americans feel the same way when they get their little towns accurate. But then, when you saw the people, you thought - -they may have the geography right, but they have the people wrong! So, on to the Companion. How what sort of reactions did you get the first time around? Susan: We heard nothing but good things. It consistently 5 star reader reviews on Amazon.com, the reviews, media reviews we did get -- we got more in Canada than in the US! -- they were positive for the most part.
Kevin: There were a few that did more to talk simply about the show than discuss the book -- the book became a way to discuss the show.
Susan: One person wrote that our research was better than a PhD thesis! A degree neither of us will ever have.
Kevin: And some writer brought up that she was surprised that we were so cranky in places. I think that's because people who write companion pieces, authorized or unauthorized, they tend not to have a critical point of view. So they either expect they're going to get all the trivial stuff in the unauthorized book, or in an authorized book you're getting a very glorified press release. The opinions aren't the kind that are going to provoke any thought in a certain way. So one of the reviews actually pointed up the fact that My goodness, they didn't like that episode! So there was expressed surprise.
Susan: We were so lucky: We really had the best of both worlds -- on the one hand, it was not an authorized book by the studio, which would have meant complete content control and a fluff piece. On the other hand, we had total authorization and cooperation from Dick Wolf. So we were able to get further than other unauthorized books that I've ever seen, to get on the set, to have access to interviewing people, and they were so incredibly helpful. And we hit it at just the right time, too, before they hit. When we first approached them, A&E had just started airing the reruns, so everybody said to us Gee, we can't imagine who'd want to read this book, but go ahead. That would not be the case now -- they've been so celebrated, and we started way before that, and we were lucky that the timing of the release of the book came alongside the winning of the Emmy, because that gave the show that much more visibility, and that translated into more book sales. Which apparently it had, because it sold out!
Did you discover errors in the first edition that you wanted to fix? Kevin: Yeah, because when we were writing the book the deadline was really insane. We had a very short period of time to do all our own interviews, to transcribe them, to find people -- because you know so many people have left the show -- and that was very time consuming. And that took a lot of work. So because of that, errors do creep into the book, because you're trying to get so much done so quickly. There are mistakes in the first edition, and we did hear back from the show about some of those errors. That's what was great about having the opportunity to do a second edition -- we could go back, find those nasty little errors, and get them out. Errors such as? Kevin: There's one I know of in the episode guide, where the name of the actor and the character were switched. One we had the wrong cinematographer. At the time I was looking at tapes, sometimes credits are cut off at the end. They don't have a fail-safe database that has all the information in one spot, so you had to take a guess.
Susan: We had to create a database that doesn't exist in one place. They have two production offices -- East and West coast, two NBC offices with information or photos, East and West coast, we had to go to Universal at that time, and they have a publicist on East and West coast. One would say I don't have that, but so and so might have it. So we had to go chasing around. One of the things we've heard back is that people on the show itself now use our book as a quickie reference guide, when they need to figure something else.
Kevin: During the second edition, we were submitting the episode guide, and some of the information I had to get from the credits, came from some of the internet sites. In one instance I had sent the manuscript in and I had attributed one episode that Rene Balcer had written with someone else, and Rene had written it alone. But on the internet site, this particular writer, who is a regular on the show, was listed as the co-writer, and Susan happened to catch it. We did manage to get it excised before the book went to press. Little things can happen, because you're researching in so many areas, you're not sure if the information you're getting is entirely accurate.
What about Exiled? Did that make the new edition? Susan: It did. We wanted to include Exiled in the list, because so many things are based on something that happened there, on down the road, with a new character.
Kevin: And Profaci!
Susan: So that was tricky to work in, our editor was challenging that: "Why do you have this in there, it's not an episode."
Kevin: But it had to be in there.
Susan: So many fans adored Profaci.
Can you speak for the record about what happened with Profaci? Kevin: He expected that he was going to be used on the show again in some capacity, so it was very very hard for him. He took it hard, and I know when we were having the signing in New York we really wanted him to come, because we knew he was a very popular figure, plus we knew he'd been there since the beginning. So we invited him, but he declined. And not in a way that was dismissive or anything like that, I just think that he was upset about that. But having said that, he did cooperate with us when we did the Episode Guide for the second edition, we did get to interview him, and he did talk about his contributions to that episode and all that. So in the book we did give him his say. He is represented. What's the story behind Eddie Green's name? Kevin: As you know, he's called Detective Green. That wasn't his name in the beginning. It was Jordan -- but it was also Taylor. They had changed it several times: Gordon was another one, and then Taylor was the one they had given us in the beginning, and the one we were going to press with. They have these story meetings where they go over the names, and they try to determine if there's anyone with that name who might take offense.
Susan: They have a research firm that works for them that checks every name and place and so forth against the reality, and sometimes they don't know that until pretty late in the game.
Kevin: We talked to Rene Balcer, and he gave us information, and he said his name was Detective Eddie Taylor. So we went to press with this, we hadn't heard anything different. And then there was an article in the Globe and Mail in Canada about Law & Order, and he wrote about the show and why he liked it, and I scanned the piece, and sent the piece to Susan, and she read it more carefully, and she said, "He's got somebody named Eddie Jordan in there." So I phoned Rene, and I got a call back: It's not Taylor, not Jordan, it's Eddie Green. So we got that in just under the wire.
Makes you wonder ... is he related to Shambala? Kevin: I hadn't even thought of that!
