Law and Disorderly
Season 13 is looking to be an unlucky number for crime drama
By Noel Holston, staff writer Newsday
October 2, 2002
Time and franchising of Law & Order have taken their toll on the original. Yes, it was up for an Emmy again the other night, but that just adds to the suspicion that the TV academy's members don't stay in often enough. Last season's Law & Order had more ho-hum episodes than ever before. Dianne Wiest continued to deliver her lines as though she had been hypnotized into taking the role of district attorney Nora Lewin. Elizabeth Rohm was and is the weakest actor to hold the second assistant district attorney role. And worst of all, the series' celebrated knack for ripping cases from the headlines and sewing them into something seamless and spiffy was seldom in evidence. The stitching showed like the jagged scars on the Frankenstein monster's neck. I'm not imagining this. This is a show I have a long history of enjoying. As a preseason treat to myself - a break from watching pilots like Good Morning Miami and That Was Then - I took in a triple header of Law & Order reruns on TNT a couple weeks ago. All three were from the mid-1990s, when Carey Lowell and Benjamin Bratt's stints on the show overlapped and the great Steven Hill was still playing D.A. Adam Schiff - and perhaps more importantly, when writer-executive producer Rene Balcer was still fully involved with the show. He's now busy running Criminal Intent, the second L&O spin-off. The three reruns were terrific - credible and crackling with energy - and the endings packed, if not a surprise, a healthy punch. They were everything tonight's 13th season premiere is not. I realize no mere negative review is going to keep serious L&O addicts from watching, so I'll try not to give too much away here. The plot is an attempt to graft aspects of two big post-9/11 news stories - "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh's treason and the pretrial posturing of alleged "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui - to lessons about good and bad Muslims and a murder. It features some of the clumsiest, potted dialogue since Aaron Sorkin's West Wing opener last year, and the whole exercise feels phonier than the defendant's fundamentalist beard. Oh, and one more thing: New cast member Fred Thompson seems happier to be in the show than Wiest did, but he's not as good an actor, so the D.A. switch is, at best, a draw. Personally, I'd be OK with a hologram of Hill.
Rethinking the off-net market
The buying frenzy cools as cable nets lessen dependence on syndie fare
By John M. Higgins, Broadcasting & Cable
Diane Robina was tense in the final days of the cable bidding for rights to crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The TNN executive vice president and her boss, Herb Scannell, were ready to offer the highest price ever for an off-network series: $1.6 million per episode. It was a commitment of at least $140 million, an enormous sum for a cable network, and the deal didn't even include a weekend run or exclusivity against TV stations. "Herb and I looked at each other and said, 'We're frickin' crazy.'"
Crazy or not, they did the deal. Although the show was only in its second season, the consistency of its top-10 Nielsen ranking suggested a long run on its broadcast network, CBS. And TNN needed a high-profile "franchise" beyond wrestling that would attract young viewers.
That was spring 2001, a time when the syndication market was its hottest ever, breaking the record that historically small-time buyer Bravo had set just weeks earlier with a $1.2 million bid for rights to NBC hit The West Wing. Today, though, the frenzy sparked by big-spending new entrants to the high end of the off-net syndication game is over. The slumping ad market makes it hard for cable networks to justify such huge license fees, particularly for shows that could run way past four seasons. In addition, some established networks are shifting strategy. FX and Court TV, for example, are lessening their dependence on syndicated fare in prime time.
Court TV broke out of the Nielsen-ratings basement by replacing taped trial coverage with Homicide, which did terribly on Lifetime. "We had to prove that that we weren't all-vegetables for vegetarians," says Court TV CEO Henry Schleiff. But now he's more focused on original fare in prime time. "Off-network series," he observes, "are incredibly important at different stages of a network's growth."
It's second- and third-tier networks that are in the hunt now for recent, recognizable programs. TNN, Bravo, WE and Court TV have continued the pace set by USA, TNT, TBS and Lifetime. The next serious buyers are expected to include Hallmark Channel, ABC Family and Oxygen.
Also changing are the old rules of exclusivity. Studios and their primary customers, the broadcast networks, are increasingly willing to offer a "repurposing" slot, allowing a cable buyer to run an episode a week after its first broadcast. (Such deals, of course, are facilitated by the common parentage of syndicator, broadcast and cable outlets in a Disney, Fox or Viacom.) And cable networks also are starting to team up in joint bids. "We're all faced with a challenging economy, and the reality of the economy is driving pricing down," says Jonathan Katz, executive vice president of program planning for the Turner entertainment networks.
"I think buyers are willing to pay the going rate for quality product," says Steve Mosko, president of Sony Television. "But they're less willing to pay ridiculous prices for mediocre product."
He won't specify which he thinks were bad deals, but other studio and network executives cite the Fox Family (now ABC Family) $700,000-per-episode deal for NBC drama Providence, now sitting in the network's library, and FX's $650,000-per-episode payment for Fox's Ally McBeal as the worst examples of past excess.
Several programs have been on the market for months with no takers at an acceptable price, including Sony Television's Dawson's Creek and Paramount Domestic Television's Becker. Network executives expected CBS sibling King World's drama Family Law to come out months ago.
