By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2007
As soon as the story of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and his alleged conduct in a Minneapolis airport restroom broke, fans of a certain long-running detective drama quickly began wondering: How long before this becomes a "Law & Order" episode?
It seems downright ripe for the NBC franchise, which since its early days has been giving its "ripped from the headlines" treatment to very juicy, very public stories. In this past season alone, the "Law & Order" brand has taken on disgraced evangelical preacher Ted Haggard, the death of Anna Nicole Smith, the murder of actress Adrienne Shelly and the diaper-wearing astronaut on a mission to deal with a romantic rival. No actual murder in the real-life story? No problem, the folks at "L&O" will conjure one.
In November, a "sweeps" episode of "Law & Order," with Chevy Chase channeling Mel Gibson as a celebrity who's pulled over for drunk driving and goes off on an anti-Semitic rant, averaged 11 million viewers, a 25 percent increase over the show's average audience this past season.
So, are the NBC scribes hard at work researching and adapting the Craig case?
"There are no plans at this time to do the story," said "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf through a spokeswoman.
But some "Law & Order" fans aren't buying it.
"I would wager that there might be an episode within a month if they get on it really fast," says Kevin Dwyer, co-author of the book "True Stories of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," which is being released this fall. (Dwyer and co-author Jure Fiorillo also penned "True Stories of Law & Order" last year.) "This would be a great episode. Politics and crime are a perfect thing to go together."
The next question would be: Which of the three franchises gets it? The original "Law & Order," a.k.a. the "mother ship," which has a more legal, courtroom feel to it? "Criminal Intent," which takes viewers inside the criminal's mind? Or "Special Victims Unit," which deals primarily with sex-related crimes?
"The original show gets more into the legal aspects. . . . It would focus more on the fact that [Craig] pleaded guilty just to make it go away," Dwyer said. "On S.V.U. the whole bathroom scene would start off the episode."
Adds Dwyer: "They'd drag out that bathroom scene really long."
While Craig's political future already seems dim, becoming the subject of a prime-time crime drama would likely seal the deal, suggests one Washington politico.
"When a politician becomes the subject of laughter and ridicule, there's no future," said Democratic strategist Tad Devine of the political consulting firm Devine Mulvey. "I think that's what's happening with the Larry Craig story now."
(Though Craig arguably lucked out in one sense: Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" are in reruns this week.)
If there were to be a "Law & Order" episode, Devine said he'd be more interested in the show's depiction of the backroom, rather than the bathroom. "The most interesting parts would be the meeting with his political consultants or other advisers where they concocted the wide-stance story," Devine said. "I would like to be a fly on the wall for that meeting because that is about as clever as it gets."
As for casting, Dwyer has one suggestion. "Wouldn't it be funny if the episode were about former district attorney Arthur Branch, and they got Fred Thompson to play the part?"
A spokesman for potential Republican presidential candidate Thompson had no comment. Which is too bad. Because Thompson the actor-turned-senator commenting on the possibility of a politician-turned-television-character on the show on which Thompson used to star? It's just so meta.