Susan: That would be interesting, bringing her back as his cuz! I took it totally in a paranoid fashion, of course, that somehow ... they meant me.
Will you ever do another update? Together: You never know!
Susan: On the one hand, we're exhausted, burned and swearing up and down we'd never want to do this again. But life is full of surprises. Its amazing for something that's been on this long to be increasing so dramatically in popularity.
What's also interesting is that while the audience is increasing dramatically, it is getting a base of fans that may not be willing to go with the changes that are bound to happen over the next few years, i.e, the departure of Waterston or Orbach or even Steven Hill. And it would be interesting to see if these "new" fans are really there for Orbach or Waterston. Kevin: It's amazing, they've gone through changes no other TV show has gone through. You could say that even in terms of the writers. It's a massive overhaul when you trace the ten years when you trace how much has happened between season 1 and season 10. The thing that is going to be the biggest challenge for this show is that they've had a format that has been very successful: the way they structure this show, they way they do this program. When does it reach a point where it becomes its own cliche? Where does it reach a point where people become less surprised by what it can dream up. That's a question that's vital to answer. Well, now that we know about Balcer's development deal - he is a very common link almost from day one, and if his pilot gets picked up, where does he go, and how does that affect the show? Kevin: That's an important thing to raise. This is by no means to disparage the actors, but the changes I think to the writers on this show have had a more dramatic effect on the program than the departure of certain actors. Because I think the writing has always been a benchmark. When the writing is good on the show, it's really good. And when you're missing people and the voice that they give that show, when they're gone you feel that absence. And that's not in any way to say that no one is as good, it's simply to say that he had a way of looking at that subject that's different from some of the other writers. So when he's gone, that point of view is missing as well. Will you two do a SVU Companion? Kevin: Speaking for myself, I don't particularly like the show, and I don't think Susan does either. I find it's too much like a conventional police drama. And even though I'm more than happy to see Dann Florek back as Cragen, I'm kind of sad to see him back as Cragen in that particular show. Because I don't think it's really happening -- the very aspects of his personality that came out and were used so well in the original Law & Order, and besides, when you're doing something like Special Victims Unit, you're narrowing what you can do. Because how many -- of course you can do Sex Crimes every week, because they happen every week, but how do you make interesting drama out of that?
Susan: And I don't think people are warming up to Mariska Hargitay very much. Not that they have to Angie Harmon, but I think she makes Angie Harmon look like a genius. She's really terrible, and on top of that she's not being given a good set of dialogue lines to read each week, and her character is very ill-defined. What is this spawn of a rape victim who freaks out being a detective?
Do you feel any obligation to include it like an Exiled movie in the book? Susan: We mentioned it, because it was coming, and Dick Wolf talking about how he was going to do all these crossovers, and he was hiring Richard Belzer, and Clark Johnson directed an episode. That part of it I love, and I'm sure the fans do too. I got a call from a friend who's an actor working on the set of SVU, and when he called me, he said that Gus Makris was directing that particular episode. So maybe that'll be better. So that kind of crossover is exciting. And Vincent Misiano directed another one, Christopher Misiano's brother. So that part of it is neat, but it doesn't make it worthwhile watching. If the writing isn't there, and the actors aren't doing it for you.... It'd be nice to see Mike Logan and Profaci in their own detective agency. Susan: I think fans are still wanting Chris Noth on prime time television. Now he's been written off Sex and the City. But he's got a CBS development. Him and Balcer again? Susan: Em...I don't trust his judgment, because I think Exiled was misbegotten in a lot of ways.
Kevin: He had too much of a hand in it.
Susan: And I don't think his friend is much of a writer. Kipps. It kind of missed the point of what made the show so great. It's too bad Noth and Dick Wolf don't get along. In terms of talent, Dick would love to work with him again. And I think Chris Noth knows that's the best thing he ever did. But he's always shooting his mouth off about Dick.
But back to SVU a moment: Do you still watch it? Kevin: I've practically given up watching the show. Part of what the problem is that even if you go back to the first season of Law & Order, there were episodes that were at times badly done, or you can see they were nowhere near as good as they became later. But you at least thought, when you were watching those, that they were struggling with something original, and that was a good idea. And even if they couldn't execute it yet, you had a feeling that they'd get it sooner or later, they'd find a way to do it. But with SVU, they're not working with an idea that's very original, and they're not working with something I think can get better. They're hampered by the fact that they're trying to create a spawn of a show -- they're playing off the popularity of the Law & Order show itself. But that popularity was earned by the good writing, the good acting, and the originality of the show. If you want to create a spawn that's going to contain actors from that show or from the now dead Homicide, you're not creating anything original that's going to draw an audience.
Susan: Although SVU is where Law & Order used to be in the ratings.
Kevin: I can only guess that it's because it's either conventional like a lot of other TV shows that are also popular, or perhaps people who do miss Homicide are happy to see Munch, but I don't know how a show can be successful when it cannot find its own voice.
Susan: They're also trading off a lot of peoples' passions. Two characters from Oz, in totally different roles, and then Homicide's gone so you've got these other possible crossovers. And the old Law & Orders with Dann Florek -- Mariska Hargitay, maybe somebody misses her from ER. I don't know that the show will last, I don't know that people will get hooked. But will people stick with it?
Susan Green will be available at the Yahoo! Chat on January 20 at 9pm ET