In Court TV's Murder by the Book (tonight at 10 pm/ET), noted crime-fiction writers discuss cases that they find intriguing. Tonight, New York Times best-selling author Lisa Scottoline, a lawyer herself, walks viewers through the investigation into the grisly murder of a young mother from Decatur, Illinois. Scottoline — whose new novel, Lady Killer, comes out in February and marks the return of her popular Rosato & Associates characters — talked to us about the Murder by the Book case, what she likes to watch and her work as a novelist.
TV Guide: How did you find out about the crime story you talk about on Murder by the Book, and why did you choose that story?
It came from Court TV. I said, "This is the kind of the story I like: A woman makes a decision that may or may not be right, but it's the kind of decision that an ordinary person would make." She's not doing anything wrong or crazy... like going into a parking garage late at night. You know, she's not stupid... but there is evil afoot and it really affects her. We kicked around a bunch [of stories] and we decided on this one together.
TV Guide: In your novels, family ties are very important to your characters. Did this story's "family-gone-wrong" aspect fascinate you?
Yes. Above all, it has to be a relationship story. Even though there are nice twists and turns in terms of the evidence — which, when you see them, are very surprising — what I really wanted was a family story that had a woman at its center. And this [story] really spoke to me.
TV Guide: James Patterson has Women's Murder Club on ABC right now. Any interest in turning your books into a TV series?
Scottoline: Well, [my books about] Rosato & Associates were optioned by Fox as a series. Unfortunately, it looks like it's not going to happen, but I try to hold out hope. I write about women who are strong [and] I'd like them to be on TV, too. I hope it happens, [because] I'm a TV addict. It would be great. I'd love it.
TV Guide: Would you be interested in writing for TV?
Scottoline: I probably would. I teach a course in popular culture called Images of Justice, and I'm always talking about television as a reference because it's so pervasive in the culture. So I'd sort of like to play in that a little... to have a hand in its creation.... [The TV] is always on in my house. It's important for me in my job to be in touch with popular culture all the time... to stay on that edge — and TV gives that to me.
TV Guide: What do you like to watch?
Scottoline: I watch a lot of Court TV in the daytime. And I watch Oprah and Dr. Phil. And I have to admit that I like a lot of the reality [shows], like Dancing with the Stars... Flava Flav's show... I Love New York. I love [Stephen] Colbert and Jon Stewart. That's my all-time favorite stuff. I like a lot of stuff on MSNBC too. I like Hardball very much. Chris Matthews — he's a Philly boy, so I like him. And I love Meet the Press.
TV Guide: What's your favorite legal drama?
Scottoline: Of all time? I liked Perry Mason. I teach Perry Mason in my class because [the show] was the template for when lawyers were good, when they fought for justice. And if you remember, Perry Mason always represents the innocent guy and he convicts the guilty guy — who happens to be in the courtroom. It was amazing! I also liked Ally McBeal. I do like Boston Legal, even though it's so tongue-in-cheek. Now that Candice Bergen is on, I'm like: "Finally, they have ovaries!" Where are the women lawyers? Still so few [on TV].
TV Guide: What's the most unrealistic legal drama on TV?
Scottoline: I think Boston Legal is pretty unrealistic. The cases are silly, very silly. And I think sometimes there's a political agenda — you can hear [series creator David E. Kelley's] voice expressing views about things. That can be good if you agree with the views. Sometimes I think it takes away from the drama, but I think at this point, they're not trying to make anybody believable. And the truth is, David Kelley, as good as he is — and he is really good — always takes you away from the reality. I don't think he is always interested in the viewer becoming immersed and forgetting that it's artifice. As soon as you put in... something silly — like all the silly issues they deal with on Boston Legal — [the viewer] is thinking, "That's a funny TV show" [instead of] "I care about Denny Crane." I think about it a lot because I try to learn from other people's fiction. It increases the entertainment value, but you're not thinking about it later, in the way that maybe you did [with] Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H, all the great ensemble shows.
TV Guide: What's the most realistic legal drama on TV?
Scottoline: I'm not sure that any are realistic right now. I think Law & Order comes pretty close lots of times. The Practice — if you remember that — I think got it right. But I'm not sure that any [series] show women the way I think women are in real offices. Not just law firms. Real offices.
TV Guide: What's the best thing and worst thing about being a mystery writer?
Scottoline: The best thing is books. I love books. I get to write them and do it however I want to do it.... Freedom is the answer, I guess. That's the short of it. I can do whatever I want. The downside — and it's the only one — is the solitude. I love people and I miss that interaction. But I think what happens is all that energy that I put into a relationship ends up being in these books. In a funny way, I think it gives these girls [in my novels] a life. And sometimes I feel like... that's a good trade-off. I'll take that.
TV Guide: What's your secret weapon?
Scottoline: My secret weapon is that I'm really trying to write some true stuff. Not the storylines, per se. What people are really like. How they relate to each other. What we're really like inside. The books are me. If you read the books, you'll know me. And if they touch you, then I know you. That's the coolest thing in the world about books. That's what books do that no other medium does.
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