The next big tests will be the cable window for King of Queens, cable exclusive rights for Warner Bros. Gilmore Girls, and what could be a truly hot property, NBC Studios' Crossing Jordan.
Since Crossing Jordan has strong women demos and a female central character, Lifetime is expected to come off the sidelines and bid hard for the show. Even that won't be a true market test, says Eric Frankel, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution, because Crossing Jordan isn't as hot as the past record-breakers. "Since The West Wing and CSI, there haven't been any shows that were necessarily deserving of that lofty status."
The cable syndication market has a few different strata. The highest, of course, is fare still running on the broadcast networks. Because hour dramas don't repeat well on local broadcast, cable gets first crack there, with many shows fetching $500,000 to $900,000 per episode. Even at top prices, however, cable networks typically get only weeknights, because syndicators collect more license fees by selling weekend runs to broadcast stations.
Still, "cable's pretty critical," says Morgan Stanley media analyst Richard Bilotti. "Without the cable networks, there wouldn't be big buyers for this stuff, so they wouldn't get made for broadcast in the first place."
When it comes to sitcoms, however, cable plays second banana to local broadcast stations. Cable nets can't come close to matching the average ratings. Stations collectively pay $3 million to $4 million per episode for hit sitcoms like Frasier. Cable ad rates are lower, too: $5-$6 per thousand viewers vs. $20-25 for a big-market broadcast station. At best, a cable network will buy runs of a sitcom after three years or so in syndication and, even then, share the runs with stations. The best example is TBS's scheduling of Friends in the same slot when local stations might be showing it.
Then there are shows no longer on broadcast-net schedules. Ratings for off-net fare on cable hold for about a year. That's why off-CBS Walker, Texas Ranger went from USA Network's early-evening slot to the afternoon, where it airs three times daily, and USA is burning off NBC's canceled Veronica's Closet at 4 a.m., where it can't do any ratings damage.
Relatively recent shows can still be expensive; Lifetime is paying $400,000 per episode for The Nanny. But many canceled shows on cable nets' daytime schedule are just $50,000-$125,000 an episode; Sci Fi, for example, is paying $125,000 for Roswell, which kicks off in January.
At some point, however, a show might be considered a classic and command big dollars. One cable-network executive predicts the next cycle of Roseanne will fetch $1 million an episode because it still holds a rating.
The biggest change in the market is the sharing of shows by two cable networks. TBS and Tribune Broadcasting pioneered sharing of theatrical movies a decade ago.
Of late, cable networks have similarly teamed up to split a syndication window. Court TV and TNT currently share NYPD Blue (Court TV in prime, TNT during the day), paying a fat combined fee of $850,000 per episode. Both nets are subsidiaries of AOL Time Warner, but TNT cut a similar deal with Vivendi Universal's Sci Fi Channel for Twentieth Television's The X-Files, at $550,000 an episode.
"It's a natural evolution because the economics dictate that we use new models," explains Turner's Katz.
However, TNT's plan to bid on Twentieth TV's Judging Amy with WE: Women's Entertainment shattered, industry executives say, when WE submitted a solo bid without informing TNT. Turner executives angrily topped WE's bid and secured exclusive rights to the show for $525,000 per episode. Neither TNT nor WE would comment on the joint bid.
The bad news is that some players are backing away from the syndie market. FX, for example, is relying on theatrical movies in prime time, after an embarrassing ratings experience with all-in-the-family syndication deals for The Practice, Ally McBeal and, to a lesser degree, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All, of course, are distributed by FX's corporate sibling Twentieth Television. FX plans to keep a high profile with original programming, like its huge hit The Shield.
FX Senior Vice President of Programming Chuck Saftler considers movies a less volatile way of drawing a steady audience. "I feel that the movie strategy is a very reliable strategy, where acquired off-network series is more risky, given the competition from broadcast network and other basic-cable networks."
Still not gagging on 'Order'? Then there oughta be a 'Law...'
By John Levesque, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Television Critic
November 9, 2001
It all began in 1990. Like a stealth relative who manages to elude family radar, "Law & Order quietly became part of NBC's prime-time schedule, giving television viewers a balanced diet of ripped-from-the-headlines crime stories unfettered by deep character development.
In time, it became one of the most popular cop shows on television, winning the Emmy Award for outstanding drama series in 1997 and persisting in daily syndication the way fallen leaves multiply on the weekend.
In 1999, creator/producer/crime junkie Dick Wolf added Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a spinoff centering on the activities of an elite New York police squad dedicated to solving the more lurid type of Big Apple crimes, notably of the seedy, sexual variety. This season, Wolf returned once more with Law & Order: Criminal Intent, aiming to examine wrongdoing from the wrongdoer's perspective and showing a lot more violence than the original ever contemplated.
For those who find three Law & Orders to be two too many, it can seem overwhelming. NBC has only 11 dramas in its prime-time lineup, and three fly the Law & Order banner.
Not surprisingly, Wolf doesn't see it as saturation. He sees it as the ultimate in branding.
"It's like Coke, Diet Coke, Diet Coke without caffeine, Cherry Coke," he says. "As long as we don't screw up one of the brand extensions, I think the brand remains intact."
