ABC Orders Drama From Wolf,
Universal For Fall
Electronic Media Online
May 12, 2002

In a major coup for recently installed ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne, Dick Wolf, the
acclaimed creator of NBC's three Law & Order series, has joined series producer Universal Television in sealing a 13-episode order for a new version of the classic show Dragnet. Mr. Wolf is currently writing the pilot, to be filmed in Los Angeles, with ABC expected to premiere the "just-the-facts, ma'am" cop drama in the first quarter of 2003.

While not too far afield from Mr. Wolf's past
experience in producing linear law enforcement dramas in recent years, the noted producer sees his production of Dragnet as being "both a contemporary re-conceptualization and homage" to the classic Jack Webb-led radio and TV series (NBC, 1952-70).

"If you loved Dragnet,' you will love this show,"
pledged Mr. Wolf, adding, "If you never saw Dragnet, as is the case with most of the adults 18 to 34 demos, it will be our mandate to give you a great cop show. The essence of Dragnet is what got me and a whole generation of [TV] writers to do hour-long police dramas, and it's a franchise that I have the utmost respect for."

Mr. Wolf envisions the new Dragnet continuing to be a "story-driven, workplace show," but said it will not
be "going home" with the lead characters Joe Friday and Frank Gannon, as once was the case with Mr. Webb's and Harry Morgan's characters in the show. 

"In some ways, the DNA of Dragnet is inextricably
woven into Law & Order," he said, referring to the
linear- and narrative-driven storytelling common to
both TV shows.

Mr. Wolf said he was of the mind that Dragnet would
be a 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. show on ABC's schedules.
Talent agency sources were also speculating that it
could be inserted in the 10 p.m. Monday hour once
Monday Night Football ends its run in December 2002. Universal Television and ABC officials declined to speculate on its scheduling.

Agency sources said they believe Universal and Wolf Films carry enough leverage to place Dragnet in a delayed, repurposed window on USA Network-despite ABC's typical desire to negotiate multiplays on ABC Family Channel. 

"It goes without saying that Dick Wolf is one of the
most talented and successful writer/producers in
television today," Ms. Lyne said in a statement.
"Dick's ideas for a new Dragnet excited us from the
moment we heard them, and the opportunity to work with him has made this a very happy day at ABC." Ms. Lyne said earlier that she first discussed with Mr. Wolf the idea of bringing Dragnet to ABC within days of being promoted to ABC's top programming slot last February.

Tall Order
TV Guide Online
May 10, 2002

ABC has ordered 13 episodes of Law & Order
creator Dick Wolf's Dragnet update, slated to debut
next January. The network is expected to schedule the series on Monday nights after The Bachelor

Double Whammy
May 9, 2002

Chris Noth is so proud of Double Whammy, a satire of the cop/crime genre co-starring Steve Buscemi, Denis Leary and Liz      Hurley, he'll host the post-screening bash at his
Chelsea lounge, the Cutting Room, tonight after the movie screens at the Tribeca Film Festival.

L&O Quilt Sells On Ebay
From email correspondence to apocrypha
May 1, 2002

Info on the quilt:
"First, I would like to thank you for linking the quilt-Ebay site to your site. Every bit of help we get getting the word out counts. The idea to auction off the quilt was a collective one. We have many talented people on our show, in front of, as well as behind the scenes and S. Epatha Merkerson had the idea to put all that talent and creativity to good use by making this quilt. It was always intended that we donate the quilt to a worthy organization. Being that Epatha was the mastermind behind our project, we asked her to chose which organization she wanted to benefit. Since she is one of the Spokespeople for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, it was sort of a no-brainer, and we all agreed. We then started to brainstorm as to how we could best get the word out there and collaborating with the Campaign for T.F.K., the site was created."

The quilt (pictured below) ultimately sold for $1,225.

Angie Harmon Movie Gets Legal
April, 2002

LOS ANGELES ( - The Lifetime cable network helped play a part in Tuesday's (April 16) introduction of a U.S. Senate bill to make high-tech voyeurism a federal crime. 

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was sparked by the case of Susan Wilson, a Louisiana woman who several years ago became the victim of video voyeurism by a neighbor whom she thought was a friend. The man was stalking Wilson and secretly videotaped her and her family in their home, capturing even intimate moments with his lens. 

At the time, there were no laws on the book outlawing such an invasion of privacy, so Wilson successfully lobbied her state legislature to enact such a law. Her case was portrayed in the Lifetime movie Video Voyeur: The Susan Wilson Story

Shortly before the movie premiered in January, Lifetime brought the case to Landrieu. Her bill, dubbed the Family Privacy Protection Act, would make recording another person for "a lewd or lascivious purpose" without that person's consent a federal crime. The crime would be punishable by a fine or imprisonment, with stiffer penalties for surreptitious taping of minors. 

