[Steven Hill Departs Law & Order?]
[Forney Joins Wolf Pack]
[Law Will Beat 5 More Years (At Least)]
[Rene Balcer's Exit Interview]
[Waterston Takes A Long Journey]
[Arthur Penn Joins Law & Order]
[Jill Hennessey As Jackie!]
[Off Topic: Will Oz Continue?]
[Et Cetera: Rene, We Hardly Knew Ye]
[Positive Developments: Our Favorite Recent Photos]
From inside.com: ActorSteven Hill, who for 10 years has played the Robert
Morgenthau-like Manhattan District Attorney on Law & Order, has let
his option to return to the series expire. Hill, 78, has decided
he doesn't like the intensity of next season's shooting schedule, routinely
designed to accommodate his Orthodox Jewish Sabbath and holiday observances.
Will Hill's departure spell the end of the fictional Manhattan D.A.'s reign?
Law & Order executives insist that negotiations for Hill's return next
season continue. Tuesday night at Elaine's, producer Dick Wolf chatted
with Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder -- a Glenn Close-look-alike
often mentioned as a possible candidate to succeed the 81-year-old real-life
D.A. Ripped from the headlines -- or not?
For another possible reason for Hill's departure, see Etcetera.
New York Forney Joins Wolf Pack: Helmer/Producer Returns to Law & Order Fold
By MICHAEL SCHNEIDER, April 24, 2000
Dick Wolf has signed director-producer Arthur W. Forney to an exclusive two-year deal with his Wolf Films banner.
Forney's no stranger to the Wolf pack, having most recently served as co-executive producer on Wolf's drama for the WB, "D.C."
Under the new deal, Forney will be heavily involved with returning series
"Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," both from
Wolf Films in association with Studios USA. Forney will also be involved
with the NBC
pilot "Deadline," which stars Oliver Platt.
"I can't emphasize enough that Arthur is not only a colleague but a
friend," Wolf said. "It's really wonderful to have working relationships
with people you really like and who work their ass off. It's an enormous
benefit to have
him locked in."
Forney has worked on a number of Wolf projects, serving in various capacities including supervising producer on "New York Undercover," "Players," "Feds" and "Law & Order." He's also directed a number of Wolf skeins, including episodes of "Law & Order."
"I'm thrilled to be working exclusively again with Dick Wolf and Peter Jankowski," Forney said. "They offer creative talent an ideal work environment which I find both stimulating and rewarding."
The Forney deal was handled by Paul Alan Smith at the Broder Kurland Webb Uffner Agency.
'Law' Is Returning to Beat for Longer Run
By Josef Adalian
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - ``Law & Order'' will remain on NBC through spring 2005 as part of a blockbuster long-term renewal deal making it the longest-running police drama in TV history.
The network's pact with producer Dick Wolf and Studios USA Television means ``Law'' will survive through its 15th season. ''Gunsmoke,'' which aired for 20 seasons on NBC, remains TV's longest-running entertainment series.
NBC, which last spring ordered ``Law'' through 2002, has picked up an additional three seasons of the series. NBC will pay roughly $3 million per episode, with the license fee increasing slightly every year over the next five seasons, according to industry insiders. NBC had been shelling out around $2.5 million per episode.
In addition, NBC has also renewed Wolf-produced spinoff ''Law &
Order: Special Victims Unit'' through May 2002. The
rookie series had been picked up through next season.
NBC had previously made an episodic commitment to the Studios USA/Wolf
Films drama ``Deadline'' for next fall.
Assuming the show goes forward, Wolf will produce more than 10% of NBC's primetime schedule next year.
``The 'Law & Order' franchise will go down in the TV history books for its unparalleled ability to draw in more viewers even in its 10th season,'' said NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier. ``Dick Wolf and company continue to keep the shows fresh, relevant and compelling. (We) look forward to building and growing the franchise together.''
Studios USA president David Kissinger called ``Law & Order'' one of the ``most consistently distinctive programs on television, and 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' has quickly established itself as a show that honors the high standard of its predecessor while dealing unflinchingly with some of the justice system's most harrowing cases.''
In an interview with Daily Variety, Kissinger said the long-term deal made sense on many levels. ``There was an enormous amount of mutual interest involved for all of us,'' he said, noting the sheer length of the deal ``allows us to protect the quality of the shows over time.''
Kissinger hinted that, with ``Law's'' fate locked up for a long time, Studios USA will be announcing a round of deals with ''Law'' writers and producers over the next few months.
Despite its age, the original ``Law'' continues to be a Nielsen juggernaut, ranking No. 12 among all primetime series this season with an average 11.3 household rating and 18 share. (Each household rating point represents an estimated 994,000 homes, or 1% of the country's TV households. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it's measured against only the homes or viewers watching TV during the time slot involved.)
