NBC’s ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Tackles Donald Trump-Like Character in Episode That Drew Internal Scrutiny

Cynthia Littleton

NBC’s Law & Order: SVU has a long history of developing stories inspired by real-life headlines. This season, one of the show’s most provocative episodes is sure to be “Unstoppable,” which features a Donald Trump-esque character running for president who gets tangled up in a sordid case when several women come forward with damaging accusations.

Gary Cole stars as a character described by a source as a wealthy and boorish man who makes a run for the White House. Aspects of the story were said to be inspired by the civil lawsuit pending against Trump, the Republican nominee for president, by a woman who alleges she was raped by Trump when she was 13 in the mid-1990s. Trump’s attorneys have vehemently died the allegations by the woman identified in court documents as Jane Doe.

“Unstoppable,” penned by SVU veteran Julie Martin and showrunner Rick Eid, has been highly scrutinized internally at Wolf Entertainment, home of SVU, and by NBC brass. Sources said the episode was envisioned by the writing team as airing as the second installment of the SVU’s 18th season, which opened Sept. 21.

The episode is said to have undergone story adjustments along the way, changes that raised eyebrows among some SVU writers and actors. Last month NBC formally scheduled “Unstoppable” to air Oct. 12 but then took it off that date. At one point the episode was believed to be bound to air on Nov. 9, the day after Election Day. On Tuesday, NBC confirmed it would air on Oct. 26.

There had been concern that keeping the episode from airing until after the election would have been a politically motivated decision — a question that became moot with the final scheduling call. A source close to the situation noted that SVU episodes that hew closely to real-life characters, particularly political figures, usually come in for extra scrutiny for tone and fairness, even in a fictionalized setting. “Unstoppable” also features guest stars Peter Gallagher, Currie Graham, Meredith Travers and Bianca Amato.

NBC found itself in the thick of a Trump controversy last week that has had huge ramifications for his presidential campaign. The release of an audio recording from a 2005 Access Hollywood segment that captured Trump making lewd comments about women and bragging about using his celebrity to force himself on women has sparked outrage and prompted dozens of GOP leaders and members of Congress to distance themselves from his campaign.

Moreover, NBC has a long history of business with Trump, from his 11 years on as frontman of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice to the Miss Universe beauty pageant franchise that NBCUniversal co-owned with Trump until last year. In light of the Access Hollywood revelation, Trump’s actions on Apprentice and the pageants are being investigated by journalists for evidence of other incendiary behavior by the candidate.

In the hothouse environment of the 2016 presidential race, it’s no surprise that the SVU episode would get a few extra looks before making it to air.

(Pictured: Gary Cole, Donald Trump)

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