René Balcer

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René Balcer
René Balcer
Born (1954-02-09) February 9, 1954 (age 64)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
OccupationWriter, producer, director of TV and film, showrunner

René Balcer (born February 9, 1954) is a Canadian-American television writer, director, producer, and showrunner.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Montreal, Quebec, and attended Lower Canada College in Montreal. He studied creative writing at Concordia University under noted Canadian poet Deborah Eibel, and earned his BA Magna Cum Laude in Communication Studies from Concordia in 1978. While a student, he took a six-week seminar with Jean-Luc Godard and worked as director John Huston's personal assistant during the filming of Angela. He began his career as a journalist covering the Yom Kippur War as a cameraman.[1] He later worked as a reporter, editor and film critic for various Canadian publications, and made documentary films at the National Film Board of Canada. In 1980, he moved to Los Angeles, where he collaborated with cult film director Monte Hellman on a number of film projects. He later worked for a variety of film producers including Francis Coppola, Steve Tisch and Mace Neufeld. In 1989 he wrote his first television project, the movie of the week Out on the Edge for Steve Tisch.


Balcer is 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,[2] and penned three made-for-television movies, one of which, Out on the Edge (1990), won the American Psychological Association Award of Excellence.

Balcer won an Emmy in 1997 as Showrunner and Executive Producer of Law & Order.[3] He has also won a Peabody Award, a Writers Guild of America Award,[4] 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 Margaret Sanger 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-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.[5]

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 René Balcer, explaining that Balcer is "Dick Wolf's right-hand man!" Balcer's altercation with a Fox employee during the Writers Guild strike on January 10, 2008 became the subject of a joke by David Letterman during his monologue on January 12, 2008. 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.[6]

In October 2009, Balcer came under attack by right-wing bloggers for an episode of Law & Order about the Bush Administration's Enhanced Interrogation policy.[7] Writing in Breitbart, former Law & Order star Michael Moriarty accused Balcer of being a "Marxist agent provocateur."[8] Balcer said of the attacks, "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."[9]

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.[10] In June 2010, he was hired as showrunner of the Law & Order spinoff, Law & Order: Los Angeles.[11] 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,[12] 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.[13] In 2013, he served as showrunner and executive producer of the CBS pilot, The Ordained, with Charlie Cox, Sam Neil and Hope Davis.[14]

In 2013, Balcer made two short videos: Watching Tea Leaves in Shanxi,[15] was shot in China and is a zen meditation on the dynamics of tea leaves in fluid, the video is available on Vimeo[16] and YouTube;[17] the other, Blue Sky,[18] was shot in Nice, France and is an "unhinged zen piece" featuring the music of Chinese contemporary composer Huang Ruo, the video is available on Vimeo[19] and YouTube.[20]

In 2015, Balcer wrote and produced For Justice, a pilot for CBS directed by Ava DuVernay,[21] and developed a series about the porn world in the early 1980s with Owen Wilson for the Starz channel entitled WonderWorld,.[22] He is currently in pre-production on a mystery drama The Council set in the Canadian Arctic for the CBC and NBC, which will start shooting in Spring 2019 in Resolute, Copenhagen, London and Winnipeg, to air on the CBC in 2020.[23]

In 2017, Balcer co-directed, co-wrote and produced the documentary Above the Drowning Sea,[24] narrated by Julianna Margulies and Tony Goldwyn. The documentary tells the epic story of thousands of Austrian Jewish refugees who escaped the Holocaust and found refuge in Shanghai. The film has been the Official Selection at 23 international film festivals, winning the Golden Dragon Award for Best Documentary at the Ferrara Film Festival along with other awards and nominations at other festivals.

In the summer of 2017, Balcer re-teamed with Dick Wolf to write and produce the limited series Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.[25] Created by Balcer, the series stars Edie Falco, Miles G. Villanueva, and Gus Halper. With Heather Graham, Josh Charles, Elizabeth Reaser, Lolita Davidovich, Julianne Nicholson and Anthony Edwards in co-starring roles. The eight episodes aired in the Fall of 2017 on NBC. An NBC rep told TV by the Numbers that the series is placed on hiatus, that there are no plans to bring "True Crime" back at the moment leaving Balcer, Wolf, and his team to go to the network with a compelling case to dramatize, NBC'd consider a second run for the show.[26]

Balcer has served on the jury for Best Drama Series at the 2013 Monte-Carlo Television Festival,[27] and on the jury for Best Television Miniseries or Film at the 2014 Shanghai Television Festival.[28]

Other activities[edit]

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.[29] The Washington Post named Tobacco Project Virginia one of the Top Ten art exhibitions of 2011.[30] Balcer's contribution—a poem entitled "Backbone" using Virginia tobacco plantation brand names as a tribute to the enslaved black women who picked the 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.[31] Backbone was exhibited at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Connecticut in 2012,[32] the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Asia Society Hong Kong Center in 2014, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2015[33] at SCADA in 2015-16, and at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing in the fall of 2018. Balcer produced a film documenting Xu Bing's Tobacco Project: Virginia (2011).[34]

In 2006, Balcer donated a collection of works by the Japanese woodblock artist Kawase Hasui to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The René and Carolyn Balcer Collection comprises some 800 works and includes woodblocks prints, watercolors, screens, sketches and other works and writings by Hasui.[35] A major exhibit of the collection, Hasui: Water & Shadow, opened at the VMFA in November 2014 and ran until March 2015.