``SVU'' has significantly boosted NBC's Friday night average since moving there in January.
Renewals are also a major boost to the Gotham production scene, since ``Law'' and ``SVU'' are both filmed on location in New York.
Law & Order junkies: here's your fix -- Montrealer Rene Balcer, top dog at the hot crime drama, spills the beans on the final episodes.
The Globe and Mail
Saturday, May 6, 2000
Vaya Con Dios (Go with God) isn't merely the Pinochet case-inspired season finale of NBC's popular cops and lawyers drama Law & Order airing May 24.
It just might be head writer and executive producer Rene Balcer's swan song. After 10 years penning witty repartee for the show's hard-boiled detectives and dreaming up the ever-twisted legal wranglings for the state prosecutors, the Canadian ex-pat is after a little closure.
"Hopefully, it will be my good-bye to the show," said Balcer, who finds
out a week before the finale, May 17, if his pilot for a new legal drama,
Hopewell, starring Treat Williams, is picked up by CBS. "There's nothing
pushing me from Law & Order, I'm just being drawn to something else."
This, even as NBC announced recently that Law & Order has been renewed until 2005, taking the show's tally to an astounding 15 years -- the longest running show now on televison.
"As far as the pick-up, it's very satisfying knowing that I left the show in better shape than I found it," he says. Indeed, Law & Order was a sleepy little cult favourite for its first few years, winning its first Emmy for outstanding drama series in 1998. By then legions of fans were tuning in for the tightly contained two-part episodes split between police investigation of a crime and the subsequent district attorney's court case. For most fans, the show's crisp writing, detailed legalese and the intense courtroom showdowns are unsurpassed on television -- or even, film.
Now that he's rocketed up the hierarchy and is listed in the credits alongside show creator Dick Wolf, Balcer, originally from Montreal, says he's ready to move on.
"This idea had been tossing around in my head for years. It's about a big city lawyer who moves to a small town to practise -- a twist on one of my favourite movies, To Kill A Mockingbird."
Balcer is giving a workshop and a talk sponsored by the Canadian Film Centre at University of Toronto's Innis College Monday. He's also screening a preview of the pilot. If Hopewell is picked up for next fall, Balcer promises a case a week.
His strength has been ripping stories from the headlines. For instance, one of L&O's final shows is based on the Wall Street-porn star imbroglio recently splashed across the news. As if that case wasn't fodder enough, Balcer let his vivid imagination wander. "It unites such an unlikely cast of characters. It goes from college students to skinheads, to strippers, to Wall Street, to IPOs, to the head of the investment bank." Ever the master of snappy dialogue, Balcer edits that last line for his interviewer: "It's the banker, the bimbo, the bigot and the B.A. student."
But Balcer admits he will miss both the real people he's worked with and the characters he created, especially executive assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy, who has been played by Sam Waterston since 1994. So Balcer intended Vaya Con Dios to be a showcase for McCoy, who is prosecuting a second-in-command Chilean villain. "I've had a lot of fun with the Jack McCoy character," says Balcer. "In the finale, the case takes him all the way to the Supreme Court. It's Jack McCoy doing his quixotic quest for justice."
The episode takes its inspiration from a French revolutionary quotation: "A man has only the rights that he can defend." "McCoy takes this as his creed for going to the wall to prosecute this individual even though the crime took place in Chile 25 years ago."
If other ripped-from-the-headlines Law & Order plots are any indication, don't expect this defendant to weasel out with a claim of mental illness. Balcer delights in rewriting history.
For instance, the episode Fools For Love, which aired in February, took as its starting point the Paul Bernardo-Karla Homolka "folies a deux," as Balcer calls it. It explored the deal-with-the-devil angle, but the fictional Homolka faced a much stiffer penalty than her real-life counterpart.
"I like finding a more satisfying ending to a case. Or a more disturbing ending, or maybe an ending that speaks more to the truth of the case. They're not only whodunnits, but whydunnits."
Other cases have tipped their hat to the Menendez brothers, Lorena Bobbitt, the O.J. Simpson trial and battered wife syndrome, to name a few. If those cases, not the individual acting performances, withstand the test of time, it's by design, says Balcer. "It's absolutely a writers' show. In the last 10 years, only one story has been suggested by an actor. It was the one about ritual genital mutilation. Carey Lowell suggested it. That's the only time we've had a useful suggestion from an actor," he says emphatically.
This rule of writers makes for strong transitions when actors leave. The show has lost three assistant D.A.s, one executive assistant D.A. (the mercurial Michael Moriarty) and four cops, among a revolving door of characters.
Balcer is unsentimental about departures, though, considering them creative opportunities. "That's what keeps you from getting bored," he deadpans.
