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Law & Order producer exploring possible show in Canada

Law and Order producer Rene Balcer says he's exploring the possibility of mounting a TV show that would be set and shot in Canada.

BANFF, Alta. - "Law and Order" producer Rene Balcer says he's exploring the possibility of mounting a TV show that would be set and shot in Canada.

The industry veteran, who helms the long-running crime procedural along with its spinoff "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," said Tuesday that he's meeting with Canadian broadcasters including Canwest and the CBC while attending the Banff World Television Festival.

The former Montrealer said he'd love to be able to do a show in his homeland.

"It would be shot in Canada and hopefully it would be set in Canada, not in some mythic very clean American city," said Balcer, revealing little about the premise.

"This is all in the preliminary discussion stages," Balcer said just before leading a master class at the festival.

"What appeals to me in general is doing something for (someone) other than the three major networks in the U.S. - doing something for cable in the U.S., for similar networks in Canada, just places where the creative palate is somewhat bigger and your constraints are fewer. I'm exploring those possibilities here."

For nearly two decades, Balcer has led one of television's most prominent procedural dramas in "Law and Order" and helped carve the iconic crime show's identity into the fabric of pop culture.

But before joining the series as a writer in 1990, he honed his writing chops as a journalist and documentary filmmaker at Canada's National Film Board.

Balcer said launching his proposed new series in Canada would depend on also securing a U.S. pre-sale, which would put the series on both sides of the border and help finance the cost of production.

"That's the kind of deal that makes sense," he says.

The plan comes as "Law and Order" heads into its 20th season on NBC, a feat that would tie the record for longest-running drama in prime time held by "Gunsmoke."

Balcer said he's had his eye on that title for roughly 10 years, back when "Law and Order" was picked up for a five-year run.

"If we do 21 (seasons) we should count our lucky stars," he said, crediting the show with inspiring a slew of stand-alone procedurals that have emerged in the past 15 years, among them the defunct "NYPD Blue" and the "CSI" franchise.

Canwest's programming executive Barbara Williams says teaming up with a TV heavyweight like Balcer is "a hugely exciting prospect."

"We of course would be thrilled beyond belief to be in partnership with him and to bring a series out of Canada that his name would be attached to," she said after participating in a panel discussion of her own.

"So, we've all got everything crossed."

Williams said the possible show, a crime drama, would be for Global rather than Canwest's specialty channels and would likely not be ready until 2011.

CBC executive Fred Fuchs downplayed their meeting as simply "coffee," noting he met with dozens of writers at the festival, including "Battlestar Galactica" screenwriter Ron Moore and HBO scribe Dmitry Lipkin ("The Riches", "Hung").

Meanwhile, Balcer is also busy with "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," which he co-created with Dick Wolf, and is writing a four-hour miniseries for the A and E network in the United States about Los Angeles in the mid-60s.

Although he's now based in the United States, Balcer said he's proud of his Canadian roots and keeps tabs on Canuck politics and entertainment when he can.

He said he's impressed by the quality of TV production north of the border.

"There's a great pool of talent in Canada and that'd be terrific to be able to access that pool of talent. There's stories that can only be done in Canada, there are locales, there's cultural traditions that are interesting to look at in Canada."

 
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