Question: My husband and I have noticed an almost comical connection between actors from the HBO series Oz appearing in roles on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (as well as the other Law & Order shows). We realize that two of the major characters in SVU are from Oz, but several of the other Oz characters have appeared in minor roles. Is there some kind of contract agreement between these two shows? Or are these just fellow actors helping one another out? Carol B., Monterey, Cal.
Televisionary: It goes a lot higher than the actors, Carol. It's actually Oz creator Tom Fontana and Dick Wolf helping themselves to each other's cast members, a phenomenon both men laugh about since they get along rather well.
"Dick and I are old buddies," Fontana told The New York Post in 1999. "What can I say? He's got great taste in actors because he keeps stealing mine." For his part, Wolf said, both he and Fontana "have been lucky enough to have found people we can utilize in our shows that can travel effortlessly between the disparate worlds we have created."
Disparate and desperate, too. Thus you end up with Christopher Meloni going from sexual offender Chris Keller on Oz to SVU cop Elliot Stabler, the former being the kind of guy the latter would throw in jail, as the actor has pointed out in interviews. Likewise, you see Dean Winters, who plays the conniving Ryan O'Reilly on Oz, portraying SVU detective Brian Cassidy. Kathryn Erbe, who played nutty Oz murderer Shirley Bellinger, can be found on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and J.K. Simmons works as both Oz white supremacist Vernon Schillinger and Law & Order doc Emil Skoda.
Richard Belzer took an entire character (Det. John Munch) from Fontana's Homicide: Life on the Street to SVU, and so many character actors have played criminals and victims on Fontana and Wolf shows that it would make me dizzy to try and list them all. (And I'll ask fans of both producers' shows to have mercy on my mailbox and spare me all the examples I haven't listed here. Please?)