The movie's star, Angie Harmon (Law & Order), Wilson and several Lifetime executives joined Landrieu at a press conference announcing the bill. 

Benjamin Bratt weds Talisa Soto
And They're Expecting!
(Wire Reports)
April 17, 2002

First comes love, then comes marriage...Now Benjamin Bratt and wife Talisa Soto are reportedly in the market for a baby carriage. 

The newly minted marrieds are, says People, expecting their first child. The magazine -- which has listed both Bratt and Soto in its 50 most beautiful round-up in years past -- reports in next week's edition that, according to unnamed friends, Mrs. Bratt "is in the early weeks of pregnancy." 

No other details are offered, aside from the standard quotes from close friends who say the couple is anxious to start passing their camera-ready genes on. (People attributes Bratt's breakup with Julia Roberts and Soto's split from her first husband, actor Costas Mandylor, on the kid factor -- both Bratt and Soto wanted to start a family, their exes reportedly didn't.) 

The publicist for the former Law & Order star issued a "no comment" on the pregnancy report. The New York Daily News quotes Soto's rep as denying the former Bond babe is with child. 

Bratt, 38, and Soto, 35, got married Saturday in an intimate, informal ceremony in the groom's hometown of San Francisco. 

In a brief statement released Tuesday, the actor's publicist described the wedding as "a day that perfectly celebrated their love and happiness" but offered little in the way of specifics. 

However, per People, about 20 relatives and close friends attended the low-key ceremony, set on a grassy knoll overlooking San Francisco Bay. Bratt was clad in a black Calvin Klein suit; Soto wore an off-the-rack dress and flip-flops. The bride and groom wrote their own vows.
Bratt's brother Peter served as best man; Soto sister Clara performed maid of honor duties. Bratt's mom, Eldy, officiated the ceremony. The reception was held at a Vietnamese eatery before the celebrants hit the nightclub scene. 

Bratt and Soto had known each other before playing lovers in the Piñero. During shooting of the biopic in 2000, the two become friends, but both were otherwise attached at the time. It wasn't until last September, during the film's premiere at the Montreal Film Festival, that they hooked up. By February they were engaged. 

Bratt will next be seen opposite Katie Holmes in the psychological thriller Abandon, due in September. Soto, meanwhile, has a part in the Antonio Banderas-Lucy Liu spy flick Ecks vs. Severs, which comes out in November, and is also slated for a starring role in Mortal Kombat
3: Domination, due out next year.

Dominick Dunne Misrepresented
As "Party Host"
(New York Social Diary)
March 26, 2002

Dominick Dunne called me Saturday afternoon from the Beverly Hills Hotel. He’d just got off the phone with his former daughter-in-law Carrie Lowell and he was in a fury. And not at his former daughter-in-law (mother of his grandchild and a good friend). Lowell and her partner Richard Gere had made plans to have dinner Saturday night with Dominick. Afterwards, she reported over the phone, she ran into Robert Altman and invited him to  join them. He couldn’t, he said, because he was actually going to a party Dominick was “giving” that same night??? Lowell hadn’t heard a thing about it and so the call to Dominick.

However. Dominick hadn’t heard a thing about it either. There was a party at which he was going to “stop by” being given by a woman from New York who has lately launched herself in the business of giving private tours to places the hoi-polloi don’t usually get to go to. Such as
a trip to the Oscars with real movie stars and celebrities. Thus the party. With real movie stars and celebrities (whether they know it or not). 

The invitation which Robert Altman received most decidedly placed Dominick in this party’s driver’s seat. Dominick never knew this because he never actually saw the invitation. All kinds of other people (and names did), however. Seeing the invitation would have let him on the big secret (his being a host). Instead this New York woman called him not once, but three times to make sure he was going to be “stopping by.” The frequent reminders were enough to make him a little testy but he was going to keep his word. 

So, Dominick was outraged at the manipulation, having been made a patsy as it was, a party to someone’s Big Lie. Chutzpah. She might have a good laugh over that one, as is her wont when confronted. Yes chutzpah; but not the kind that charms the birds off the trees or the stars out of the heavens, or the literati from their lairs. Fools from their money maybe; someone to sell you a bridge over in Brooklyn maybe, but otherwise, more like gall. 

Oscar Night At Elaines
(New York Social Diary)
March 26, 2002

Oscar night we went over to Elaine's where Entertainment Weekly was holding its 8th annual Academy Awards Viewing Party. The atmosphere is a Hollywood dream of a
Manhattan legend. Big crowd. All tables full, a crowd at the bar. Television monitors everywhere.

