They've been busy reading the Los Angeles newspapers at NBC's revamped Law & Order: LA. The show is relying on two of the year's biggest L.A.-centric news stories to fuel its narrative over the next two weeks. Tonight, Law & Order: LA will tackle local government corruption — motivated by the well-publicized mess in the City of Bell, a suburb of Los Angeles. Then, on April 25, the show airs its episode based loosely on the mysterious murder of Hollywood power publicist Ronni Chasen.
The ripped-from-the-headline stories have been a part of the Law & Order brand for two decades, but have been more East Coast-centric — a function of the original Law & Order (as well as spinoffs Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent) being set in New York. But now that Law & Order has swapped coasts, the show has had a chance to get inspired by more West Coast doings. Law & Order: LA has looked to get so involved in Los Angeles culture that every episode so far this year has been named after a city neighborhood or town in the region (such as "Echo Park" and "Westwood").
At least, until this week. Executive producer Rene Balcer wound up creating a fictional city, East Pasadena, in order to freely depict that corruption (the first time Law & Order: LA has gone with a fake location to set the action). "It's inspired by small city corruption gone amok," he says.
The creative team behind Law & Order is always careful to note that its storylines aren't based on real-life events, but are simply inspired by them. (That keeps the lawyers at bay.) In the April 25 episode (Benedict Canyon), Chasen has been remade as "Lily Walker," a Hollywood stylist — rather than publicist — who's gunned down. And on this week's episode, the discovery of a dead body leads detectives to a much bigger bout of corruption in the city of "East Pasadena" — leading to a shocking shooting in the episode that never actually took place in real-life Bell.
"There's a shooting inside the City Council chamber that becomes a defining moment in the relationship between Alfred Molina's and Corey Stoll's characters," Balcer says of the newly partnered detectives. "We'll find out how their partnership will be defined."
Even though the story of corruption in Bell (in which six city officials were charged with fraud and accused of stealing millions of dollars) was a huge local story, it played big across the country — which is why Balcer believes viewers will get the connection. "It reverberates on a national level," he says. "There's a general disgust with politicians out there."
The episode also centers on the death of a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, which Balcer uses to contrast with the elected rascals back home. "The idea was while we have people dying on our behalf in foreign countries, we have an enemy within of arrogant politicians feeding at the trough. That was part of what interested me in doing the story of small-city corruption."