Wolf is so confident in the scheme that he even develops a shorthand for the new progeny. Thus, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit quickly became Law & Order: SVU, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent has already been shortened to Law & Order: CI, allowing the mind's eye to rest on Law & Order -- the brand -- instead of the unnecessary clutter that comes after. Evidently, NBC likes the idea. So it follows that other dramas on the network will inevitably gather under the Law & Order umbrella. ER will become Law & Order: ER and focus on solving the twin mysteries of Dr. Benton's missing smile and Dr. Romano's missing personality. The West Wing will become Law & Order: WW, zeroing in on a ring of light-bulb thieves who have rendered the White House as poorly lit as the guests at an alcohol-free bachelor party. UC: Undercover will simply become Law & Order: UC, even though we still don't C any reason for it to be on the air.
In the event these conversions don't attract the audience to which the network has become accustomed, we offer Wolf and NBC these additional suggestions to help keep the brand alive.
Law & Order: SUV. Each week, Detectives Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green use the half-hour that they're not working on the original Law & Order to track down the owners of Ford Excursions, Chevy Suburbans and other bloated behemoths, charging them with assorted crimes against humanity, including deliberately taking up too much space and wantonly blocking out the sun. Owners of Lincoln Navigators and Cadillac Escalades face the additional charge of being ostentatious without a permit.
Law & Order: QVC. Michael Moriarty returns as assistant district attorney Ben Stone in this riveting spinoff centering on crimes related to the home-shopping industry. In the series premiere, Stone prosecutes a grisly homicide arising from a domestic dispute over the cost of a pair of 14-karat white-gold earrings with oval-cut pink tourmaline stones in a four-prong setting surrounded by eight round-cut diamonds. Employing an unusual cross-promotional tie-in, NBC makes a copy of each week's piece of evidence available for purchase in four easy installments at ShopNBC.com.
Law & Order: FTD. Martha Stewart stars in her first prime-time drama as a federal investigator looking into the pricing of floral arrangements the sender never gets to see. Using forensic skills acquired at the East Hampton Academy of Forensic Decoupage, Stewart's character, special agent Flora Bunda, uncovers a worldwide racket to pass "medium" off as "large" while simultaneously exposing the wrist corsage as not a good thing.
Law & Order: HBO. In this bold departure for network TV, Chris Noth takes time out from playing Mr. Big on Sex and the City -- hey, it's only a part-time job -- and reprises the role of Detective Mike Logan to investigate why cable shows such as The Sopranos and Sex and the City can get away with saying #?%? and #$%#&?/, while shows on the broadcast networks can't. The probe leads to the networks' standards and practices departments, where each week Logan has his knuckles rapped with a ruler and his mouth washed out with soap. Sponsored by Procter & Gamble. Law & Order: VH1. When he's not appearing on CBS's That's Life, Paul Sorvino, who left Law & Order after one season (1991-92) to study opera, is back as Detective Phil Cerretta to investigate allegations that Behind the Music is really the same show every week, with only the band's name changed to confuse the gullible.
Law & Order: PPV. In a cunning stroke of marketing strategy, NBC airs the first 55 minutes free of charge, then requires viewers to pay $9.95 to see the conclusion. Free six-pack of Pepsi with every purchase.
Law & Order
by Rachel Hyland, PopMatters Film and TV Critic
"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups." Thus begins every episode of Law & Order, television's longest-running drama. Refining down the ever-popular Cop Show and Lawyer Show concepts, creator Dick Wolf brought forth from the ashes an anthology crime series unlike any other, one that follows a felony from its discovery to the jury's decision... and then does it over again in the next episode. Same time, same channel. Different victim, different perp.
And now, Law & Order is back, again. Its twelfth season began on September 26, with another imaginative crime, this time, homicide by pooch. Seems that someone is teaching dogs to kill each other in an underground dogfight racket. As the episode begins, it appears that, a result of all its abuse and conditioning, one renegade has killed not only another of its kind, but the victim-dog's owner as well. This is how the "law" gets in on the act. Then along comes the "order," the lawyers, who bring the poor dog into the courtroom fitted with a Hannibal Lecter-style muzzle, looking for all the world like it might crave fava beans and Chianti at any moment. All in all, it's another day at the office for our boys in blue (well, boys in suits, really) and their law school-graduate counterparts. Another day of practically true-life crime and, it is to be hoped, punishment. Which just goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the very same.
The 2001 premiere was an episode like many others, hearkening back to the days of original protagonists Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) and his partner, Max Greevey (George Dzundza). Good Irish Catholic boys (like most of the folks to be found in New York's gritty finest, if this show is to be believed) they, too, would investigate grisly murders of the tabloid kind, and with the help of their sarcastic captain, Donald Cragen (Dann Florek), would at last identify the guilty. Then along would come the Assistant District Attorney, Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) and his assistant, Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks), and all too often find that just because they had their collar, didn't mean they had their man. Bad guys would get off, get deals, or get dead, and the second half-hour of the show would run the gamut, from ethical dilemmas to legal posturing to pithy epigrams that summed up the moral of the story.