Hosted by John Squires, President of EW and James Seymore, Managing Editor. And: Elaine (of course). At the tables: Ron Silver, Peter Gallagher, Mariska Hargitay, Eddie Cibrian of Third Watch; Molly Ringwald, Chris Noth, Lynn White, Richard Belzer, Julie Bowen, Jeff Zucker, Candace Bushnell, David Spade, Michele Lee, Danny Zarem, Vincent Curatola of the Sopranos, Gay Talese, John Miller newly of ABC-TV, Harry and Gigi Benson, Alan King with a night off from his new hit Broadway show, Goldwyn, Bill O'Reilly, Izabella Miko, MTV's Su Chin Pak, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Deborah Gibson, Joey McIntyre.

Standing there, sitting there in Elaine's watching the big screens, New Yorkers got a lot of New York, from the video features as well as from the speech made by Woody Allen who has long made Elaine's his home away from home.

Harleem McBride, Richard Belzer, Dan Florek

Mariska Hargitay, Katie Brown

Tara Wilson, Chris Noth

Elaine's photographs by Jeff Hirsch/

The View Set To Get Second Home
By Bill Carter

ABC's hit daytime talk show, The View, is about toestablish a second home on the A&E Channel.

The move is the latest in a growing trend toward what the networks call repurposing shows - which means placing very recent reruns on a cable channel that the network or its parent companyalso owns.

In this case, the move is designed both to capture more profits from  The View and to plug a worrisome upcoming programming hole for A&E, a channel that has experienced a ratings slide the last year. In no coincidence at all, A&E is partly owned by ABC's
parent company, Walt Disney.

The third player in the deal is Barbara Walters, one of the most 
important figures at ABC News, who created  The View and owns 50 percent of the show. Ms. Walters said she was totally supportive of the deal.

A&E will begin to carry The View, which features Ms. Walters and four other regular women hosts, starting on April 1. The show will run at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on A&E, one day after each show plays on ABC at 11 a.m.

The 7 p.m. slot is crucial to A&E, because there The View will 
replace reruns of the NBC drama Law & Order aratings winner for A&E for almost a decade. But Law & Order will leave A&E in 

"We've been looking for a long time at September 2002 with feelings of trepidation," said Allen Sabinson, the senior vice
president for programming for A&E. "This move addresses those

An increasing number of shows are being chosen for this kind of 
replay, including Weakest Link, which plays on the Pax network 
after its first run on NBC; Charmed, which runs on TNT after WB; and Law & Order SVU, which plays on USA after its run on NBC. Last week CBS announced that it would replay The Amazing Race on the UPN network.

In all those cases, the two channels involved share some degree of ownership. Ms. Walters said she did not think the A&E move would dilute the audience for  The View. "I think it will actually help us attract new viewers," she said. "Coming on at 7 at night, I think 
people will want to turn to us instead of other local shows. I know a lot of people tape us already. Now maybe they won't have to."

 The View has become one of the strongest shows in daytime 
television, pulling in more than three million viewers a day. It has 
proved to be especially strong with women viewers from 18 to 49, a group favored by advertisers. Ratings for The View
are up 7 percent this year.

A&E could use such a boost. The channel's ratings were off 12 per cent in 2001. Mr. Sabinson said much of that was attributable to a falloff for A&E's "Biography," which runs at 8 each weeknight. He noted that Law & Order as strong as it has been, did not match 
up ideally with "Biography."

"Only about 25 percent of the audience was sticking around for 
`Biography' at 8," Mr. Sabinson said. The View should match up much better, he said, because about 75 percent of the audience 
for "Biography" is made up of women, the biggest audience for  The View.

No financial terms were disclosed, but Mr. Sabinson said the deal would be considerably less costly than would be buying repeats of a drama like Law & Order.

The shift may further alter the program direction at A&E, which in 
recent years has moved away from its original reliance on high-brow imports from England. The letters A&E originally stood
for the Arts and Entertainment channel. But the channel no longer
uses that name.

Mr. Sabinson said, "Clearly there has been some transition here." The channel programs many nights of crime documentaries
under headings like "American Justice." It has recently begun to fill
more time with movies, both titles produced by A&E and theatrical
movies it has bought.

Last week the channel canceled its most ambitious original series so far, 100 Centre Street, which suffered a steep ratings falloff 
after a promising first season. Mr. Sabinson said A&E remained 
committed to developing original drama series.

Ms. Walters said the expansion of The View was the latest 
gratifying sign for a program that began five years ago after ABC 
asked her if she had any ideas for day programming.'

apocrypha addendum: According to A&E reps, Third Watch repeats will replace the 11pm ET Law & Order showing this September.

