The main story on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Sunday, centered on the long-running, hugely popular crime drama, Law & Order, which first aired in 1990. Oliver called out the show for purposely mischaracterizing policing in the United States.
“It’s presenting a world where the cops can always figure out who did it, defense attorney’s are irritating obstacles to be overcome, and even if a cop roughs up a suspect, it’s all in pursuit of a just outcome,” Oliver said, soon adding, “Underneath it all, it is a commercial, and a commercial produced by a man who is, in his own words, unabashedly pro-law enforcement. And he is very good at selling things. And in this instance, he’s selling a complete fantasy that many people in this country are only too happy to buy.”
Oliver referenced a 2015 study to point out that shows like Law & Order have skewed the opinions of viewers when it comes to law enforcement.
“One study found, viewers of crime dramas are more likely to believe the police are successful at lowering crime, use force only when necessary and that misconduct does not typically lead to false confessions,” Oliver said. “Which would be great if it were true, but if you’re watching this show, you probably know it is not.”
Oliver went on to quote a writer from the show who said it’s in their best interest to paint police in a positive light, along with airing clips of actors from Law & Order saying law enforcement officers have thanked them for doing so.
“One writer who’s worked on the show said, ‘…there was always the sense that if we told stories that reflected too badly on the police, the N.Y.P.D. could make it very difficult for us to shoot in New York.’ Which does make sense, doesn’t it? The N.Y.P.D is famously anti-shooting, unless they’re the ones doing it.”
Oliver concluded by quoting a 2019 tweet from one of the stars of Law & Order: SVU, Ice-T.
“It’s an ad for a defective product,” Oliver said, “because, if I may quote one last time from the library of Alexandria that is Ice-T’s Twitter account, ‘You gotta KNOW who the F you’re dealing with. Could be the Cops…’”
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver airs Sundays at 11 p.m. on HBO.
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