With the renewed focus on police brutality and systemic racism following the recent killings of unarmed Black Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, an executive producer of Law & Order is sharing how the show plans to do better moving forward. During a recent interview, showrunner Warren Leight said Law & Order: SVU will address protests against police as well as Floyd's death. Here's why viewers should expect a shift in the narrative around cops in future episodes.
While speaking to podcast hosts Lesley Goldberg and Daniel Fienberg during the Friday, June 5 episode of The Hollywood Reporter podcast TV's Top 5, Leight confirmed that Special Victims Unit will reference the killing of Floyd by now-former officer Derek Chauvin and the ensuing fallout, as well as the ramifications for cops and other law enforcement.
"It has to come up, and it will," he told the hosts. While he didn't specify which episode will address Floyd's death, Leight said he believes it'll change some of the storylines of the show for good.
"It'll come up when we arrest somebody," he said. "The second the cops on the street arrest someone now, the cameras are out, and we've played that beat a number of times. And what does that capture?"
He continued, "We will find our ways in to tell the story, and presumably our cops will still be trying to do the right thing, but it's going to be harder for them, and they're going to understand why it's harder for them."
During the interview, Leight also touched on how he hopes Floyd's death and the subsequent conversations about police brutality will change the way the topic of the "flawed cop" is covered on TV. However, he's still not sure if the incident will lead to lasting change.
"I hope to God it's an inflection point," he said. "Change will start taking place on shows individually. There'll be lip service paid, probably across the board, but I wonder how deep it will go."
He said that he finds shows that glorify flawed cops with a penchant for violence particularly troubling. Since the protests, many have criticized SVU and similar shows like Chicago PD and Blue Bloods as examples of a large TV genre that consistently portrays police officers as the protagonists and, in many cases, excuses them or presents them as sympathetic characters even if they stray from the law or decide to pursue their own idea of justice. In addition, depicting cops as main characters also encourages viewers to see situations from the viewpoint of law enforcement, not the rest of the population.
"There are shows with flawed cops at their center," he said. "I don't mind a flawed cop at the center, but a flawed cop with a tendency to violence that's glorified, to me, is a real recipe for legitimizing police brutality. That's what I see the most that disturbs me."
Only time will tell whether others in the industry jump on board, but it's promising that Law & Order: Special Victims Unit — which is currently the longest running primetime live-action series — is leading the way by recognizing the oftentimes problematic narrative around law enforcement and keeping the conversation going by addressing the backlash in future episodes.