|Law & Order is headed for the UK.|
In a new 13-part series for ITV1, the enduringly popular US crime drama - now in its nineteenth season and counting - makes the trip across the pond for a very British version, set in London. Producer Richard Stokes tells us what to expect from Law & Order: UK.
For those who haven't seen Law & Order before, could you explain the setup?
"It's a show that's distinctly split into two halves. The first half is a police procedural and the second takes you to the courtroom. Each episode starts with a crime that's usually a murder, then the police investigates for two acts, usually ending in an arrest. The second two acts are the court proceedings, where our hero prosecutor tries to get a conviction against the person responsible."
For the first series of the British version you're reusing scripts from the original US show, aren't you?
"We're adapting them. To be honest we're probably adapting them more than we originally thought, because to make them contemporary and to make them British actually took more [work] than we anticipated. Which is good for the audience who know both shows, and good for us to make them feel more distinctive."
What was the thinking behind using non-original scripts?
"I think it was partly contractual with [format owner] Dick Wolf Productions, but also the fact that we know those stories worked. They're great stories - but the changes we needed to make with the second halves to make them work with the British legal system results in disctinctive stories."
From the US show you have over 18 years' worth of stories to choose from. How did you decide which to use?
"There is a Law & Order bible that has every episode listed in it, with a paragraph for each saying what the story is. Showrunner and lead writer Chris Chibnall went through as many of them as he possibly could, got the DVDs, watched them, and then made the choice as to which ones would make very good British television. He picked 15 or 16 stories and we chose our favourite 13. One of them we had to replace because when we looked at the adaptations on the legal side it didn't quite work."
If you get a second series do you think you will still use the US scripts for inspiration?
"That's a tricky question. If we get a second series we'll be very happy and I think at that point we'll start making those kind of decisions."
How involved has Dick Wolf, the creator, been with the British version?
"Dick Wolf signed off on all the casting for the main parts. He's been sent all the scripts, which fortunately he loved. He could have very easily raised his eyebrows about how they've been adapted to the British system. In the last few weeks we've been sending him over the first load of episodes too."
And what has Chris Chibnall brought to the table as showrunner?
"Well I've worked with Chris for the last couple of years on Torchwood, so I know him very well. He's a brilliant writer, with a great history in shows like Torchwood, Life On Mars and Born and Bred, but he's also been gaining a fantastic experience in production. As a result we have a really great creative partnership. He's got a very clear idea about how the brand works and I think he's a great voice for this show on British television."
Your commission is 13 episodes, which is quite long for this kind of British drama. What challenges has that presented production-wise?
"The only real challenge is everybody pacing it so they don't fall over about halfway through. It's completely achievable, so it's about going in with the mindset of knowing it can be done rather than thinking 'we're used to doing four-parters and six-parters, so how the hell are we going to do 13?' That is my biggest challenge - to make sure everybody keeps moving forward and all our deadlines keep getting hit."
Who's on the cast?
"Bradley Walsh is our lead cop, DI Ronnie Brooks, who's got a murky past - he's an ex-alcoholic, but now he's found an inner peace. He's almost a sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi figure! His partner is DS Matt Devlin, played by Jamie Bamber, who's a little less wise and more willing to go for the jugular. Their boss is DI Natalie Chandler, played by Harriet Walter, a fantastically experienced stage actress. She's there to make sure they stay in line, don't cut corners and also to challenge them. Almost to play devil's advocate and push the characters to make sure they're getting the right information.
"In the second half, on the legal side, we've James Steel (Ben Daniels), the lead London prosecutor. He's the absolute moral centre of the show. His assistant is Alesha Phillips, played by Freema Agyeman. She's basically a brilliant young barrister who James has taken on as a mentor. Finally, their boss is played by Bill Paterson, a character called George Castle who's the head of the crown prosecution service for London."
With Bradley Walsh as lead, is it a straight role for him?
"It's absolutely a straight role. I think people will be really, really pleasantly delighted and surprised with his performance. He's a really terrific actor and a smart guy. I think a lot of people will have exactly that same question you just asked - it's a role I can't wait for people to see."
Law & Order: UK airs on ITV1 from Spring 2009.