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.[36] 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.[37] A larger iteration of the exhibit, Light Before Dawn, opened at the new Asia Society Museum in Hong Kong in May 2013.[38][39]

The exhibit was accompanied by a new documentary written and produced by Balcer, The No Name Painting Association, about the Wuming Group.[40] The documentary was an official selection at some thirty festivals in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, garnering a dozen awards and nominations.

In 2011, Mattawin sponsored the publication of a book of photographs by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei New York 1983–1993.[41] In 2014, it sponsored the art exhibit Oil and Water: Reinterpreting Ink at New York's Museum of Chinese in America.[42]

Balcer has contributed essays to Impressions: The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America,[43] and It Begins with Metamorphosis: Xu Bing.[44]

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


  • Averbach Vs. Zak (1976) Short
  • Solid State (1976) Short
  • Turcot Interchange (1978) Short
  • Twist of Fate (1979) Short
  • Out on the Edge (1989) TV movie
  • Nasty Boys (1990) TV series
  • Stranger in the Family (1991) TV movie
  • Law & Order (1990–2010) TV series
  • Star Trek:The Next Generation (1992) TV Series
  • The Crow (1994) Feature Film - Uncredited Rewrite
  • Judge Dredd (1995) Feature Film - Uncredited Rewrite
  • People V (1995) TV movie
  • Mission Protection Rapprochée (1997) TV series
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999) TV series
  • Hopewell (2000) TV movie
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001–2011) TV series
  • Proof of Lies (2006) TV movie
  • Paris Criminal Inquiries (2007–2008) TV series
  • Law & Order Criminal Intent Russia (2007–2009) TV series
  • Law & Order: UK (2009–present) TV series
  • Xu Bing Tobacco Project Virginia (2011) Documentary Short
  • Law & Order LA (2011) TV series
  • The Ordained (2013) TV movie
  • Watching Tea Leaves in Shanxi (2013) Video Short
  • Jo (2013) TV series
  • The No Name Painting Association (2013) Documentary Short
  • Blue Sky (2013) Video Short
  • For Justice (2015) TV Movie
  • Big Orange Predator (2016) Video Short
  • The Legend of Embroidery (2017) Documentary Short
  • Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders (2017) Mini-series
  • Above The Drowning Sea (2017) Documentary Feature

Awards and nominations[edit]

Emmy Award

  • 1994 Nominated for Best Drama Series Law & Order as producer
  • 1995 Nominated for Best Drama Series Law & Order as supervising producer
  • 1996 Nominated for Best Drama Series Law & Order as co-executive producer
  • 1997 Won for Best Drama Series Law & Order as executive producer
  • 1998 Nominated for Best Drama Series Law & Order as executive producer
  • 1999 Nominated for Best Drama Series Law & Order as executive producer
  • 2000 Nominated for Best Drama Series Law & Order as executive producer

Writers Guild of America

  • 1998 Won for Best Episode Episodic Drama
  • 2000 Nominated for Best Episode Episodic Drama

Peabody Award

  • 1997 Won for Law & Order

Golden Globes

  • 1998 Nominated for Best Television Series - Drama Law & Order as executive producer
  • 1999 Nominated for Best Television Series - Drama Law & Order as executive producer

Edgar AwardMystery Writers of America

  • 1993 Won for Best Television Episode + One Nomination
  • 1994 Nominated for Best Television Episode
  • 1995 Nominated for Best Television Episode
  • 1998 Two Nominations for Best Television Episode
  • 1999 Won for Best Television Episode
  • 2000 Won for Best Television Episode + Two Nominations
  • 2003 Nominated for Best Television Episode
  • 2004 Nominated for Best Television Episode
  • 2005 Won for Best Television Episode + Three Nominations

