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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, September 06, 2018 1:00 am

NBC plots 'Law & Order' hate crimes spinoff

Antonia Noori Farzan | Washington Post

Several years ago, researchers at Washington State University sent out a survey to freshmen, asking about their views on sexual assault. In the same survey, they asked the students what crime shows they watched on TV.

Their findings, published in 2015, indicated that, for many students, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” may have provided an education of its own. The survey found that the NBC show had an overall positive effect on students' understanding of consent and sexual assault – issues which many universities have been grappling with for years.

While the researchers couldn't prove causation, they found that students who watched the show “were less likely to buy into rape myths, more likely to adhere to their partner's decision about whether or not to have sex, and more likely to say no themselves to sexual activity they did not want,” The Washington Post's Jessica Contrera reported.

Now, the show's creators, Dick Wolf and Warren Leight, are taking on another topic that's plucked from the headlines – and likely to lead to controversy. “Law & Order: Hate Crimes” will air on NBC at a yet-to-be-determined date, the network announced Tuesday.

In a statement, Wolf credited “SVU” for starting conversations about rape and sexual assault, and expressed hope that the spinoff would have a similar effect.

“Twenty years ago when 'SVU' began, very few people felt comfortable coming forward and reporting these crimes,” he said, “but when you bring the stories into people's living rooms – with characters as empathetic as Olivia Benson – a real dialogue can begin. That's what I hope we can do with this new show in a world where hate crimes have reached an egregious level.”

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Lisa Katz, co-president of scripted programming at NBC Entertainment, called the spinoff “extremely timely.”

“Considering that last year there was a double-digit rise in hate crimes in our 10 largest cities – the highest total in over a decade – it seemed like this topic is begging to be explored,” she said, likely referring to a May report released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. That study found a 12 percent increase in hate crimes reported in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose between 2016 and 2017.

In both 2015 and 2016, the FBI saw an increase in the number of hate crimes reported to law enforcement, with a significant uptick in the number of incidents targeting Jews, Muslims, and the LGBT community.

The series will be based on the New York Police Department's real-life Hate Crimes Task Force, one of the oldest in the country. 

Wolf said in a statement that his goal for the series was to “depict what's really going on in our cities and shine a light on the wide-ranging victims and show that justice can prevail.”

The spinoff has already faced some preemptive criticism, based on the assumption that minorities who are already underrepresented in television will be cast in a “victim” role.

NBC has yet to make any announcements about the show's casting, but Wolf and Leight, the two creators, are both white men.