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Rene Balcer

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Rene Balcer

René Balcer
Rene Balcer, New York
Born (1954-02-09) February 9, 1954 (age 60)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

René Balcer (born February 9, 1954) is an Emmy-winning television writer, director, and showrunner.

Early life

He was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and attended Lower Canada College in Montreal. He earned his B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Communication Studies from Concordia University in 1978. He began his career as a journalist, covering the Yom Kippur War as a cameraman. He later worked as a reporter and editor for various Canadian publications, and made documentary films for the National Film Board of Canada. In 1980, he moved to Los Angeles, where he collaborated with the cult film director Monte Hellman on a number of film projects. He later worked for a variety of notable film producers including Francis Coppola, Steve Tisch and Mace Neufeld. In 1990 he wrote his first television project, the movie of the week Out on the Edge for Steve Tisch.


Balcer is most noted for writing and showrunning the television series Law & Order, and for creating and showrunning its spin-off series Law & Order: Criminal Intent. He also wrote for the series Star Trek: The Next Generation,[1] and has penned three made-for-television movies, one of which, Out On the Edge (1990), won the American Psychological Association Award for best television program.

Balcer won an Emmy in 1997 as Showrunner and Executive Producer of Law & Order.[2] He has also won a Peabody Award, a Writers Guild of America Award,[3] four Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America (three for his writing for Law & Order, and a fourth for Law & Order: Criminal Intent), a Career Award from the Reims International Television Festival, and a Career Angie Award from the International Mystery Writers Festival.

His work has been recognized outside the entertainment community: in 1999 and 2000, he received the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association for his Law & Order episodes "DWB" and "Hate"; in 2004, he received a Maggie Award from Planned Parenthood for his Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "The Third Horseman"; in 2010, he received the Champion of Justice award from the Washington, DC-based Alliance for Justice, for his work on the Law & Order episode "Memo from the Dark Side". In 2004, he was awarded the Alumnus of the Year from Concordia University. On November 17, 2008, he received an honorary Doctorate of Laws (LLD) from Concordia at their fall convocation and delivered the Commencement Address.[4]

Balcer has received additional recognitions, including being commissioned a Kentucky Colonel by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear in 2008; in the Season Five episode of The Sopranos, "In Camelot", Chris's writing friend JT (played by Tim Daly) tells Chris that he has a meeting with Rene Balcer, explaining that Balcer is "Dick Wolf's right-hand man!" At the North Dakota Museum of Art, Balcer's Law & Order episodes are played in a continuous loop in the installation Barton Benes Period Room: 21st Century Artist Studio.[5]

In October 2009, Balcer came under attack by right-wing bloggers, notably by Andrew Breitbart's "Big Hollywood" blog, for his episode "Memo From the Dark Side", which took the Bush Administration to task over its "torture memos".[6] Breitbart even enlisted former Law & Order actor Michael Moriarty to accuse Balcer of being a Marxist agent provocateur.[7] Three weeks later, those same blogs reversed course, when NBC aired "Dignity", a Balcer episode on abortion that conservatives conceded was even-handed.[8] Though Balcer continues to be a favorite whipping boy of right-wing blogs and pundits,[9] he is unfazed by the attacks, saying: "What many of these critics fail to realize is that Law & Order has always been an equal-opportunity offender, and if a Democratic administration had implemented this despicable (torture) policy, our show would have taken them to task for it."[10]

Balcer was showrunner for Law & Order: Criminal Intent through the fifth season. In March 2007, Balcer returned to Law & Order at the end of its 17th season as executive producer and head writer. He continued on as showrunner through the show's 20th and final season, writing and directing the show's series finale "Rubber Room", which the New York Times called the "best finale of all" that season's TV series.[11] In June 2010, he was hired as showrunner of the Law & Order spinoff, Law & Order: Los Angeles.[12] LOLA, as it was called, was cancelled after one season, with Balcer again writing and directing the series finale. Balcer then rewrote the series finale of Law & Order Criminal Intent, bringing to a close his long association with the Law & Order franchise.