Over time, those five purveyors of law and/or order moved on up and others moved in, but still, the course of true justice never runs smooth. Phil Cerreta (Paul Sorvino), replaced Greevey, and then Anita van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) replaced Cragen. Then Cerreta got shot and Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach, perhaps otherwise best known as Baby's Dad from Dirty Dancing) took over the role as wisecracking veteran to first Logan, and then Det. Reynaldo Curtis Benjamin Bratt). With one partner now Mr. Big and the other starring in Sandra Bullock movies, Briscoe must wonder when new guy Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin) will be selling out shows on Broadway.
With the rest of the cast in a state of perpetual flux, it was always good to be able to depend upon the venerable presence of longest serving alumnus, District Attorney Adam Schiff (Steven Hill). Although he was only in a few scenes per episode, and his actual case-trying days were long behind him, Schiff' ironclad convictions and biting irony made him a comforting constant in an uncertain world. But then he was traded in last season for Academy Award winner Dianne Weist as DA Nora Lewin, and he is now, we are told, negotiating reparations for Holocaust survivors in Vienna.
Well, at least he wasn't killed, which was the fate of poor ADA Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennesy). Supplanting Robinette as Stone's helpmeet, she was inherited by Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) when he took over the office. He brought with him a certain reputation for affairs with his subordinates, and Kincaid was a beautiful brunette (as are many female ADAs, apparently), with firm opinions on equality and no fear of taking her superiors to task. She announced she was leaving at the end of the seventh season, and appeared to die in a car accident not long after.
Whether Claire and Jack were ever romantically involved is still a matter of some speculation and debate among fans of the show, very Mulder and Scully. They shared inferences, gestures, tender looks, and intimate dinners, but whether or not they ever really hooked up is a question that has never been definitively answered. And therein lies the essence of what makes this such compelling drama. Certainly, we know these Law & Order characters, all their forcefulness and frailty. But it is precisely because we get no exposition about their histories or exhaustive details about their personal lives that they become fascinating. When the backstory (even current story) of a main character is only revealed in random comments and reactions, the added dimension of mystery can only heighten our interest. Were Logan and the lovely Dr. Elizabeth Olivet (Carolyn McCormick) an item, as her witness box confirmation of a "personal relationship" might suggest? Are McCoy and Jamie Ross (Cary Lowell), another assistant, continuing a relationship, or did he perhaps take up with the next brunette, Abbie Carmichael (Angie Harmon)? We have no idea. Indeed, the death of Claire Kincaid was only confirmed by a sad-eyed McCoy after years of viewer conjecture as to her fate.
In stark contrast to so many other shows of its crime-fighting ilk, Law & Order has not devolved into soap opera. It is first and foremost a study of contemporary society, of crime and justice and what those concepts mean in our modern, Court TV-fueled age. It's about the crimes, and not about the people who investigate them. Plus, it offers no easy answers. Life isn't fair and the good guys don't always triumph. Some villains are not so villainous, some crimes seem almost justified, and right doesn't always prevail. Or at all. Witnesses are impossible (Logan: "It's just like the Gospels -- four guys telling the same story and they're all different"), juries are manipulable, and the press is a rabid dog that can ruin a crime scene, a life, and a perfectly good prosecution. Like Adam Schiff once said: "Utopia's a small town upstate, with a different zip code from the criminal justice system."
Even as most crime shows deplore the evil that men do, they at times also celebrate it. Law & Order does not make this mistake. Though it frequently, and most chillingly, tells tales of true crime -- the monstrous pit bull is the most recent example -- it also treats them with the dread, indeed, the disgust they deserve. It is essential viewing if for no other reason than it reaches through the desensitising lens of media frenzy to the human cost that lies beneath. It reminds us that there can be no excuses for murder, no reasons or rationale for those who commit it... no matter how many interviews they give or best-selling tell-all books they release. Law & Order refuses to glamorise its subject matter, despite its often glamorous stars. Its progeny, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and the fall-premiering Law & Order: Criminal Intent, expand upon its themes in many ways. In SVU, we've even seen inside the lead investigators' homes and CI gives us insights from the wrong-doer's point of view, but the original will always be the best. The only minor concern is that, after eleven successful seasons (and with a guaranteed run through the year 2005), plus the demands of the other two shows in the triumvirate, the folks at Creepy Murder Plot Headquarters might run out of the various permutations of sin that people can commit.
But with a new ADA -- a blonde, this time, rejoicing in the name of Serena Southerlyn (played by Elisabeth Rohm, last seen as strung-out cop Kate Lockley on the WB's Angel) -- a new show (CI) for in-house cross-over episodes, and a lot of old laws to be broken and re-broken, the future looks bright (if not exactly rosy) for the folks of Law & Order. Besides, who knows? Maybe the cast will be exactly the same at the end of this season. If that's not a new twist for the show to deliver its fans, then nothing is.