Condit Goes After L&O
February, 2002

According to The Drudge Report, an NBC memo indicated that former Representative Gary Condit [D-CA] and his wife were planning to sue the network and Law & Order over the episode, "Missing," which was "ripped" from the Chandra Levy disapperance case. According to Drudge, the NBC memo read:

"The February 6 Law & Order Episode Titled "Missing" depicted events and characters including herself which implied Ms. Condit was somehow involved in Chandra Levy's disappearance and that Ms. Condit spoke to Ms. Levy on the telephone. 

"The episode contained several inaccuracies that were built upon tabloid reports and other spurious rumors. It is undeniable that the viewing public would identify Ms. Condit as the wife depicted on the episode. 

"The episode was defamatory because it showed the wife calling the Chandra Levy character (Lisa Edwards) and because it implied, in the very end, that the wife killed the Chandra Levy character. 

"Indeed, there was at least one press inquiry to the Condits asking for a reaction to this nasty episode. We note that the show commences with the statement that it is "Inspired in part by a true incident."

"Pursuant to the California Civil Code 48A and in an effort to mitigate her damages, we hereby demand a retraction. We request that the retraction be published as follows: Ms. Condit demands the retraction at the very beginning of the next Law & Order episode."

Thus far, no retraction has appeared.

Cop Confesses: L&O Steals The Show
TV Guide Online
March 20, 2002
By Charlie Mason with Daniel R. Coleridge

Over and over, Law & Order has made news by fictionalizing cases that are ripped from the headlines. And while this approach has its detractors, it also boasts an eloquent supporter in S. Epatha Merkerson, who has played Lt. Anita Van Buren since 1993.

"The show is very topical and provocative, and I do believe that's why we've been on for 12 years," she tells TV Guide Online. "We've always found a way to take a news story and find a twist to it. Sometimes it gets very close."

Close, indeed. A recent L&O plot inspired by Chandra Levy's disappearance understandably displeased Mrs. Gary Condit, whose screen counterpart was revealed to have murdered her husband's mistress. Naturally, she, for one, wouldn't agree with Merkerson's suggestion that the show "does a service."

"Probably not, but you know, [the Levy case is] in the news, and we're going to use it," the actress insists. "Hopefully, we'll use it in a way that won't tell the story word for word, but you can look at the story a different way."

Merkerson stops short of concurring with L&O Dick Wolf's assertion that, by getting viewers to discuss issues that they ordinarily wouldn't, he is doing "God's work." "I'll let Dick say that," she chuckles.

However, she doesn't see any reason for the show to stop swiping hot topics from the paperboy. "I believe that [utilizing fact-based tales] opens up dialogue," she theorizes, "because people already have a point of reference."

So, ultimately, L&O is as unlikely to change its tune as Merkerson's character is to change hers. "Van Buren is pretty staid," she observes, "but you can always count on her kickin' a little ass and being straightforward, and you can expect more of the same."

A Law & Order Addict Tells All
By Molly Haskell (New York Times)
April 7, 2002
Shooting Special Victims Unit on West 17th Street.

Photo by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

 Walking up Madison Avenue through the usual thicket of cellphones, I heard my first interesting snatch of conversation since that accursed invention forced an avalanche of inanities on our ears. A woman was saying: "He's a bastard. Justified homicide." She didn't have to mention the quality of the food on Rikers Island for me to know she was one of us, the not-so-secret addicts of Law & Order Dick Wolf's long-running, ubiquitously syndicated, hydra-headed NBC series about New York cops and district attorneys. I know it's a hit of major proportions around the country, too. Its ratings are phenomenal. Like Woody Allen, it travels better than you'd think. 

But its heart beats to a New York rhythm, its in-jokes and phony addresses and familiar locations are for us and us alone. These days, with its spinoffs and reruns, the show has become something of a joke itself, risking critical contumely and self-parody by spreading like an oil slick into every unoccupied slot on television. But the miracle is that it hasn't worn out its welcome, and the spinoffs have developed distinct and different virtues of their own. If anything, like an old friend, like New York itself, Law & Order has grown more precious since Sept. 11. 

Familiar stories (the Mayflower Madam, Lisa Steinberg); locations from Chinatown and the Battery to the quadrangle of a certain well-known uptown university (bordered by the Low Memorial Library and Butler Library); working-class cops and D.A.'s with their own baggage and biases; a story with a beginning, middle and end: all have become, since the terrorist tragedy, as much consolation as diversion.

The standard and often justified criticism of long-running shows is that they begin to try too hard, recycle material, make disastrous cast changes. Of those cast changes Law & Order can certainly be accused: How could they kill Claire? How could they get rid of Jamie for the fashion-plate Angie?; I still miss George Dzundza, and some of the new D.A. babes look as if they spent more time on their hair than their law books. But I'm amazed at the health of the basic organism, how it survives and adapts not only to weaker cast members but also to the changing times and moods of the city itself. It seems to me the number of convictions on the show rose during the Giuliani years, for example, as exasperation with judges throwing out evidence and perps getting off on technicalities reached critical mass. 

