Is the "Law & Order" episode airing Friday directly based on the horrific crash that killed West Babylon native Diane Schuler and seven others on the Taconic Parkway on July 26?
Or is this TV chestnut up to its old tricks - borrowing a little here, a little there, for its own dramatic purposes?
NBC Tuesday said the episode, titled "Doped," will air Friday at 9 p.m. This is the same episode that a recent New York Post story said was based on the crash, and which a relative of those killed as well as a spokesman for the Schuler family criticized.
A spokeswoman for the show later said the episode was fictitious but declined to comment on whether any part was drawn from real life.
The Post story, however, described an Oct. 15 shoot along Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem, with a woman driving "her blue Chevy Astro minivan, packed with kids" on the wrong side of the street.
So, case closed? Maybe - except that Schuler drove her red Ford Windstar for 2 miles on the wrong side of the Taconic Parkway.
Also, NBC's description of the show suggests parallels, but departures too. "Doped" is described as a "pharmaceutical whistle-blowing plan gone horribly wrong." After Dets. Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson) come to the scene of a deadly accident, they discover a nasal spray "that could easily disorient its user." The accident victim's boss (played by "Mad Men's" Rich Sommer) is implicated.
Thomas Ruskin, president of New York-based CMP Protective and Investigative Group, which is leading the ongoing investigation for the family, said Tuesday, "It's sort of shameful that a well-respected show like 'Law & Order' would take portions of a tragic accident and exploit it at this point in time for their own ratings and potential ratings."
Rarely - if ever - has "Law & Order" directly lifted all elements of a major news story, but it tends to pick and choose those that suit a particular storyline. In other words, this Friday's episode may simply be vintage "Law & Order."