When Law & Order god-king Dick Wolf and René Balcer (a longtime executive producer in the franchise) started planning a new anthology series focused on real-life criminality, it didn’t take long to find the source material. “We didn’t want to reach too far back in the past for a case,” says Balcer. “The ’90s. One was the O.J. case, and the other one was the Menendez case. O.J. spoke to race and racial politics in Los Angeles. The Menendez case spoke to the privilege, the go-go ’80s and early ’90s, and a sense of entitlement.”
As Balcer straightforwardly admits, the O.J. Simpson trial had already provided considerable fodder for a certain Emmy-winning, buzz-generating TV superproducer. “Obviously, Ryan Murphy did the O.J. case,” Balcer says, referring to Murphy’s The People v. O.J. Simpson, itself the first iteration of FX’s American Crime Story brand. “Naturally, we would do the Menendez Case.”
Hence, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, which focuses on the trials of Erik and Lyle Menendez. Balcer serves as showrunner for the eight-episode series.
When EW spoke to Balcer in mid-August, he described the conversations between about future installments of True Crime. “There were a couple of things both [Wolf] and I would be excited about,” Balcer says. One potential topic, an infamous act of domestic terrorism, became disappointingly newsworthy when another infamous act of domestic terrorism occurred this summer. “The Tim McVeigh case, the Oklahoma bomber case: In light of what happened this weekend in Charlottesville, it’s very topical. This is going to be in discussions with the network, obviously. They are footing the bill for all of this.”
That bill could explain another unofficial rule the producers have for True Crime. Don’t expect an onscreen rendition of the Leopold & Loeb case. “The further into the past you go, the more complicated and more expensive all that goes,” Balcer says. “It’s good to have a case that people can either remember or they’ve heard about it. And they have some attitude about it, and you can play off that attitude. ‘You thought you knew this case, you thought you knew the story, well here’s the truth about the case.'”
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.