On the other hand, the show remains marvelously evenhanded. The sheer quantity, the multiplicity of shows, allows for a roughly equal distribution of venality over time. Good and bad apples are to be found among whites and blacks, Asians and Hispanics, cops and robbers, thus avoiding the deadening hand of political correctness. 

In its 12-year history, and as it roams with egalitarian fervor into every area of the city, showing how intertwined different ethnic groups and neighborhoods are, Law & Order has rubbed up against a remarkably complex range of social issues: from capital punishment (a harrowing show in which Sam Waterston's D.A. is forced to watch the execution of a criminal his office had prosecuted) and biotechnology (Is a dead man's widow entitled to his ex-wife's frozen embryos as part of the estate?) to constant badgering and second-guessing from the media, and ever-present issues of class and race. (Should blacks be accorded more lenient treatment after years of inequity, or is that a more pernicious form of racism, damaging to both blacks and the law?) And there's the vexing question of how we temper the either-or edicts of criminal law with a more nuanced appreciation of the enormous (but incalculable) influence of environment and genes.

All of these thorny matters, plus the often questionable tactics of the law enforcers themselves (deals and lies and subterfuges for the greater good), constitute pressures that bend and sway the law so that its determinations are never completely clean or bias-free. Yet for all the question marks it leaves, and however queasy the aftertaste, its conclusions are never open-ended. There is a thin line between outright corruption and necessary compromises, but there is a line, and it is faithfully maintained. And there's a consolation in watching our city, its institutions and protectors survive, battered but intact, week after week. 

Especially welcome after the real-life cataclysm that robbed us of many of our finest and bravest, Law & Order remains a testimonial to the teamwork and no-nonsense valor of the cop on the beat. Long before 9/11 shifted our perceptions in that direction, the show had been chipping away at the stereotype of the bad cop, humanizing the men and women in blue. 

Central to that process and to the proletarian soul of the show has been Jerry Orbach's divorced detective with a hard-drinking past, Lennie Briscoe, the 27th Precinct's maestro of the reality-check wisecrack that zaps the pretensions and fads of the upper-crust celebrity-plutocracy of New York. Managing the complex tone of black humor in the face of horror, he surveys bodies lying in an East Village boutique and when told it's a "vintage" clothing shop, says, "Oh, yeah, I think I recognized my old bowling shirt." When told a perp smokes high-end cigars, he remarks, "They're hard to find since Demi Moore and the beautiful people started smoking them."

The show is a time capsule, reminding us of a time when the worst things that happened were individual crimes with (mostly) single vics: a Park Avenue philanderer found in a pool of blood, or a black dope pusher wrongfully arrested for murder, or an S-and-M artiste hanging by his leather belt, or a ranting homicidal psychopath, suddenly back on his meds, turning into a slick legal mind who can mount his own defense. 

Even the show's more lurid siblings — Special Victims Unit (which deals with sex crimes) and Criminal Intent (in which a Columbo-like Vincent D'Onofrio uses guile and brainpower to seduce a villain into self-exposure) — are not so harrowing that they keep you up at night. The original classic is, for some people I know, the cup of Ovaltine that, with reassuring predictability, tucks them in at night. One couple falls asleep, like clockwork, just before Sam Waterston or Steven Hill (the pre-Dianne Wiest D.A.) has closed the office door with yet another rueful aperçu. They're on the late-night rerun track, whereas my husband and I are on the early-bird cocktail-hour shift, on A&E at 7, or at least we were until a week ago, when the 7 p.m. reruns moved to 6, and we followed.

For those of us who are hopelessly hooked, the symbiosis with Law & Order begins with its physical presence on this corner or that, turning iconic and less well-known quarters of the city into a New York set. As it reaches into all areas of the city, from the barrio to the boardroom, from prisons to institutes of higher learning, the show restores New York's rightful place as capital of glamour and grit at a time Hollywood has abandoned us for Toronto, that cheaper, cleaner but ersatz "New York." 