Sometimes excitement comes from where he would have least expected it. One recent episode drew a storm of criticism for its portrayal of a gold-digging murderess who happened to live on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
"It's nonsense. We wanted to play with a wrinkle in the law about foreign defendants. If we had chosen someone from Mexico we would have been clobbered for being anti-Mexican." So, he received a lot of letters from earnest Canadians? "There's a lot of Canadians up there named Earnest. And I think we got a letter from every single one of them. But the show made the point that the U.S. is still the only democracy that executes people."
While Balcer may be eagerly anticipating his change of legal venue from Gotham to greener pastures, he's obviously still tickled by what his last few waiting Law & Order episodes might stir up. "You have to watch."
Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion (Renaissance Books) by Kevin Courrier and Susan Green has been updated and expanded to include the 1999 season.
WHO'S IN THE ASSISTANT D.A. CHAIR?
PAUL ROBINETTE 1990-93 Real name: Richard Brooks
Characteristics: Tall, quiet, measured, thoughtful, strong sense of justice, not fully fleshed-out character.
Balcer: "mostly a debating partner for Ben Stone."
Character left show without cause; reappeared as tough defence lawyer.
Tidbit: Career hasn't blossomed post L&O. In last year's TV series G vs E, Brooks fought Faustian "Morlocks."
CLAIRE KINCAID 1993-96 Real name: Jill Hennessy
Characteristics: Sense of fair play. Reserved, business-like, fragile, not afraid to stand up to Jack.
Balcer: "She was Jack's girl. She only became interesting in the last season when she started bucking what Jack McCoy and [District Attorney Adam] Schiff wanted her to do."
Tidbit: Edmonton girl stars with Richard Gere in Autumn in New York this August. (Gere dates Carey Lowell.)
JAMIE ROSS 1996-98 Real name: Carey Lowell
Characteristics: Overtly sexual, self-confident, ambitious; foxier than Jack.
Character left to get married and to focus on custody battle with ex.
Balcer: "The Jamie Ross character was an adult and Jack could have adult conversations with her. She couldn't be pushed around."
Tidbit: Bond girl in License To Kill (1989); dating Gere.
ABBIE CARMICHAEL 1998-present Real name: Angie Harmon
Characteristics: More intractable and passionate than Jack; she really wants the bad guys to get fried.
Balcer: "It's nice to have someone around who can kick Jack McCoy's ass."
Tidbit: Cut her teeth on Baywatch Nights from 1994-96 as a forensic criminologist.
Sam Waterston of Law & Order fame, his son James of Dead Poets Society
fame and Elizabeth Franz of the 1999
Tony award for best supporting actress fame in Death of a Salesman are coming to Syracuse Stage, 820 East Genesee St., Syracuse, to act in Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece Long Day's Journey into Night. Previews begin June 6, with opening night scheduled for June 14. The run ends July 2. Tickets ($15 to $40) can be purchased on the Internet at www.syracuse.org or tickets.com, or by calling (888)366-3849 or (315)443-2121.
See apocrypha review, this issue.
LOS ANGELES (Zap2It) - Oscar-nominated director and screenwriter Arthur Penn, 77, has signed on as executive producer of "Law & Order," according to Variety. In a nice coup for NBC, Penn's reputation as a legendary Hollywood director adds prestige to the successful Emmy-winning series.
Penn got his start in the '50 working on live television before breaking into the movies in the '60s. Penn's debut directing effort was 1958's "The Left Handed Gun," starring a young Paul Newman. Penn's other directing credits include the movies; "The Miracle Worker" (1962), "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), "The Chase" (1966) and "Alice's Restaurant" (1969).
On "Law & Order," Penn will oversee casting and production.
Joining Penn as the Los Angeles-based executive producer and head writer is Will Finkelstein ("L.A. Law," "Brooklyn South"). The Emmy-winning writer replaces Ed Sherin while Penn replaces Rene Balcer. Balcer and Sherin are leaving the show to work on other projects.
Penn's new position represents one of several major behind-the-scenes changes planned at producer Dick Wolf's three NBC series.
For "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," executive producer Ted Kotcheff will continue for a second season and David Burke ("Wiseguy") has been named head writer and the Los Angeles-based executive producer.
Burke replaces Robert Palm who is taking over as head writer and executive producer for the upcoming NBC series, "Deadline." The drama, to debut this fall, will be directed by Michael Ritchie ("The Candidate," "Fletch" ).
Wolf said that he believes the injection of new blood will benefit the three series.
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Former ``Law & Order'' star Jill Hennessy
will play Jacqueline Kennedy in NBC's upcoming
miniseries ``Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot.''
The network has cast Lauren Holly (''Picket Fences'') as Ethel
Kennedy and Leslie Stefanson (''The General's Daughter'') as
Joan Kennedy. The four-hour miniseries will air Nov. 5 and 6, just before the presidential election.