Noth: Mr. Big's Big Weekend
STEPHEN M. SILVERMAN, People
October 11, 2002
Chris Noth, who plays Sarah Jessica Parker's on-again-off-again squeeze Mr. Big on HBO's Sex and the City, is getting even bigger job opportunities. Variety reports that the actor has closed a deal with HBO (which, like PEOPLE, is owned by Time Warner) to star in his own weekly series. The show will either be specially created for him, or he will step into the leading role of a series that the pay cable network already has in development. Meanwhile, this week's PEOPLE reports that the former Law & Order star (he played Det. Mike Logan) will return to Sex and the City sometime during the final five episodes of this season. On Sunday, the same night Vince Vaughn and Carrie Fisher pop up on that night's episode of Sex, Noth will be opening on Broadway, in the leading role of a revival of Gore Vidal's 1960 political satire, The Best Man. The Best Man AND Mr. Big? How can any actor live up to such nicknames?
Little air time for Sex and the City's beloved Big, Noth warns
by Helen Branswell, CanadianPress
Saturday, September 28, 2002
TORONTO (CP) - He's known as TV's Mr. Big. But at the moment, actor Chris Noth is Mr. Bored.
Noth, in Toronto for a charity event, has agreed to do publicity interviews for Bravo. The Canadian specialty channel broadcasts both the runaway hit, Sex and the City, which has made Noth fantasy fodder for multitudes of women and re-runs of Law & Order, the long-running favourite on which Noth played Detective Mike Logan for five years.
Problem is, Noth, 47, isn't too keen to talk about either of them.
He's heard the questions. Many, many, many, many times. They bore him. And on this day at least, Noth's tolerance for things that bore him - and they seem legion - is exceedingly low.
So an innocuous opening comment ("So, about Mr. Big....") gets cut off, mid-question.
"What about him?" Noth growls.
The warning is clear: Proceed at your own peril.
Pressing on in the face of Noth's evident disinterest elicits the following Sex and the City factoids:
- Big is in only one episode this truncated season. Carrie hooks up with Big when a book signing tour takes her to San Francisco. "I thought it was a good episode, the one we did. And we'll see what happens next season," says Noth, whose surname rhymes with both.
- Whether there will be a next season for Mr. Big is no sure thing. "To tell you the truth I don't foresee doing a lot of them - if any - next season.... It just depends on my schedule and theirs and whether the story line's organic enough to merit it."
- Mr. Big doesn't have another name. (If you ever run into Noth, do not ask this question. Come to think of it, don't call him Mr. Big either. "It's r-e-a-l-l-y boring.") "It's a fictional contrivance," Noth says of the name thing, lolling on a leopard skin-patterned couch in Bravo's downtown offices. "There is no other name. They (the writers) don't want to explore it any further. And I don't ask them to."
- Noth, whose standards are exacting, gives Sex and the City top marks. "Sex and the City still is an incredibly original show. I don't think Law & Order is anymore. I think Law & Order is like Gunsmoke. You see it coming a mile away."
Truth be told, Noth doesn't think much of what passes as television these days, which is why he hasn't tried to parlay the incredible profile the small-but-pivotal role on Sex and the City has given him into another series, a talk show, or, God forbid, Mr. Big cologne.
"When I did Law & Order in 1990, when you think about it, it preceded so many of these shows that are basically reality shows and they are all saying the same thing," Noth explains. "All these doctor/lawyer/cop shows. No matter how sort of innovative they can be, I'm bored by it."
Noth is talking about being bored, but he no longer seems it. An engaged Chris Noth is a much more interesting interview.
"I have a lot of offers and choices and I choose not to do it. Because I don't honestly believe in most of the material that comes my way.
"And frankly, as I've gotten older, I don't want to just give my life over to a TV series, unless it's something that I feel as passionate about as I did the first few years of Law & Order or have as much fun and be in something that has as great writing as Sex and the City, with as great people." As a matter of fact, Noth feels he's spending entirely too much time in the living rooms of the world as is it.
"I'm so exposed on TV, between Sex and the City and Law & Order," he insists. "I don't want to be in everyone's household all the time. You know what I mean? I don't want to be in another popular TV show, necessarily." Perhaps he'd find an unsuccessful show more stimulating? Noth is not amused. "Well, that's not fun either," Noth retorts. "I have to still earn a living because frankly, I haven't made a lot of money from any of these."
You might think he and the rest of the Law & Order cast are rolling in residuals, given the show's omnipresence in syndication. You would be wrong, according to Noth. They make "a pittance" - he repeated the word six times so it may just be a sore point - for the hours and hours of cable programming that Law & Order fills, he says.
But back to the issue of Noth and his career strategy. He's a guy who knows more is not better.
"I just don't want to become a commodity. And that's what it starts to feel like. You know? You feel like a bar of freakin' soap that they're selling. I just want to do diverse kinds of things."
Noth is giving it his best shot.
He will be seen this season as Pompey the Great, a Roman general, in TNT's mini-series Julius Caesar. He's trying to find financial backing for a Romulus Linney play he'd like to do called Klonsky and Schwartz, about the poet Delmore Schwartz. He's trying to figure out if he can work an off-Broadway play he has been offered into his schedule.
He'd love to do a limited run in London's West End, but hasn't found the right vehicle yet. He was asked to co-star in Madonna's West End debut this spring, Up For Grabs, but wasn't interested in the role or the play. He was recently offered the male lead in the hit musical Chicago on Broadway, but turned that down too.
