After 239 scripts and 11 years running the show on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” you’d think Neal Baer might want to check in on how his successor is doing.
“Nope,” said the pediatrician-turned writer/producer, who knows about long runs. Prior to NBC's “SVU,” he spent seven seasons with “ER,” which he also didn’t watch after he’d left.
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“For me it’s just better to move on,” he said. “It’s (showrunner) Warren (Leight’s) show now, and he can take it in whatever direction he wishes. He doesn’t need someone looking over his shoulder and commenting.”
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Baer hasn’t really taken a break since departing “SVU” earlier this year. For one thing, he’s now working on CBS’ “A Gifted Man,” on which the husband of “SVU’s” Mariska Hargitay, Peter Hermann, appears. (Hermann also had a recurring role on “SVU.”) Baer said he made his decision to exit before “SVU’s” other huge departure — star Christopher Meloni, who had played Det. Eliot Stabler since the show’s 1999 debut — was finalized, but that the news didn’t surprise him.
“I had a suspicion Chris would leave,” he said. “That’s why we did the last episode where (Stabler) shot a young woman who pulled a gun in the squad room. It would give him something big to go out on. He wanted to do other things, like plays, which he could do over the summers but not the rest of the year (when “SVU” filmed).”
Baer doesn’t worry about the future of the show, even without Meloni, “because Mariska Hargitay is so powerful in her appeal.”
Hargitay has played Det. Olivia Benson since season one.
But if she goes? “It’s hard to say. It depends on so many things that one can’t predict,” he said.
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Meanwhile, Baer is able to focus on his new show and some side projects, including a short animated film about UNITAID, an organization that provides anti-retroviral medication for children with HIV. He even “reunited” Hargitay and Meloni in that project, using them for voiceovers. (The short will be available on the Internet in December.)
And then there’s Baer’s book, “Kill Switch,” written with former “SVU” producer Jonathan Greene. It’s the first of an expected trilogy focusing on Dr. Claire Waters, a forensic psychiatrist who has some brilliant insights ... yet also still has a lot to learn about working with the criminally disturbed. “Kill Switch” is out in December, but actually sat in outline form in Baer’s desk drawer for about nine years, until his book agent asked if he might have some ideas for a medical thriller.
Baer said he liked having nearly complete control over his universe when writing the novel, something he can’t do when running a series. “When you write a script or produce it, you don’t act it, you don’t do the costumes or sets or cinematography — you hire people to support your vision. A novel is wholly your own,” he said. “I love doing shows, and it’s exhilarating to see a show turn out well, but ... let’s say it’s fun to have different outlets.”
What do you think of "SVU" this season? Is it just as good without Chris Meloni? Can Mariska Hargitay keep the show going for a few more seasons? Share your thoughts on the Facebook page for our TV blog, The Clicker.
Randee Dawn is a freelance writer based in New York, and was born with a remote control in her hand. She is the co-author of “The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion.”
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