Will Law & Order: SVU Take on Ashley Madison and the Duggar Family Controversies?

NBC's long-running drama is no stranger to taking on headlines, so will they tackle the TLC family?

By Chris Harnick Sep 22, 2015 1:00 PMTags
Law & Order: SVU, Josh DuggarNBC; Discovery

Law & Order: SVU is by no means a stranger to ripping stories from the public zeitgeist and putting their own spin on them. The NBC drama is opening season 17 with a 2-hour episode with several influences from Robert Durst and HBO's The Jinx, so could this summer's biggest scandal be next? Could SVU tackle the Duggar family, from the past abuse all the way through Josh Duggar's Ashley Madison revelations?

"I'm sure they're coming our way," Raúl Esparza, ADA Barba on the series, told press on set. "I don't think there's any way the writers room will stay away form it, but who knows what form it's going to take. It won't be that exact…Ultimately, it's got to stay fiction and got to stay engaging. We don't want to recreate what you just lived through because—we'll never live up to reality because reality's getting really bizarre."

"With the Duggar one, it was like the double-whammy because it was his sisters and the fact—I mean, honestly, I feel like we're dealing with some topics this season that feel a bit meatier than some lunatic fringe family…I wouldn't mind doing one just because I have never been so infuriated with someone's level of hypocrisy, and lying, and then displacement of responsibility onto something else," Peter Scanavino, Detective Carisi on the show, said. "When I think about that guy, it boils my blood, I will say."

Jason Bell/NBC

Still, the decision lies with the writers, including executive producers Warren Leight and Julie Martin.

"Yes, it was a wonderful summer for the SVU writers room," Leight said with a laugh, then described a news story about Internet bots designed to entice men on the cheating website. "So yes, there is a lot to deal with…We're always kind of rundown by the end of the season and then like it's the annual miracle of story after story…"

"We can't believe this stuff comes up though," Mariska Hargitay added.

The show has stayed away from Bill Cosby and the rape accusers story so far, but Leight said the writers were discussing Damon Wayans and the comments of support he made for Cosby while putting down the victims. Meanwhile, Ice-T told reporters when the show first started and still had the working title of Sex Crimes, Dick Wolf was concerned there wouldn't be enough source material. "I guess 17 years later, they figured out," Ice said with a laugh. "These stories never stop writing themselves and they become more and more bizarre."

The show's subject matter inspired Hargitay to begin The Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004, an organization aimed to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse heal and reclaim their sense of joy.

"This show has illuminated so much that people weren't talking about before. I get excited now because these stories come out and it's not so shocking to audiences," she said. "And audiences are more sophisticated because they watch the show and now have an opinion and now see how ridiculous it is. That's the thing, things have shifted. When SVU first came on it was like 'Ohhhh,' and now it's not, it's, 'Shine the big fat light. This is what's going on, let's change it.' The show wasn't designed to change it, but Joyful Heart is."

Law and Order: SVU returns for a two-hour premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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