The New York of Law & Order may be as much a myth as the skylines and dance floors and Park Avenue apartments that starred in an earlier, more rhapsodic vision of the city. But its myth is modern, multiethnic, capacious in its reach, and startlingly close, something you can reach out and touch. Many's the time I've stumbled onto a shooting and felt as if I were living inside it, like The Truman Show. Likewise when watching an episode with particular geographical resonance. Like the scene in Criminal Intent in which the art dealer perp is standing in front of the Church of the Heavenly Rest (where my husband and I were married) with the Guggenheim Museum (right around the corner from our apartment) in the background, complaining about the vacuity of the museum's motorcycle show. Or the Law & Order episode in which the highbrow suspect (a New York variant of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski) provides his alibi: at the time in question, he was, he says, at the Metropolitan Museum, listening to the free chamber music on Friday night, "one of the few civilized things left in this city." 
Then at a more advanced level of addiction, the show is a member of the family. It is a ritual woven into our lives as "their stories" become ours, a mirror that not only reflects matters of civic concern, that packs a wallop as a crime show and is wittier than most (streetwise suspects with "priors" know the angles and how to deal better than any law student), but also serves as a template in which we vicariously act out and perhaps exorcise little conflicts of our own. 
When in a group the subject comes up, we shriek with delight at discovering fellow hard-core fans. The first question is, When did you first turn on? The conversation becomes more sheepishly confessional. Which show(s) and how often? Time(s) of day? Do you have a limit on repeats of any particular episode? How long until you recognize it? 

We compare notes on how the show insinuates itself into our lives, creating a whole set of games and guilty rituals that vary from person to person, couple to couple. My husband and I have established ground rules: only one a day. Watch no episode more than three times. One of the few benefits of growing old and dim, I remind my friends, is that we'll all be able to watch Law & Order over and over again without remembering if we've seen it. 

For us, the evening begins with the Dragnet-like opening: "There are two separate and equal . . . These are their stories." Then the teaser precredit sequence: cops in a patrol car stopping at a deli for coffee, their kvetching rudely interrupted by a gunshot. Two black women walk into a pawn shop to find its owner dead on the floor. A husband and wife arguing — in a car, on the sidewalk, in the garage — when suddenly they stumble over a corpse. In the precredit sequence, husbands and wives are always arguing, presaging the connubial carnage to come.

I remember the sequence vividly, but not what follows, since the opening is a deliberate feint, setting you up for one kind of tragedy before zigzagging in a whole other direction. My husband, who has total recall for movies, has none for the opening scenes of each episode of Law & Order and will insist that we've never seen a particular show. I counter that not only have we seen it, but we've seen it more than the allowed three times. A dispute ensues, as difficult to adjudicate as some of the conflicts on "Law and Order." Will we watch it again until his memory clicks in (by which time we're already into the courtroom, too late to start another) or will we go ahead and put on one of the Law & Order tapes we keep in reserve? 

We love the episodes in which husbands or wives kill each other. They allow us to express all sorts of murderous feelings vicariously and playfully. We pretend (heh, heh) to pick up tips and ideas, using the jargon of the show. The efficiency of various weapons and methods, alibis, and so on, we've got it all figured out, even how we'll play it when arrested. 

Bail, for instance. My husband, though perhaps not an upstanding member of the community (his fondness for the prone position works against that), is such a known homebody, so averse to travel of any kind, that the idea that he might pose a "flight risk" would have the judge falling off the bench. On the other hand, that same clinging to the hearth will limit the freedom of movement and location that provides plausible alibis. An "accident" in a car or private plane, indeed one that involves extensive locomotion of any kind, is out of the question. But my husband does teach at Columbia. Does the student employment office offer hit men as well as bartenders? 

Bonding with the show means that you feel its sorrows as your own. The departure of a beloved cast member can be traumatic. The stories themselves can break your hearts: parents, of both the victims and the perpetrators, who lose their children, to death, to drugs, to crime, to lovelessness and missed communication. 

Even more wrenching are the rare eruptions of grief from the regulars. Who can forget the scene in which Lennie sits in wordless companionship with an old friend, a cop recently exposed for corruption, on the small patio of the friend's house in Queens? Or when he visits a wounded Paul Sorvino, playing his partner, at the hospital, and offers desperate words of cheer, trying to reassure him — and himself — that he'll be back on the street in no time. I could be dead. I could be wounded. I could be crooked. I could have gone down in a river of booze. But here I am. So goes the unsung threnody, the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God lament, that runs through the show, imbuing it with a magisterial tone of dignity. 

Over and over it is brought home to us, at the end of each episode, that whatever small triumph has been achieved, it's just a drop in the bucket. We're holding fast for now, but tomorrow's another day when we might prove less resistant to temptation, might finally slip across that thin line between the urge to kill or steal or betray or take a little on the side and actually enjoy doing it. 

Who Is This Briscoe? Well, He Resembles Jerry Orbach, Oddly
April 7, 2002
By Chris Erikson

Tere are a few things Law & Order watchers know about the hard-boiled detective Lennie Briscoe: he's twice divorced and the failed father of two daughters, he's a recovering alcoholic, he shoots a mean game of pool, and he favors coffee, lots of it, and street-vendor hot dogs. 

But they don't know this: he grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He was on the high school swim team and then in the Coast Guard. He lives on the West Side, follows the Mets, likes Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan, and misses the old Times Square, its all-night joints and 60-cent double features. 

