Whereas the November murder of actress/director Adrienne Shelly left much of the indie film community in shock, it left the producers of Law and Order with a perfect ripped-from-the-headlines storyline for February sweeps. An episode based on the incident premieres tonight on NBC, and from the looks of things, it bears quite a bit more than a passing resemblance to the actual tale. In it, detectives Green and Cassady (played by Jesse L. Martin and Milena Govich) investigate what appears to be the suicide of an actress/director; after finding a mysterious footprint near the body, they follow the trail of an undocumented construction worker who was seen arguing with the actress days before her death.

In a long story that appeared in last Sunday's New York Times describing the birth of the episode, L&O producer Dick Wolf explained that he and his producers were looking for a way to work off of Shelly's death as soon as they heard the news. At that point, the case was front-page fodder for New York City's tabloids; the New York Post, in particular, couldn't pass up the chance to exploit the illegal immigration angle provided by the fact that Shelly's apparent killer was an undocumented worker. Though the NYT story is careful not to parcel out any spoilers, it hints that the episode will examine the paranoia surrounding the immigration debate by setting two illegal alien suspects against "the 22-year-old ne'er-do-well American-born son of their employer."

One person unlikely to watch tonight's episode is Adrienne Shelly's widower, Andrew Ostrow, who refused to comment for the NYT story. Wolf and his colleagues insist they're not out to exploit Shelly, but it's hard to see this as the most noble of undertakings. What about you -- does this strike you as 'appointment' television?