"It's a fun role. I'd be right for it. My problem with that is it's a show that's been on the boards for a long, long time. I prefer to do something new." He's trying to write and develop a couple of projects of his own, a mini-series for HBO and a series of occasional movies - "black comedy" - based on some books he has the rights to for TNT. He won't say much about either nascent project. So for the time being, fans may have to content themselves with old Law & Order and Sex and the City episodes for their Noth fixes.
"There are actors that go from one project to the next. And I'm just not one of them," he says flatly.
"I don't need to work to feel happy, all the time. I like to work - when the project speaks to me. Otherwise, there's plenty of great books to read and great places to see."
Oh, and for the record, Noth doesn't think Mr. Big should have a name.
"Do you think people would want to know if let's say my name was Fred or Frank?" Clearly not. But what if the writers gave Big a great name? A sexy name? A truly worthy name? He doesn't think, at this point, any name would fit Big's bill. "Unless it was maybe Billy Bob."
At that, Chris Noth chuckles.
'Satan's not fire. He's ice.'
The 60-year-old man behind the actor's mask is a deeply troubled person who has battled alcohol, depression and homelessness since he created the buttoned-down character of Ben Stone 12 years ago. He's still battling his demons and, perhaps, making progress. 'I am not running away from my fame any more,' he tells ALEXANDRA GILL
By ALEXANDRA GILL, The Globe and Mail
Saturday, August 3, 2002 - Print Edition, Page F3
VANCOUVER -- Michael Moriarty, the actor, is best known as Ben Stone, the righteous district attorney on NBC's Law and Order. Michael Moriarty, the man, has earned himself a reputation as a drunken fool. These days, with a recent Emmy nomination shining like a miracle in the darkness of his washed-up career, Mr. Moriarty plays a slippery preacher man in a made-for-TV film, James Dean. And it almost seems as though he has convinced himself the role is real. Dressed in a collarless, black shirt, buttoned up to his neck, the 60-year-old actor presides over a downtown Vancouver café table strewn with coffee cups, half-finished breakfast plates and cigarette packs. Standing up, he introduces the small congregation at his side.
"Meet my family," Mr. Moriarty says with a voice that sounds ravaged and gravelly. "Donny, my adopted son," he says, nodding to a man in his early 30s wearing mirrored sunglasses and a prominent gold cross hanging from a chain on his burly chest.
"Carol, my beloved," he adds, nodding to a petite woman in a denim miniskirt, whose puckered mouth and deeply lined face suggest a woman older than her years. "Thank you for coming," he says, grasping my hand. "God bless you."
He's on his third cup of espresso.
Those who have followed Mr. Moriarty's ups and downs will know that his personal life has often been more entertaining than his career.
In the early seventies, the young graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art showed great promise, standing out in films alongside Robert De Niro (Bang the Drum Slowly) and Jack Nicholson (The Last Detail). He won an Emmy award for his 1978 performance in the TV miniseries Holocaust, but it wasn't until 1990, when he premiered in the original cast of the acclaimed TV series Law and Order,that Mr. Moriarty earned widespread recognition.
He stormed off the show four years later in a thunder clap of absolutist indignation that could very well have been portrayed by his intense courtroom character. He claimed he was being blackballed by the network and slowly written out of the series because of his outspoken criticisms of then U.S. attorney-general Janet Reno's effort to curb violence on television.
After threatening to run for the U.S. presidency, he hightailed it to Canada and declared himself a self-imposed political exile. Blazing a trail from Halifax to Toronto and, eventually, Vancouver, Mr. Moriarty has since been married (and divorced), worked on 24 film and TV sets, formed the Republican Party of Canada, threatened to run for mayor of Calgary, recorded two jazz CDs, composed chamber music, conducted his own symphony, written three books of poetry, a one-man play and countless film scripts, published a novel, a memoir and various political opinion pieces (three of which have been published in The Globe and Mail).
Two years ago, Mr. Moriarty resurfaced in the courtroom. This time, on an assault charge that involved slapping his then common-law wife. He avoided a conviction and criminal record by agreeing to behave himself and undergo treatment for alcohol addiction.
Six months ago, he was admitted to a hospital in Maple Ridge, a suburb 40 kilometres east of Vancouver, after being assaulted in a bar. The RCMP said the attack was unprovoked. Mr. Moriarty, who says he has been attacked five times in the past two years, believes he is the victim of a young gang of wannabe mobsters with wealthy family connections.
He wrote about the so-called "Hyena Pack" and the wild frontier of the Vancouver suburb he now calls home in a long-winded parable titled The Lone Stranger. He submitted the first part of this dramatic western yarn to The Globe and Mail to consider for publication. (An excerpt appears here.) Back on the patio, Mr. Moriarty says he will have no idea how The Lone Stranger will end until Jan. 13, when his case -- his attackers in the bar were charged -- goes to trial. "I'm not writing this play, God is," he says, his beady, blue eyes transfixed in a cloud of cigarette smoke.