CBS is airing part one of its own Camelot miniseries (''Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Life'') opposite the bow of NBC's miniseries on Sunday, Nov. 5.
``Women of Camelot'' is based on J. Randy Taraborelli's tome of the same name.
Has Tom Fontana's Oz come to the end of the yellow brick road? According to Executive Producer Fontana, quite possibly so. "The truth of it is ... we're being evicted," he told apocrypha recently. "The man who runs the building said he would never fuck me over, then proceeded to fuck me over." In less vivid terms, what happened is this: When Oz began in 1997, Fontana revamped an old Nabisco factory, and trumpeted the fact that it was where the Oreo had been invented. (Visitors to the set said the craft service table always had some of the creme confections available as a tribute.) He moved the offices he shared with fellow Homicide: Life On The Street executive producer Barry Levinson into the space, and gleefully trumpeted in articles that he could now walk to work. The space became an integral part of the spartan yet coolly threatening set, and the show took off, becoming one of HBO's most popular original programs. But due to the nature of television, a long-term rental deal was never worked out ("you never know when you're going to be canceled," said Fontana) so they had renewed their lease for a year at a time.
And then New York 1, the 24-hour local NYC news station, swooped in and rented it for 10 years. "It's ironic," says Fontana, "because NY1 is also owned by Time Warner, which is HBO, so I'm actually being evicted by a cousin." So what's the hassle? Just find another space, right?
Not necessarily. New York's stage space is notoriously difficult to find, and almost overwhelmingly expensive. (Recent shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit shoot locally in Manhattan, but for stage space go to New Jersey.) Jersey's not one of Fontana's first choices, and he also says he won't just move to any old space. "We're looking at armories and warehouses, but this space is so unique, and I've used a lot of the actual real building as part of the set, so it's going to make reproducing it very tough."
Since the show's lease on the property doesn't run out until September, says Fontana, they're working overtime to produce eight more episodes. And then -- end with a big fire? "I don't know yet," laughs Fontana. "I have to figure out a way. Do I burn it down, do we build a new Oz, and if we do, does that suddenly make the show something I don't want to make any more? The ramifications I'm still working through. But, it may be the end of Oz. It may be the first time in the history of television that a show is canceled due to a real estate deal."
Or, stuff we probably should keep our mouths shut about. First off, former L&O Executive Producer Rene Balcer's new drama has been given a 12 episode order on CBS -- but as a midseason legal drama replacement, not as a regular series. Things are tough all over. Even worse, the Tiffany network doesn't like his two costars, Treat Williams and thirtysomething's Patricia Kalember. CBS says it won't pick up the show unless it gets recast. Paging Chris Noth.... And while we're on the topic of Mr. Balcer, he was the notable speaker at a May Law & Order Conference at Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre. According to apocrypha sourcs at the event (which included invite-only sessions for industry figures, an open-to-the-public event at night and other goodies), Balcer shared some juicy gossip, some of which fans had already sussed out for themselves (except the one dissident who wrote apocrypha -- see Letters to the Editor, this issue). First off, the surprise: Steven Hill's father passed on not long ago, and Hill's rabbi informed him that for mourning purposes, he had to grow his beard for a year. Hill quit the original cast of Mission: Impossible back in the '60s because he wouldn't work on the Sabbath, but has apparently mellowed, since the producers were able to talk him out of it for the sake of the show. (However, recent reports that Hill will likely not return next year could be in part connected to his desire to properly mourn his father.) Balcer's second gossip won't come as a shock though -- he revealed that the producers have been begging Angie Harmon to take acting lessons ... and she just refuses. Guess she prefers the "organic" route.... As most apocrypha readers no doubt know, the current cast of L&O appeared on Larry King Live a few months ago. At the time, here was how they listed their contract status (thanks, Mr. King, for asking!): Angie Harmon - 3 more years; Sam Waterston - 1 more year "maybe"; Jerry Orbach - 1 more year; S. Epatha Merkerson - 2 more years; Jesse Martin - contracted for 5 years, means he should have 4 more to go; Steven Hill had 1 more year, but apparently decided to let that option lapse. Just FYI.... Speaking of which, Jill Hennessey's taken to touting her Acting Class film everywhere possible, which is tres cool of her -- including riding 300 miles on her motorcycle (shades of Claire Kincaid!) to Lake Placid, New York to the Film Forum festival there in June. According to the New York Post, Hennessey's arrival made the front page of the paper. "They really take this thing seriously," noted the actress. "I've always wanted to go to Lake Placid." Her film is a mockumentary, by the way -- and co-stars Chris Noth, Jerry Orbach -- and onetime Law & Order scribe Alec Baldwin.
Jerry Orbach in "The Fantastiks"
An earnest Orbach in "42nd Street"
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