Here’s a snippet of an interview with writer and ‘repeat offender’ (that’s Law & Order fan code for a recurring guest player) Fran Lebowitz gave to Susannah McNeely in Ruminator’s August/ September 2005 issue
Susannah McNeely: You make a wonderful arraignment court judge on Law and Order.
Fran Lebowitz: I didn’t realize it was going to be a recurring part; I’m very pleased by that. I think I’ve done it about ten times now—about twice a season. And I have my own robe (at least I pretend that I have my own robe), which I put on the second I arrive on set. No one else puts their costume on right away, but I do. And, even if I’m there for 14 hours, I never take it off. The enjoyable part of this, for me, is not the acting, which is pretty tedious; the enjoyable part of this is wearing the robe, sitting on the bench. That bench is the best seat I’ve ever had in my life.
FL: Yes, you’re sitting above everyone else and they all have to look at you. It’s better than any other seat you could have, and I have a gavel, which I have really tried to integrate into my social life. But it just hasn’t caught on. It’s a thing I most enjoy in my life—it’s a sad thing to say, but it’s a true thing to say. And, of course, all true things are sad.
SM: [laughing] I would love to carry a gavel around.
FL: My other hobby, because I just love any job with a gavel, is auctioneer. And I so often have presided over charity auctions in New York that many years ago Sotheby’s sent me my own gavel. Now, the Sotheby’s gavel is infinitely more elegant—it came in a little velvet bag, with “Sotheby’s” inscribed in gold. It hangs in my library. I feel that everyone has occasion to use a gavel at various times everyday, they just don’t think of it.
SM: You’re right—it’s instantly empowering to bang a gavel.
FL: It’s fantastic. If people had gavels, there would be no wars. If every person in the world had a gavel and could bang it and get everyone’s attention right away and make their displeasure known, I believe the level of actual violence in the world would just disappear to practically nothing.
SM: I’ve heard you’re fairly new to watching TV. Do you have any other favorite shows? Does anything particularly appall you?
FL: Well, all of television’s appalling, but this is hardly a new statement.
SM: Do you watch the other Law and Order product spin-offs?
FL: I have, of course, watched all of them at one time or another. The one that’s most popular right now, the one on sex crimes …?
SM: Law and Order: SVU?
FL: That one. I can’t watch it—it makes me queasy. If you’re going to limit the show to the most creepy crimes, the show’s going to be creepy. Of course, this is also the reason why this version of Law and Order is the most popular. [laughs] I know the actors are very good, and the show is well-written, but I really don’t want to watch a show about child molestation and rape. Luckily for them, everyone else does. The one I really like is the least Law and Order-ish… I can’t remember his name …
SM: Is it the Law and Order spin-off with Vincent D’Onofrio? Criminal Intent? I love that one—it reminds me of Columbo.
FL: I love it too. But he’s not like Columbo, he’s like Sherlock Holmes. I was a great lover of Sherlock Holmes as a child, and that’s what I love about it. And it’s completely unrealistic. Unlike Law and Order, which seems pretty realistic most of the time, this character is completely unrealistic. You have this genius cop—and we all know, in the history of policemen, there’s never been a genius. It’s not the sort of gig that really attracts geniuses. It’s fun to imagine that a genius would actually be a policeman, though; and it’s our only opportunity to watch someone look at a dead body and start talking about Tibetan rituals. It’s funny, and I really like it.
SM: I find his monologue at the end of every episode—where he wraps everything up neatly and corners the bad guy into confessing—comforting, even if it’s the most unrealistic part of the show.
FL: You know, the reason it’s comforting is that it provides people who are disturbed with how idiotic the world is, with the idea that—should there be a very smart person in a terrible situation—that person would be listened to. That’s the thing that really attracts me to this show. Now, we all know that this guy would never be a cop. But we also know something much, much worse than that: anytime a person that smart appears someplace useful in society, they are not going to be listened to. Whereas, on this TV show, everyone, including his superiors, listens to him. More than that, they completely defer to him—the D.A., his captain. Why? Just because he’s smarter. We know the world works in exactly the opposite way. So, this kind of show provides a parallel universe for people who wish that were true. If life were anything like that TV show, George Bush could never be President. It just couldn’t happen if exceptional intelligence were highly valued. In fact, we live in a culture where intelligence, exceptional or not, is reviled.