"To me, God is a dramatist and we are the actors," says Mr. Moriarty, who once toyed with the idea of starting a church called The Church of the Good Thief. "Play the role well, therein all the honour lies. When the words hit your head, say them. Don't hold back. It's a leap of faith. It takes great courage to do that."
Mr. Moriarty found his courage within. "I didn't know how tough it was until I went through all this. I was in the hospital, I went to the mirror and I looked like the Elephant Man. I didn't see my face -- I saw my soul. I discovered my soul does exist, and it's eternal. My body is temporary. Really. It was quite a moment."
Five assaults can't be easy to endure, but it wasn't the first time Mr. Moriarty, who studied at a Jesuit high school, has experienced a jolting epiphany. When he was 23, he thought he saw God while visiting Florence. His friends were so concerned they had him admitted to hospital, whereupon he underwent electroshock therapy.
If God doesn't deal in his favour, he always has his fame to fall back on. "I wouldn't mind if the press were all over [the trial]. I'm not running away from my fame any more."
If Mr. Moriarty sees God, the playwright, as his saviour, would drink be his devil? No, he says. Satan is more like an ice cube. "They've got it wrong. Satan's not fire, he's ice. He's a glacier, as cold as Alaska. We are fire. We are warmth. We are passion. We are alive. The devil is ice. Cold, ruthless, calculating, cunning, reptilian."
It's no wonder AA didn't work for him. "Unfortunately, I am not anonymous," Mr. Moriarty says, explaining how he felt smothered by all the special attention he received as a result of his fame.
These days, he says he follows Winston Churchill's advice: "Drink moderately, all day."
How then, does he keep the demons at bay? "Love your warmth, your passion, your life. Melt the devil. Melt him down."
His two companions (Carol and Donny) crack up. Mr. Moriarty says it's easier to balance life's trials and tribulations now that he's finally found a family. Of course, he said the same thing when he was living with his former wife in Halifax and the "socialist poster girl" he was charged with assaulting. It's different, he insists, in the bible belt of Maple Ridge. "We go to the lake, we laugh, we sing, we tell jokes."
How did they meet? The table erupts into cackles. "You wouldn't want to know," Donny says.
"It's a wonderful life," Mr. Moriarty says, praising the "momma" of the family he calls his Poppy Pack. "She's a lioness of a woman. She raised four kids all by herself, seven grandchildren and the biggest baby -- me."
Mr. Moriarty says he hasn't worked since the assault. He spends his days writing scripts, planning a third CD, teaching himself how to play the tenor saxophone and writing the occasional editorial. "But my best time is enjoying what I've never had in my life, which is a family."
Mr. Moriarty did not have a happy childhood himself. His father was a surgeon for the Detroit police department. His mother suffered from mental illness. They divorced when he was 11. He lived with his mother for a while, until she fell asleep with a cigarette in her hand and almost burned the house down. That was when his father, although not Catholic, sent his son to a Jesuit high school to live with what Mr. Moriarty now calls "the Christ-bitten winos."
While in AA two years ago, he began writing another memoir called The Third Person. The first eight chapters are published on-line. He says he has given up on the project.
At the time, however, he was obsessed with the ghost of his father and his father's dream of having "a man's man" for a son. ("You're going to end up in the gutter like your mother will," his father once wrote in a letter, "if you continue to dream your way through college and waste my hard-earned money.") Not coincidentally, this obsession coincided with the filming of James Dean. Mr. Moriarty played Dean's father, Winton. He still has a bone to pick with the script. "The main purpose of that film is to glorify the Actors' Studio and blame all of James Dean's problems on his father. I don't think you can blame all of James Dean on his father. I had to play that role and I played it well enough to get nominated for an Emmy. But why blame his father, who cannot talk back from the grave?"
Didn't Mr. Moriarty heap a lot of blame on his own father's grave? "We all do that for a while. Then you have to finally grow up and say, 'Wait a minute. God dealt me some cards. I had better play them and cut the whining.' "
Mr. Moriarty's so-called adopted son doesn't suffer from the same problems. "What's that saying?" Donny says. "Life's a bitch, buy a helmet." More raspy chortles all around. "Laughter can cure a lot of things," Mr. Moriarty says. But can it save his career?
"You cannot endure five assaults and not be a changed man," Mr. Moriarty says. "The industry does not know who I am any more. They don't know what to do. They know I'm not the same guy and they wonder how to cast me."
He says he's certainly not Ben Stone. Many thought he was once as self-righteous as the lead prosecutor he played, but Mr. Moriarty now sees it differently. "[Stone] was not righteous. He was naive. Self-righteousness comes out of naiveté."
Perhaps Mr. Moriarty was too. After playing Major Erik Dorf in the television miniseries Holocaust, he was refused to play any more bad guys. He says it cost him millions of dollars to turn down all the villain roles. But he's ready to take them on now. "There are plenty of roles out there for me -- cops, godfathers, tough guys."
Mr. Moriarty puts more faith in God than the North American entertainment industry, which, in his opinion, was long ago corrupted by the socialist religion.
"For a period of about three decades, the leftists so infiltrated Hollywood, that it became a propaganda mill." He points to the film Taxi Driver, as an example of the inherent evil. "That film romanticizes a psychotic. It's not the amount of violence in the film thats dangerous, it's the hero."
