Neal Baer, Executive Producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Neal Baer is more than the Executive Producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He's a Harvard graduate, who also attended the American Film Institute and is a licensed pediatrician! After finishing at AFI, Baer worked on the Vietnam era drama "China Beach" before deciding to attend medical school at Harvard. Neal has obviously found a way to combine his medical expertise and his writing talents into a successful television career. NBC.com spoke with Neal about his transition from medicine to entertainment and the future of his SVU characters.
How did you get from medical school to ER?
John Wells sent me the script for ER, which Michael Crichton had written when he was a medical student at Harvard in the early 1970s. I really took to it because it was about residents and medical students, not about patients per se. [Once ER got picked up], I left medical school in my 4th year and went to Los Angeles to break stories for two months. I literally brought 100 stories mostly for Carter and Dr. Ross, since I was studying pediatrics and Ross was a pediatrician. I ended up staying in Los Angeles and finished medical school during hiatuses. I did my residency/internship at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.
So, you're definitely used to a hectic schedule!
Oh yeah, this is easy! I look back and I don't know how I did it. One year, I think in '98, I had a rotation at County U.S.C. in the newborn nursery at 4 am. Then I'd rush to the set of a pilot I was doing for the WB called "Out Reach," then I'd go over to "ER." It's all a blur, but I got through it.
You're like a character on ER! Was it hard transitioning from ER to SVU?
They're not so different. On SVU we focus on the workplace and the problems that arise for our characters when they're dealing with Special Victims crimes. For instance, Stabler's background is one of a religious man; Catholic, altar boy, four children. He has a very pointed view about abortion; what's right and what's wrong. Strong beliefs - and those beliefs are certainly carried through in the way that he deals with the crimes every week. Some have a profound effect on him, because he's a parent and father.
Same goes for Mariska's character - she's the product of a rape. She sometimes questions whether she's violent because she's a product of rape. Her father, who she doesn't know, was obviously violent. She's very independent because she was raised by a mother who was an alcoholic and she had to take care of that parent. That affects her and the way she deals with victims and how she cares about them.
We never lose sight of who the characters are, what their pasts are and how that will affect them in the stories that we tell. We have a show that we're doing this year where we meet Fin's son finally - at 18 years old. We've only talked about him twice I think in 6 years. Fin doesn't talk much about his personal life.
We like revealing those kinds of things about a character - as you would in any workplace where you know the people. You work with them, they're your "workplace family", but you may not know about other details until issues come up that reveal those details.
Fans will see this season that Stabler faces a crisis precipitated by a number of events - and fans will come to understand the character better. I don't want to give anything away!
Part of the reason you have such a loyal fan base is because of the show's attention to details.
Yeah, we don't' forget. We just wait until it's the right story to tell. One time, about 3 years ago, Fin shared with Benson that he had a son because they were working a case...
We remember many, many things about our characters and that's part of what makes it a gripping show instead of the crimes. It is story based, but there is a character element. It's not strictly a procedural show.