Tonight is the TV event of the season: Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders premieres. Honestly, if you aren’t excited, you haven’t been paying attention, or possibly you are missing the part of your brain that craves true crime TV like the powerful heroin it is.
There is nothing new about true crime. Popularized by Edmund Pearson, a Harvard man, true crime as a genre gained massive popularity in the 1920s with “Studies in Murder” and the subsequent, aptly named, “More Studies in Murder.” But True Crime is really hitting a renaissance, with podcasts like My Favorite Murder and shows like American Crime Story: OJ Simpson.
And Dick Wolf just had to ride that True Crime wave. Why? Because Dick Wolf makes popular shows. He’s kind of the best at it. At any given time Dick Wolf-created TV shows are playing in millions of hospital rooms across America on up to 35 channels, one of which is always TNT. But Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders is more important than just a cash grab that I will be 100% watching, it is the final piece to a puzzle that I have been working on a long time.
For those who aren’t huge Wolf-heads like me, you might have noticed that characters from one Dick Wolf franchise often do crossovers into each other. Law and Order: SVU detectives appear on Law and Order. Chicago P.D. characters are for some reason in New York (and far out of jurisdiction) but still crime fight alongside Olivia Benson. Even failed Dick Wolf shows get crossovers. Remember Conviction? Law and Order: Trial By Jury? In Plain Sight? Of course you don’t. But they all got crossover episodes with more popular Dick Wolf titles. There is even a whole Wikipedia article on it.
That means all these shows happen in the same universe, the DickWolfaverse, if you will. And in this universe, Olivia Benson is real, which means it is better than our universe. But Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders throws a wrench into this universe. The Menendez brothers aren’t just “ripped from the headlines.” They were real headlines, no ripping needed. They are real people, who really did a murder.
How can this be? How can real people also exist in the DickWolfaverse?
Well, maybe they always did. It all comes down to one man. A man named Munch. No, not actor Richard Belzer– John Munch himself. Munch is the only character from the DickWolfaverse that appears in multiple other TV shows outside the confines of the DickWolfaverse.
John Munch is famous for being on SVU, but he first appeared on Homicide: Life on the Streets (not even a Dick Wolf show), as a detective in Baltimore. He also appears on non-DickWolfaverse crime shows such as The Wire and The X-Files. Which on some level makes sense. Crime happens in New York, more crime happens in Baltimore, and also there are two loose cannons out there in a suspiciously Vancouver-looking DC, but it is pretty heavily classified and unsolved. These crime shows can all coexist.
But Munch doesn’t stop there. He also traverses genres, appearing on Arrested Development, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and 30 Rock.
Most crime shows don’t feature celebrities playing themselves (though there is one very strange X-Files episode where Gary Shandling and Téa Leoni play themselves).
You may remember Conan O’Brien playing himself on 30 Rock. A show that also had an appearance by Detective Munch. Is it the same Munch? Can we say that Arrested Development, which featured Conan’s sidekick Andy Richter as himself, and 30 Rock take place in the same universe?
It goes deeper. 30 Rock also guest starred Kelsey Grammer as Kelsey Grammer. But Grammer also appears as himself in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a show that conveniently also features Detective Munch.
But what does this all have to do with the Menendez Murders? I’m glad you asked. The DickWolfaverse can exist in perfect harmony with true crime, because it is OUR universe. The one we are all living in. It’s a universe that has Detective Munch and Andy Richter, and Kelsey Grammer, and a lot of Andy Cohen playing himself all over the place, and all the other amazing celebs that we love in our own world. Meaning the DickWolfaverse also has the celebrities we love to hate, our Taylor Swifts, our Robert Kardashians, our, dare I say, two young boys who killed their parents in Beverly Hills in 1989.
And I am happy that we are all in the DickWolfaverse. It’s a magic place. One where criminals are caught, rape kits actually get processed, and I don’t know, fires happen in Chicago (full disclosure, I am 24 and live on a coast, so of course, I have not seen Chicago Fire). But it’s a comforting place where cops don’t shoot unarmed black men at an alarming rate. It’s a universe where… okay so it’s not our universe. But maybe it can be. Maybe it means changing our police forces, until our real life forces are filled with real world Detective Munches. Or, preferably, Bensons.
And watch Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, tonight at 10/9c on NBC, mostly because I need someone to keep talking to about it.