In 2012, Balcer created the series Jo,[13] an English-language cop drama set in Paris and starring Jean Reno, Jill Hennessy, Tom Austen and Orla Brady. The series began shooting in Paris in July 2012, with Balcer as showrunner and head writer.[14] In 2013, he served as showrunner and executive producer of the CBS pilot, The Ordained, with Charlie Cox, Sam Neil and Hope Davis.[15]

In 2013, Balcer wrote and directed a short video shot in China, Watching Tea Leaves in Shanxi,[16] a zen meditation on the dynamics of tea leaves in fluid. The video is available on YouTube.

Balcer is currently developing a series for the USA Network about the Internet entitled DarkNet.[17] He is also developing a series with Owen Wilson for the Starz channel entitled WonderWorld, about two straight-arrow FBI agents in the 1980s who infiltrate the violent Mob-controlled porn industry.[18] And he is writing a four-hour miniseries about Los Angeles in the 1960s in conjunction with George Clooney's Smokehouse Productions and the A&E Network, and adapting Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy for Sony TV.

Balcer counts as his mentors the film director Monte Hellman, the screenwriter Walon Green, and the noted Canadian film critic and teacher Fr. Marc Gervais. He has worked with such actors as Sam Waterston, Laura Linney, Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Jill Clayburgh, Terrence Howard, Jerry Orbach, Leslie Caron, Richard Jenkins, Neil Patrick Harris, Denis O'Hare, Vincent D'Onofrio, Whoopi Goldberg, Malcolm McDowell, Jane Alexander, William Macy, Eric Bogosian, Julianna Marguiles, January Jones, Michael York, Griffin Dunne, Geraldine Chaplin, Hope Davis, Sam Neil - and Stephen Colbert.

Other activities

In the summer of 2011, Balcer collaborated with Chinese artist Xu Bing on an artwork that was part of Xu Bing's exhibition Tobacco Project Virginia at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in September of that year.[19] The Washington Post named Tobacco Project Virginia one of the Top Ten art exhibitions of 2011.[20] Balcer's contribution—a poem entitled "Backbone", meant as a tribute to the black women who picked tobacco—was integrated by Xu Bing into an installation. The work is now part of the VMFA's permanent collection.

Balcer later turned the poem into a blues song, "Backbone", featuring the blues artists Captain Luke on vocals and Big Ron Hunter on guitar and produced by Michael Sackler-Berner.[21] Tobacco Project has traveled to the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Connecticut, where it was on view from January to June 2012.[22] The exhibit is next scheduled to travel to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Balcer produced a film documenting Xu Bing's Tobacco Project: Virginia (2011).[23]

In 2006, Balcer donated a collection of works by the Japanese woodblock artist Kawase Hasui to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Rene and Carolyn Balcer Collection comprises some 800 works and includes woodblocks prints, watercolors, screens, sketches and other works and writings by Hasui.[24] A major exhibit of the collection, Hasui: Water & Shadow, is scheduled to open at the VMFA in November 2014.

In 2010, through his Mattawin Company, Balcer sponsored the publication of a 13-volume catalogue of the works of the Wuming (No Name) Group, a cooperative of underground Chinese artists during the Cultural Revolution.[25] In the fall of 2011, Balcer and his wife Carolyn organized and sponsored the exhibition Blooming in the Shadows: Unofficial Chinese Art 1974–1985 at New York's China Institute, featuring works from the Wuming, Stars and Grass groups of experimental artists.[26] A larger iteration of the exhibit, Light Before Dawn, opened at the new Asia Society Museum in Hong Kong in May 2013.[27][28]

The exhibit was accompanied by a new documentary written and produced by Balcer, The No Name Painting Association, about the Wuming Group.[29] The documentary was an official selection at the London International Film Festival, the Williamsburg International Film Festival, the Global Peace Film Festival, the Byron Bay International Film Festival, the Weyauwega International Film Festival and the Anchorage International Film Festival, and it won the Best Documentary Short Award at the California International Film Festival.

In 2011, Mattawin sponsored the publication of a book of photographs by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei New York 1983–1993.[30]

Balcer has lectured widely about writing, art, and the duties of artists in free societies, notably at Columbia, NYU, Harvard, UCLA and Loyola Marymount; in Moscow (Internews), Paris (Sorbonne), Beijing (Central Academy of Fine Arts), Toronto (Canadian Film Centre), Deauville American Film Festival, Banff World Media Festival, Tokyo (the International Ukiyo-e Society), and Brisbane (SPAA Conference).


