'Criminal Intent' tackles Charlie Sheen. 'We take the headline, but not the body.'
Now on his "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour of live stage shows, the former "Two and a Half Men" star is the inspiration for one of the crime drama's final eight episodes that begin their run Sunday, May 1, on USA. (They'll also be seen starting Monday, May 30, on NBC.)
In the "Criminal Intent" variation, Jay Mohr ( "Gary Unmarried") guest stars as the pseudo-Charlie, a celebrity fashion designer with a reputation for indulging in various vices. A murder at one of his parties brings reunited police-detective partners Goren and Eames ( Vincent D'Onofrio, Kathryn Erbe) to the scene.
The result is "unexpected but not unexpected," executive producer and "Law & Order" mentor Dick Wolf tells Zap2it. "There is stuff that will strongly suggest Charlie to people, and Jay really delivers. He's got that kind of edgy quirkiness that he's built his career on, so it wasn't much of a reach."
The use of the Sheen story, as well as the murder of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen as the basis for an upcoming episode of NBC's "Law & Order: LA" (which returns Monday, April 11), indicates that "ripped from the headlines" remains Wolf's preferred way to go with every series in the franchise.
"Oh, absolutely," he confirms. "All the 'Law & Order' stories are fiction, but if in the teaser or the first act, you can get people to have their minds resonate off what they already know -- or think they know -- it's very interesting. The ones that frankly are the most appealing to me are the ones that make viewers say, 'Ah, it's that case!,' but there's either a twist or a new component that makes it not that case.
"One example I've noted numerous times is when people say, 'Oh, you did the Martha Stewart case.' Well, not really; there were no murders in the Martha Stewart case. You throw in a murder, and it automatically differentiates it from the headline story."
For as many such tales as the "Law & Order" shows have done since the parent series' launch in 1990, Wolf says, "There have been maybe a dozen (of the real-life) people who weren't pleased. Unless they have really dumb lawyers, they know that we're not maligning, defaming or slandering them ... because it's not the same story. As I've said for years, 'We take the headline, but not the body.'"