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René Balcer (BA 78) tries to get back to his alma mater every few years, but it must be pretty tough to find the time when you're the executive producer of Law & Order, and now Law & Order: Criminal Intent. But how could Balcer resist when he found out Concordia would be recognizing him with an honorary doctorate at this year's convocation?
“I’ll keep coming back as long as they keep giving me hardware,” he joked during a phone interview. Balcer will also be speaking at the showcase event on Nov. 16 prior to convocation. Four years ago, he was honoured as Alumnus of the Year.
“I like doing seminars with some of the classes,” says Balcer of the communications studies program. The same program that prepared him first as a journalist and documentary filmmaker and now to helm of the longest running primetime drama on American television.
It might seem unlikely for a Dorval kid to end up the king of television crime. In addition to production duties, Balcer has written over 180 episodes of the crime show. “This is the classic stuff, Shakespeare was full of stories of fratricide and patricide.” Although he did love crime fiction as a child, and relishes his early recollections of Montreal as a wide-open town in the '50s (including a headline-grabbing murder at the West Island Pine Beach Hotel), he also heard stories from his uncle who was solicitor general under prime minister John Diefenbaker.
He sees Law & Order and its enduring appeal as broader than the true-crime genre. “The true-life stuff starts as the inspiration,” says Balcer. That inspiration has earned him four Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America.
“The show talks about power and the abuse or misuse of power,” he said. His early years in Montreal marked him on that front as well. “The abuse of power during the October Crisis was eye-opening to me when I was 16,” Balcer reflects. Add to that the influence of one of his professors, Dennis Murphy, whom he remains in touch with to this day. “He taught about ethics and propaganda, both natural things for me to be interested in.”
Meanwhile, Balcer has other projects on the go. (“I’m always working on three or four different things at the same time” he says). He has a mini-series on L.A. in the ’60s in development, and is working on a medical drama with Dreamworks and CBS. He’s also re-editing the English translation of a 13-volume catalogue of the works of Chinese painters during the cultural revolution.