Even the most rabid fan won't get that from Law & Order which maintains a policy of not delving into its characters' personal lives. These details come from the one place where Briscoe is allowed to dwell in full three-dimensional glory: the mind of the actor Jerry Orbach, who is now in his 10th season as the wisecracking cop who gives Law & Order its big-city soul. 

Mr. Orbach, 66, who studied Method acting under Lee Strasberg, has invested some effort into sketching out the details of his character's life. But not that much. After all, playing Briscoe isn't a major stretch, says Mr. Orbach, a Bronx native, a Mets fan who lives on the West Side, was on the high school swim team, shoots a mean game of pool, misses the old Times Square . . . you get the picture. 

"Lennie is sort of half me and half the character," said Mr. Orbach, who, over a sandwich and coffee in a Midtown diner, has Briscoe's humor and lack of pretense, but not his cynicism. (Unlike Briscoe, he's happily married and is close to his two adult sons.)

"I know Lennie's tougher than I am, he straps on a gun every morning and doesn't know if he's going to make it home alive that night, but other than that we're pretty close." 

Mr. Orbach, a Broadway veteran with a Tony to his credit, was typecast for years as an un-Briscoe-like song and dance man before he turned toward movies and then his current role. It doesn't stretch him as an actor, but there are other things. 

"The reward for me has been the acceptance from a lot of cops, and the fact that some say my character is the closest thing to what they think of as a New York detective. So that's very pleasing to me. I may not win Emmys with it, but that's O.K." 

Vincent D'Onofrio: Exercising A Genius For Shaking Loose The Truth
By Steve Vineberg (New York Times)
March 3, 2002

No television cop show has ever put forth a hero as unorthodox as Vincent D'Onofrio's Detective Bobby Goren, the main character on NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Goren is Sherlock Holmes, but with the spirit of a precocious little boy. He's a show-off, and he's a nerd on a mission, fascinated by even the most banal details of police procedure.

And we feel his missionary zeal, especially when he's made a promise to a victim's parents to snag a killer, or when he sees the bad guy as a traitor to the cause — a seedy politician, a Fed corrupted by power. That's when his Italian-Catholic side — he's described himself as a lapsed altar boy — surfaces. What really turns him on, though, is the chance to rattle suspects and shake loose their secrets. He's a genius at it: by the hour's end, those hidden truths come flying at him like paper clips at a magnet.

Mr. D'Onofrio is happy to detail Goren's full repertory of interrogation tactics. "He manipulates suspects, mirrors them, confuses them, intimidates them, throws them off, changes their thought patterns," he said by telephone during a recent break in shooting. "He pauses situations so he can return to zero; he catches them out in a lie."

Mr. D'Onofrio has his own battery of eccentric behaviors to shape Bobby's constantly varying modes of attack. He hunches his shoulders, sinking his head into his neck and then inching it out again like a tortoise emerging from his shell. Hovering over a seated target, he cranes his head down at a 45-degree angle from his body, as if he were dropping out of the sky, and swings menacingly close. His walk is lumbering yet somehow seductive, as if he's bearing a heavy weight and stepping on eggshells at the same time.
Probing for information from a street person, he emulates the man's manic style, a role switch reminiscent of a scene Paul Newman played in the movie Fort Apache, the Bronx. Goren meets the dubious testimony of suspects with exaggerated interest, or double takes that ricochet off pauses in the dialogue, or plain grinning astonishment. He's constantly straddling the line between sincerity and irony. Mr. D'Onofrio's line readings have weird caesuras in them, as if he were gulping air or searching for the next word, though he isn't really doing either; he's scrambling the rhythm of Goren's questions so that the person on the other end of the interrogation never has a chance to adjust to his style.
Mr. D'Onofrio, who trained with Sonia Moore at the American Stanislavsky Theater and Sharon Chatten of the Actors Studio, comes to Criminal Intent, the latest in Dick Wolf's Law & Order shows, from a decade and a half in movies. Filmgoers may draw a blank on his name, but they've probably seen him — in Full Metal Jacket, as the maddened recruit; in Mystic Pizza, as the swaggering fisherman who swears off sex with Lili Taylor until she agrees to marry him; or in Men in Black, as the alien with the oddly mannered growl (Mr. D'Onofrio identifies it as a cross between George C. Scott and John Huston) whose walk, in the ill-fitting human body he's assumed, is a vaudeville parody of Frankenstein's monster's.

Mr. D'Onofrio's most remarkable work on the big screen has gone largely unseen: as the pulp writer Robert E. Howard in The Whole Wide World, as Abbie Hoffman in Steal This Movie and opposite Marisa Tomei in last year's Happy Accidents. He's a performer of great physical and emotional range. Before Criminal Intent, he made his biggest splash on television in an Emmy-nominated guest spot on Homicide as a commuter caught under a subway car, and even there, restricted as he was by his character's situation and by the staginess of the drama (which was like a particularly effective version of a live television play from the 1950's), he managed to be inventive with whatever parts of his body were free — his arms, mostly.

