On Wednesday, June 21, Neal Baer came to the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus to talk about his illustrious career in television. Baer has the distinction of being a key figure in two groundbreaking series. He was a writer and producer on both “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “ER.” Director of the Q and A series, Tova Laiter, hosted the evening.
Students filled the Riverside Theater to hear Baer speak about the history of the television industry. Many of the students were surprised to learn that “ER” once enjoyed an incredible share of the market. “There’s no drama airing today that comes close to having 40 million viewers. Not even ‘Game of Thrones.’”
Of course, a huge portion of the show’s success was the wildly talented and relatively unknown cast, including George Clooney. Baer recalled the excited fan reaction to seeing Clooney in a tuxedo. So mad was the fury, that Baer made sure to include a scene with him in a tuxedo in “Hell or High Water.” The episode went on to be the show’s highest-rated and even earned Clooney an Emmy nomination.
“I’ve had a very different career than my friends. I’ve only ever been on four shows,” Baer said after being asked about his incredible trajectory. “I started in 1994. That’s twenty-three years. I don’t know anybody else who has done four shows straight through.”
Whether it was talent, luck, or a combination of both that kept Baer on top, he always made sure to use the best of the time he had. “I loved SVU because every week I got to explore. You had to get into the story through a murder or assault but then I could do a show about teen access to abortion. They let us do amazing things with guns, homeschooling, HIV deniers, euthanasia, everything I was interested in was put into the show.”
That inspiration translated into his hiring practices as a showrunner. Baer was fond of calling obscure actors from childhood favorites to come on the show. Carol Burnett chastised him when he called to ask her on the show: “You used to watch me with your parents on weeknights, didn’t you?” Once, Debbie Reynolds even shared a saucy story about Ava Gardner with Baer.
“How could you not want to bring these people on your show,” Baer said. “I’ve been very blessed to work with incredible people.”
One student asked if Baer had any advice for students looking to break into the industry. Baer responded, “They’ve made it very difficult to be a director. I think what you have to do if you want to work, as a director, is shadow. You attach to a director and you just become their shadow. You’ll go to casting meetings, location scouts, anything the director does, you’ll be there.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Baer for taking the time to speak with our students.