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Gail Shister | A growing family for Olivia on 'SVU': Half-bro, father

By Gail Shister
Inquirer Columnist

Prepare for some family fireworks on NBC's hit Law & Order: SVU.

On the Feb. 27 episode, "Philadelphia," Det. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), who was conceived when her mother was raped, discovers she has a half-brother. He leads her to the father she's never met.

Michael Weston, who terrorized Michael C. Hall's character in HBO's Six Feet Under, will do two episodes as Benson's bro, Simon Marsden. The second, "Florida," will air during May sweeps.

"After eight seasons of searching, we thought it was time for Olivia to have someone to hold onto," says SVU executive producer Neal Baer. "She's been looking all her life for answers to the fact" of her birth.

"She's always wanted to know if there's anybody out there she's related to, as painful as that information might be. She comes to understand her past... . When she finds her father, she finally has closure."

Baer was in West Philly the other day to speak at a luncheon sponsored by Penn's Critical Writing Program. (Full disclosure: This reporter teaches a course in the program.)

Benson's sib surfaces during a DNA "kinship analysis" performed in a rape case she's investigating outside her jurisdiction. She gets a hard time from Roxborough's own Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue), playing a local precinct captain.

Benson tracks down Marsden in prison. "It's an issue of 'Like father, like son,' " Baer says.

SVU runs in Weston's family - his father, John Rubinstein, played a judge in an episode in '05. Weston's grandfather was legendary piano virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein.

Unlike Law & Order and L&O: Criminal Intent, SVU routinely delves into the private lives of Hargitay's Det. Benson and her volatile partner, Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni), among others.

In Dick Wolf's criminal justice system, however, not all creative elements are equally important. He doesn't like personal stories, and he doesn't like stars.

Given that Hargitay and Meloni just re-signed for an un-Wolfish $6.5 million each, how did Baer defang the Wolf on both counts?

"What works for Law & Order may not necessarily work for SVU," says Baer, 50, a Harvard Medical School grad and pediatrician. He was a producer for ER for seven seasons before joining SVU.

For starters, SVU is the most popular of the L&O franchise and is NBC's No. 2 show, Baer says. Also, Hargitay's winning an Emmy for best actress in a drama last year didn't hurt.

"I guess I could write a strictly procedural show, but I'm so interested in characters," he says. "I like to know what makes them tick."

To Baer, Benson "represents the empathy and compassion we all feel for the victims." Stabler: "the rage." Hargitay is the real star, Baer says. They've been friends since she played Anthony Edwards' girlfriend on ER.

Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers) will join SVU next season as new partner to Ice-T's Det. Tutuola. Richard Belzer's John Munch will stick around, Baer says.

P.S. Baer has exactly one TV in his home, which he keeps in a locked guest room so his 16-year-old son can't watch it during the week. It was a gift from Wolf, he says. (The TV, not the guest room.)

Super stats.

CBS's telecast of the Colts-Bears Super Bowl XLI averaged a whopping 93.15 million viewers from 6:27 to 10:04 p.m. Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The Colts' 29-17 win, led by Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning, was the second- most-watched Supe of all time. The '96 game between Pittsburgh and Dallas averaged 94.1 million viewers on NBC.

Also, Super Bowl XLI ranks as the third-most-watched program in TV history. CBS's M*A*S*H finale, on Feb. 28, 1983, still tops the list with a mind-numbing 105.97 million viewers.

Movin' on up. NBC Universal TV czar Jeff Zucker is expected to be named today as chief executive of NBC Universal. Zucker, 41, former whiz-kid producer of Today, will replace Bob Wright, 63, whose tenure lasted almost 21 years.

Contact TV columnist Gail Shister at 215-854-2224 or Read her recent work at