René Balcer

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René Balcer
René Balcer
Born (1954-02-09) February 9, 1954 (age 63)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Occupation Writer, 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 Montréal. 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. 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 1990 he wrote his first television project, the movie of the week Out on the Edge for Steve Tisch.


Balcer is most 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,[1] 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.[2] He has also won a Peabody Award, a Writers Guild of America Award,[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

In October 2009, Balcer came under attack by right-wing bloggers, notably by Andrew Breitbart's "Big Hollywood" blog, for his episode "Memo From the Dark Side", which took the Bush Administration to task over its "torture memos".[6] Breitbart even enlisted former Law & Order actor Michael Moriarty to accuse Balcer of being a Marxist agent provocateur.[7] Three weeks later, those same blogs reversed course, when NBC aired "Dignity", a Balcer episode on abortion that conservatives conceded was even-handed.[8] He was unfazed by the attacks, saying: "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 2017 in Resolute, Copenhagen, London and Winnipeg, to air on the CBC in October 2017.[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.

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] The series stars Edie Falco, Heather Graham, Josh Charles, Elizabeth Reaser, Lolita Davidovich, Julianne Nicholson and Anthony Edwards. It aired in the Fall of 2017 on NBC.

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

Balcer counts as his mentors the film director Monte Hellman, the screenwriter Walon Green, the director Edwin Sherin, and the noted Canadian film critic and teacher Fr. Marc Gervais. He has worked with such actors as Sam Waterston, Edie Falco, Laura Linney, Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Jill Clayburgh, Terrence Howard, Jerry Orbach, Leslie Caron, Richard Jenkins, Neil Patrick Harris, Denis O'Hare, Vincent D'Onofrio, Whoopi Goldberg, Malcolm McDowell, Jane Alexander, William Macy, Eric Bogosian, Julianna Marguiles, January Jones, Anthony Edwards, Heather Graham, Michael York, Griffin Dunne, Geraldine Chaplin, Hope Davis, Sam Neil, Phylicia Rashad, Tim Blake Nelson, Mario Van Peebles, Anika Noni Rose – and Stephen Colbert.

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.[26] The Washington Post named Tobacco Project Virginia one of the Top Ten art exhibitions of 2011.[27] 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.[28] Backbone was exhibited at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Connecticut in 2012,[29] the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Asia Society Hong Kong Center in 2014, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2015[30] and SCADA in 2015-16. Balcer produced a film documenting Xu Bing's Tobacco Project: Virginia (2011).[31]

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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] A larger iteration of the exhibit, Light Before Dawn, opened at the new Asia Society Museum in Hong Kong in May 2013.[35][36]

The exhibit was accompanied by a new documentary written and produced by Balcer, The No Name Painting Association, about the Wuming Group.[37] 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.[38] In 2014, it sponsored the art exhibit Oil and Water: Reinterpreting Ink at New York's Museum of Chinese in America.[39]

Balcer has contributed essays to Impressions: The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America,[40] and It Begins with Metamorphosis: Xu Bing.[41]

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
  • 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
  • Blue Sky (2013) Video Short
  • For Justice (2015) TV Movie
  • Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders (2017) Mini-series
  • Above The Drowning Sea (2017) Documentary

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

  • 1996 Won for Law & Order

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 World Media Festival

Reims International Television Festival

  • 2006 Nominated for 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

CalShorts 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

Madrid International Film Festival

  • 2014 Nominated for Best Documentary Short

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nemecek, Larry (2003). The Star Trek, The Next Generation Companion (3rd ed.). Simon and Schuster. p. 192. ISBN 0-7434-5798-6. 
  2. ^ "Why We Love Crime Fiction". National Public Radio. August 5, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  3. ^ 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]
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 15, 2016. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  6. ^ News, Breitbart. "Breitbart". Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  7. ^ News, Breitbart. "Breitbart". Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  8. ^ News, Breitbart. "Breitbart". Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  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][permanent dead link]
  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". 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. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 7, 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  27. ^ "Philip Kennicott's top art and architecture of 2011". The Washington Post. September 11, 2001. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  28. ^ 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. 
  29. ^ Kirk, Sarah (February 10, 2012). "Ink | Contemplating Nicotine: Xu Bing's "Tobacco Project" | Art21 Blog". Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  30. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ Video on YouTube
  32. ^ "Enriched collections". Apollo Magazine. April 24, 2010. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  33. ^ [2][permanent dead link]
  34. ^ "BLOOMING IN THE SHADOWS: UNOFFICIAL CHINESE ART, 1974–1985 – ArtfixDaily Calendar". December 11, 2011. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  35. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 26, 2016. Retrieved 2013-04-15. 
  36. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 29, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-15. 
  37. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 7, 2016. Retrieved 2013-04-15. 
  38. ^ "Ai Weiwei: New York 1983 – 1993, Photo Exhibit and Book". Gail Pellett Productions. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  39. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 1, 2016. Retrieved 2014-06-16. 
  40. ^ [3][permanent dead link]
  41. ^ [4][permanent dead link]

External links[edit]