Law & Order: SVU never shies away from keeping up with the cultural zeitgeist. Executive Producer Warren Leight has said that he looks to the headlines of the day to figure out exactly what issues they should be dealing with on the procedural, which is currently in production filming its 15th season.
Wednesday, pictures from the SVU set emerged on BuzzFeed and speculation mounted about whether or not the images might suggest that the show was taking on the controversial George Zimmerman trial so soon. In fact, the SVU writers have taken things one step further and combined two of the year’s biggest headlines: The trial of Zimmerman over the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin and the Paula Deen scandal.
“[Jeffrey] Tambor is a defense attorney representing a very high-profile celebrity woman chef who thought she was being pursued by a rapist and turned around it was a teenager. And she shot him,” said Leight in an interview with EW. “There’s a lot of stop and frisk elements to that as well.”
Cybill Shephard is playing the part of the celebrity chef, and Smash’s Leslie Odom, Jr. is portraying a minister of the slain child in what will be the third episode of the season.
They won’t be shying away from the big questions either, according to Leight. “Is racial profiling justifiable? Can self-defense involve racial profiling? We’re diving right into that,” he said. “Can that happen in New York? Absolutely.”
Be prepared for the episode to divide audiences. According to Leight, it even exposed divisions within the SVU team. “When the script was published it became a litmus test for everybody here,” he said. “It was really interesting to see people read that script and have different interpretations about who did what and whether or not they deserved prison for it. It was fascinating.”
Leight added: “For better or for worse, this is a good season. It’s almost like we’re being bombarded by headlines. It’s tricky, but we’ll be doing that a lot this season.”
Law & Order: SVU’s 15th season will debut with a two-hour premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 9 P.M. on NBC.