Criminal Intent (Sundays at 9 p.m.) is one of this season's most pleasurable surprises — a more cerebral version of Law & Order in which the psychology of the perpetrator and the modus operandi of the detective are given equal attention. And on it, Mr. D'Onofrio takes the kind of command you associate more with a great stage performer than with a television series regular. "It's theatrical in the real sense," he said. "They're giving me completely free rein to take the character where I want to take it."

Mr. D'Onofrio said that René Balcer, the co-creator of Law & Order who has written most of the Criminal Intent scripts, "gives me opportunities to take what he's written and move it somewhere else."
"We're improvising without changing a word of the text," he continued. "It's a blast, an absolute blast. And the other actors come on set to play because they know I'm up for it."

He was referring to Kathryn Erbe, who plays his partner, Detective Eames — as Mr. D'Onofrio sees her, the Watson to his Holmes — as well as to Jamey Sheridan (the police captain, whose responses to Goren veer from skepticism to admiration) and the gifted Courtney Vance (an assistant district attorney). He was referring, too, to the impressive roster of guest stars. Jake Weber, Adam Trese, Eric Thal, Griffin Dunne and Michael Gross have all made strong impressions as criminals whose intent has been dramatized by Mr. Balcer and the other writers.
One episode, about a murder among the members of a wealthy, poisonous family, featured four splendid performers — George Martin, David Aaron Baker, Laila Robins and the Québécois actor Lothaire Bluteau. Mr. D'Onofrio's match of wits with Ms. Robins, who plays one of the suspects, was especially memorable — a sweet little actors' flirtation.

"The most fun you can possibly have as an actor," Mr. D'Onofrio said, "is to walk that line between what's real and what's interesting." It's not surprising to learn that his acting heroes are Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. "I like actors who take a different road, whose careers are off the beaten path," he said. "Guinness had amazing integrity and the nerve to do things no one else dared to do in movies. That's why I like being a character actor. It's a fantastic job to have; you get to fine-tune your chops all the time. It's the main reason I never fancied myself as a leading man, because you lose so much freedom immediately."
Perhaps what makes "Criminal Intent" so ticklishly unconventional is that Mr. D'Onofrio gets to have it both ways. He's the character actor as leading man. 

Law & Order Saved Yates
The New York Post
with Paula Froelich and Chris Wilson 

Andreaa Yates owes her life to a writer from Law & Order.

Suzanne O'Malley, an investigative journalist who writes for the hit series and consulted on the Yates trial for Dateline: NBC, was sitting in the courtroom when world-famous forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz testified that Yates was perfectly sane when she drowned her kids - a key moment in the state's case. 

O'Malley, who worked with Dietz when the shrink was a consultant to Law & Order, paid particular attention to his testimony. Dietz testified that the Sam Waterston-starrer was Yates' favorite program and that she planned her children's murders after watching an episode in which a mother drowns her kids, claims post-partum depression, and is acquitted. Dietz said Yates used the show as a "blueprint" to escape her rotten life and marriage. 

But O'Malley was stunned, because she knew that while Law & Order was indeed Yates' favorite, "no such episode had ever been written, much less aired," she says. 

As an authority on the subject, O'Malley passed the information along to Yates' lawyer George Parnham. The night before Yates' sentencing, Parnham had Dietz admit to false testimony. 

"Jurors were shocked," O'Malley says. "The prosecutor had egg on his face. And the misinformation became the grounds for a mistrial, so the prosecutor was forced to give up asking for the death penalty. [Parnham] told me, 'You saved her life.' " 

Yates, 37, was sentenced to life in prison and will not be eligible for parole until 2041. If the state decides Yates needs special treatment in jail, it could end up costing taxpayers $30,000 to $50,000 a year. 

"It was the dream of why I had ever wanted to be an investigative reporter," O'Malley says. "And spiritually speaking, it had to be me - with my particular set of cicumstances - sitting in that courtroom for the chain reaction to occur. It was awesome." 

Earlier this week, Yates's husband, Rusty, rejected criticism from family members who charge he didn't do enough for his mentally ill wife. Andrea's brother, Brian Kennedy, said Rusty was "unemotional and inattentive," and claimed he and other relatives had to beg him to get help for Andrea. Kennedy says he thinks legal action against Rusty should be looked into. 

But Rusty blamed Andrea's doctors for the tragedy, saying he may sue them for taking her off anti-psychotic medication and not hospitalizing her in the days before she killed their kids. 

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