Producers Guild of America Award

  • 1997 Won for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television

American Psychological Association

  • 1989 Award of Excellence

Advocates for Youth

  • 1995 Nancy Susan Reynolds Award

International Monitor Award

  • 1999 Best Achievement for Film Originated Television Series

ABA Silver Gavel Award for the Media & the Arts

Planned Parenthood

Banff Television Festival

Reims International Television Festival

  • 2006 Best Series or Serial
  • 2006 Career Award

International Mystery Writers Festival

  • 2010 Career Angie Award

Alliance for Justice

  • 2010 Champion of Justice Award

Alliance for Children's Rights

  • 2010 National Champion for Children Award

Indie Fest

  • 2013 Award of Merit for Best Documentary Short

California International Shorts Festival

  • 2013 Won for Best Documentary Short

Accolade Competition

  • 2013 Award of Merit for Best Short Documentary

Best Shorts Competition

  • 2013 Award of Excellence for Best Short Documentary

Kansas City Film Festival

  • 2014 Won for Best US/International Short Documentary

Richmond International Film Festival

  • 2014 Best of Festival for Documentary Short Film

USA Film Festival

  • 2014 Nominated for Grand Prize Best Documentary Short

Williamsburg Independent Film Festival

  • 2014 Distinctive Honors for Best Documentary Short

Portsmouth International Film Festival

  • 2014 Won for Best Short Documentary

Madrid International Film Festival

  • 2014 Nominated for Best Documentary Short
  • 2018 Nominated for Best Director of a Feature Documentary
  • 2018 Nominated for Scientific and Educational Award

Miami Film Festival

  • 2018 Nominated for Knight Documentary Achievement Award

Pasadena International Film Festival

  • 2018 Nominated for Best Documentary

Ferrara Film Festival

  • 2018 Golden Dragon Award for Best Documentary
  • 2018 Nominated for Best Cinematography for a Feature

New Jersey International Film Festival

  • 2018 Honorable Mention, Best Documentary

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Drowning Sea Tells Tale of Jewish Refugees who fled to China". Jerusalem Post. October 2, 2017.
  2. ^ Nemecek, Larry (2003). The Star Trek, The Next Generation Companion (3rd ed.). Simon and Schuster. p. 192. ISBN 0-7434-5798-6.
  3. ^ "Why We Love Crime Fiction". National Public Radio. August 5, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  4. ^ Mahoney, Baylea (2009). "René Balcer, Writer and Executive Producer, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" added to Banff World Television Festival Master Class Lineup". Banff World Television Festival. Retrieved 2010-01-08.[dead link]
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 15, 2016. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  7. ^ "The People v. The Torture Team: Six Questions for Law & Order's René Balcer—By Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine)". Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  8. ^ "CBC steps into the cold with Balcer-By Andrew Fry (Drama Quarterly)". March 23, 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  9. ^ "The People v. The Torture Team: Six Questions for Law & Order's René Balcer—By Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine)". Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  10. ^ Hale, Mike (May 25, 2010). "A 'Law & Order' Farewell: These Were Their Stories -". Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  11. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (May 19, 2010). "'L&O' Veteran Rene Balcer To Run 'LOLA'".
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on November 3, 2016. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 22, 2014. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 4, 2016. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 15, 2016. Retrieved 2015-02-06.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved 2015-02-06.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 25, 2016. Retrieved 2013-12-21.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
  20. ^ Video on YouTube
  21. ^ "Ava DuVernay: "Selma" Director to Direct "For Justice" Pilot from Rene Balcer". Variety. February 10, 2015.
  22. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (October 31, 2013). "Starz, Owen Wilson Developing FBI Drama 'WonderWorld'". The Hollywood Reporter.
  23. ^ "Law & Order Veteran Rene Balcer Nabs 10-Episode Order for Arctic Drama". The Hollywood Reporter. March 16, 2016.
  24. ^ "Julianna Margulies and Tony Goldwyn to Narrate Rene Balcer's Documentary "Above the Drowning Sea"". Deadline. March 1, 2017.
  25. ^ "Rene Balcer set NBC's "Law & Order: True Crime Menendez Murders". Deadline. July 15, 2016.
  26. ^ Porter, Rick (May 14, 2018). "'Law & Order True Crime' isn't canceled, but it's also not coming back next season". Zap2It/Screener TV. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
  27. ^ "2013 Juries" (PDF). Monte-Carlo Television Festival. June 2013.
  28. ^ "20th Shanghai TV Festival Jury Introduction". STVF. June 2014.
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 7, 2012. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  30. ^ "Philip Kennicott's top art and architecture of 2011". The Washington Post. September 11, 2001. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  31. ^ Steger, Martha (May 9, 2012). "Burning Bridges | Arts and Culture | Style Weekly – Richmond, VA local news, arts, and events". Style Weekly. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  32. ^ Kirk, Sarah (February 10, 2012). "Ink | Contemplating Nicotine: Xu Bing's "Tobacco Project" | Art21 Blog". Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  33. ^ Carey, Chanda (July 1, 2015). "Xu Bing:Erasure and Impermanence".
  34. ^ Video on YouTube
  35. ^ "Enriched collections". Apollo Magazine. April 24, 2010. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  36. ^ [2][permanent dead link]
  37. ^ "BLOOMING IN THE SHADOWS: UNOFFICIAL CHINESE ART, 1974–1985 – ArtfixDaily Calendar". December 11, 2011. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  38. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 26, 2016. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  39. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 29, 2013. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  40. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 7, 2016. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  41. ^ "Ai Weiwei: New York 1983 – 1993, Photo Exhibit and Book". Gail Pellett Productions. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  42. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 1, 2016. Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  43. ^ [3][permanent dead link]
  44. ^ [4][permanent dead link]

External links[edit]