On his writing: "I write about power, that's my real subject - how you get it, what you do with it, how you abuse it. I'm equally wary of liberals and conservatives."[31]

On the duties of artists: "It is true that one of the first acts of tyrants is to erase history, to wipe out the recorded memory of a people. With that in mind, it's important to remember that the work that we do as writers, artists and performers will form an essential part of the collective memory that future generations will draw upon. And so we owe it to those future generations to defend that memory and be honest witnesses to our times." In a speech to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, 12/8/09.[32]

On torture: "Torture injures everyone who comes into contact with it and corrodes the country that abides it."[33]

On Justice: "The law against murder applies to all. It can tolerate no exception. There is one law. And when that law is broken it is the duty of every officer of any court to rise in defense of that law, and bring their full power and diligence to bear against the law breaker. Because Man has only those rights he can defend. Only those rights." Spoken by District Attorney Jack McCoy in the Law & Order episode "Vaya Con Dios"[34]

On the Iraq War: "I’m sympathetic to the decent and hapless footsoldier into whose lap falls the unenviable duty of carrying out fubar policies."[33]

On American politics: "We by nature mistrust authority no matter who wields it—and I think that’s healthy. Though I disagreed with him on the facts, I fully support Rep. Joe Wilson’s right to call out President Obama—I just wish Democrats had had the balls to call out President Bush when he was peddling his lies to Congress."[33]

On Los Angeles: "In L.A., the only thing within walking distance is your car."[35]


"If you're going to play stickball in Canarsie you better learn Brooklyn rules." ADA Jack McCoy in the Law & Order episode "Blue Bamboo".

"I'm playing legal tiddlywinks with these punks. What I'd really like to do is take 'em up to Battery Park and hang 'em by the scrotum." ADA Jack McCoy in the Law & Order episode "Thrill".

"Just how far up your ass is your head?!" DA Jack McCoy in the Law & Order episode "Rubber Room".

"Nobody's reasonable when they're in love. That's the whole point of it." Det. Robert Goren in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

"Beauty, brains, and a complete psycho. My dream girl." Det. Mike Logan in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

"Your client's not insane... he's in love. Maybe it's hard for you to tell the two apart, but the law can." ADA Ron Carver in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Crazy".

"The search for truth...It's not for the faint-hearted." Det. Robert Goren in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

"The more I know, the less I sleep." Det. Alexandra Eames in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

"Bad guys do what good guys dream." Det. Robert Goren in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "One".

"Oh, the Patriot Act. I read that in its original title, 1984." Det. Mike Logan in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Stress Position".

"It's not enough to do good. You have to be seen doing good." DA Arthur Branch in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "The Wee Small Hours".

"See? That's what happens when you keep people from doing what they do best: It makes them insane." Det. Robert Goren in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

See also


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • The apocrypha Interview: Rene Balcer by Kitteridge
  • Alumni Recognition Awards — Concordia University
  • Balcer debates FCC commissioner on TV Violence Wall Street Journal
  • Vanity Fair Article
  • CBC Interview with Rene Balcer and Tonight Show's Peter Sears
  • September 25 2009 interview by's Glenn Greenwald on torture and L & O 20th Season premiere
  • Sept. 21 2009 Interview about L & O and LOCI's new seasons
  • NPR Interview with Rene Balcer and Walter Moseley
  • NPR interview with Balcer re:choosing stories
  • Harper's Magazine Interview with Rene Balcer
  • America Magazine Interview with Rene Balcer
  • Article on Balcer's Beijing Speech
  • El Tiempo (Colombia) Spanish language interview with Balcer
  • NPR interview with Balcer on 5/24/10 re: series finale
  • Balcer-produced film about Xu Bing's Tobacco Project at VMFA,
  • Video of Balcer at Occupy Wall Street
  • Concordia University Honorary Degree Citation, November 2008, Concordia University Records
  • [16]
  • [17], Watching Tea Leaves in Shanxi video
  • [18], The No Name Painting Association, documentary about underground Chinese artists during the Cultural Revolution
  • [19], Xu Bing Tobacco Project Virginia (Redux), a behind-the-the-scenes look at artist Xu Bing as he prepares a new exhibit.

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