LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a story seemingly ripped from current headlines, "Law & Order" begins a new season next week with an episode featuring a New York stockbroker who is beaten to death in broad daylight.
As Wall Street grapples with the worst economic crisis in decades, the episode is one of those uncanny coincidences that has kept viewers tuning into the longest running prime time drama currently on U.S. television.
But series creator Dick Wolf said the November5 season opener was "just an unfortunate but amusing coincidence" because the episode was written months before the financial collapse that has brought turmoil to anyone with a mortgage, savings account or mutual fund.
"It was obviously written before the crisis hit but we have over the years been prescient," Wolf told reporters on Friday. "A lot of things have shown up on the show almost simultaneously with events that have occurred in real life."
As for the current economic melt-down turning up in future episodes of the New York-based crime drama -- perhaps in the form of white-collar financial crime -- Wolf was uncertain.
"It is a question of coming up with a story that starts with a murder that is interesting and that does not appear to just be exploiting a specific situation but utilizing it as a lens as to what's abroad in the land," he said.
Polygamy and the environment are among other themes in the 19th season of the show, which is bidding to surpass the classic western "Gunsmoke" as the longest running prime time drama series in U.S. television history. "Gunsmoke" aired for 20 years from 1955 to 1975.
Wolf, 61, says "Law & Order", as well as its "Special Victims Unit" and "Criminal Intent" spin-offs, has never run short of ideas, partly because the writers use the front page of the New York Post tabloid as a kind of bible.
"It (the New York Post) has not been a bad piece of source material. We can't come up with stories better than the headless body found in the topless bar. For years, we have stolen the headline, but not the specificity of the body copy," he said.
As for the longevity of the show, which is still a ratings stalwart for NBC despite many changes of cast, Wolf called himself "one of the luckiest people in the history of show business."
"The odds of this happening to anybody are slim to none and I am the beneficiary of the hard work and dedication of hundreds of people."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte