|“Law & Order” helped give the phrase “ripped from the headlines” as much of a place in the consciousness of New York as detectives’ chatter about “perps” and “vics.” Or that clang-clang noise at the beginning of each scene in the television show.|
But when the “Law & Order: SVU” production crew began setting up for a scene in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan on Thursday night, some of the people who actually generated the headlines that “SVU” was preparing to rip from — the Occupy Wall Street protesters — were less than pleased.
They, in turn, generated some headlines that “SVU” did not want to rip from — it turned out that the “SVU” crew did not have a permit to be there.
“SVU” is not the only prime-time television drama that has worked in material about the Occupy protests, or has tried to. On “The Good Wife” last Sunday night, Julianna Margulies’s character had a brainstorm as an arbitration hearing droned on. She rushed out of the hearing room and used a cellphone to snap a shot of a bulletin-board poster that said, “Support Occupy Wall Street.”
Later still, Ms. Margulies had a scene opposite Michael J. Fox playing a lawyer who mentioned his “mean corporate clients.”
“The 1 percent,” he added.
The “SVU” brouhaha began when the crew put up tarps and tents in the square, in the shadow of the courthouse at 60 Centre Street, a familiar backdrop for the step-climbing prosecutors in the “Law & Order” universe. The crew tacked up placards denouncing war and greed. It installed a library with rows of books and a kitchen, complete with a sign that read, “End the War on Workers.”
All in all, the crew transformed Foley Square into a fake encampment that looked like the real one a few blocks away, in Zuccotti Park, which the police cleared on Nov. 15. But the tents and the anticorporate slogans came down before the cameras could roll, done in by real Occupy Wall Street protesters who saw the set as a stage for political theater.
They streamed onto the set at midnight, stepping over yellow tape and brushing off objections from production assistants. Some crawled into the tents and lay down. Others danced while pounding drums and waving flags. Several headed straight to the kitchen, where they helped themselves to muffins and a jar of pickles, among other things.
Some complained about art imitating life, and about unfairness.
“We thought we would bring some extras down and add some reality to this show,” Aaron Black, 38, of Brooklyn, said. “Why should they be able to put tents up in a public park when we are unable to do that?”
Drew Hornbein, 24, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said he found it “bizarre” to walk through an imitation occupation. He wondered whether the “SVU” producers had realized that a fake tent city would be a target for Occupy protesters. “Did they think we were gone?” he said.
Before long, a contingent of police officers gathered. A commander said that everyone near the tents had to move on or face arrest, protesters and production assistants alike. This was after he said the permit for the set had been rescinded — something that turned out to be not quite right. On Friday, the city said “SVU” did not have a permit to build the encampment, only a permit for filming beginning at 8 a.m. Friday.
For a while, the protesters stayed where they were. Eventually, they adjourned to a fountain at the southern end of the square and began holding a meeting. The police remained on the set, and workers from “SVU” began dismantling the tents.
Curt King, a spokesman for NBC Universal, said on Friday that the network had no comment about the occupation of the apparently rule-breaking set; neither did a spokeswoman for “SVU.” They did not explain how “SVU” would rework the scene.
But Warren Leight, an executive producer of “Law & Order: SVU,” posted a series of messages on Twitter that began, “Saddened by last night’s events.”
“We understand OWS emotions run high,” Mr. Leight said, “and also protesters’ fear of having their images and history co-opted by corporate media — the irony here is the scene we couldn’t shoot portrayed OWS in a sympathetic light.”
In another post he said, “And harassing night-shift production assistants. Those are not the images of OWS we wanted our audience to see.”
“Let’s move forward,” he added. “Peace.”
The posts were deleted about 45 minutes after they appeared, which prompted a response from #OccupyWallStreet: “Wish u hadn’t deleted ur tweets. Why censor urself? Ready 2 move forward. Show us the script.”