Some might say Mr. Moriarty suffers from his own psychoses. "In the eyes of many," writes The Lone Stranger, he had become a 5,000-pound gorilla. Yet now the self-proclaimed has-been, is up for an Emmy. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.
"In the short term, it might look like I'm in some way a persona non grata and why romanticize a persona non grata? But in the long term, I'll prevail. Out of my grave, I'll prevail."
The Lone Stranger
by Michael Moriarty
He doubted if anything would change, but he was tired of running from the nightmare of his own fame.
Pronto [a friend] had lent the Lone Stranger a book by Anthony de Mello entitled Awareness. To the very isolated man, the book had a central theme -- enlightenment and spirituality depended on the depth to which an individual accepts and surrenders to his or her aloneness. It said that we are all doomed to aloneness in one way or another and that the reason for this was to increase our awareness. If we learn to know ourselves with increasing depth, only then can we truly know others.
The Lone Stranger, after hours of solitude, concluded that de Mello was right. A new contentment rose in him, an almost blissful surrender to what fate might hold in store for him. The menacing faces of certain townsfolk no longer disturbed him.
Saying prayers of faith and gratitude to God for what he had been given -- an extraordinarily rich life of love and adventure and recognition -- the Lone Stranger was prepared for anything the future might bring him.
Excerpted from a longer letter sent by Mr. Moriarty to The Globe and Mail
Douglas Raises the Bar on Law & Order: SVU
By Melissa Grego HOLLYWOOD (Variety)
Sun Oct 20, 2002 9:39 PM ET
Illeana Douglas (Grace of My Heart) will guest-star in a recurring role on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as a public defender. Douglas, who received an Emmy nomination for her guest performance as an embalmer in Six Feet Under, will first appear in a SVU episode set to air on Nov. 22. She's committed to at least three episodes. "Illeana brings wit, brains and style to the role of Gina Bernardo," said SVU executive producer Neal Baer. Douglas' feature credits include Ghost World, "Message in a Bottle, Goodfellas and Cape Fear. Her television performances include a starring role in the series Action. She also played one of George's girlfriends in an episode of Seinfeld.
"Mr. Big" is heading back to Broadway.
By Liz Smith
CHRIS NOTH, who made a really terrific impression on the Broadway boards several seasons back in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man," will do it again in November. Noth is set to appear in Christopher Shinn's "What Didn't Happen," about a writer, his mentor and the mentor's rival -- that will be Noth's role. Also in the cast are Matt McGrath, Suzanne Cryer, Annalee Jeffries and Steven Skybell.
PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS PRESENTS
THE WORLD PREMIERE OF
WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN
A NEW PLAY BY CHRISTOPHER SHINN
DIRECTED BY MICHAEL WILSON
FROM: Bob Fennell/Michael Borowski, The Publicity Office, (212) 315-2120
October 22, 2002
Featuring CHRIS NOTH, MATT McGRATH, STEVEN SKYBELL, MATT COWELL, SUZANNE CRYER, ROBERT HOGAN and ANNALEE JEFFERIES
Previews Begin on Friday, November 15 with an Official Press Opening on Tuesday, December 10 at The Duke on 42nd Street
As the second production of its 2002/2003 Season, Playwrights Horizons, under the leadership of Artistic Director Tim Sanford, will present the world premiere of WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN, a new play by Christopher Shinn (last season's Four at MTC, Other People at Playwrights Horizons). Directed by Michael Wilson (The Carpetbagger's Children, Necessary Targets), previews will begin Friday, November 15 with an official opening on Tuesday, December 10 at 7 PM.
Performances of WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN will continue through Sunday, December 22 at The Duke on 42nd Street (229 West 42nd Street). (With construction on its new home continuing through the end of this calendar year, this is the final Playwrights Horizons production to be performed at an outside venue.)
The plays of Mr. Shinn (a 27 year-old American writer), up until now, have all premiered in London. WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN is his first play to have its world premiere in this country.
The cast of WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN will feature Chris Noth (Mr. Big on Sex and the City, Gore Vidal's The Best Man, Law & Order), Matt McGrath (Cabaret, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Steven Skybell (on Broadway in The Full Monty, Love! Valour! Compassion!), Matt Cowell (A Christmas Carol, Riding in Cars with Boys), Suzanne Cryer (Proposals, the 'yada yada yada' girl on Seinfeld), Robert Hogan (A Few Good Men and Hamlet on Broadway, On the Bum at Playwrights Horizons) and Annalee Jefferies (Servicemen at NYS&F, The Public's Aunt Dan and Lemon).
When his lover (Annalee Jefferies), literary adversary (Chris Noth) and a sympathetic colleague (Robert Hogan) gather at Dave Ardith's (Steven Skybell) upstate retreat for a midsummer barbeque, the acclaimed author is forced to confront his demons - the novel he is loath to finish and the life he is loath to resume. Six years later, Dave's protégé Scott (Matt McGrath) is living a parallel life, soul-searching and plagued by unfulfilled aspirations. WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN is a penetrating new play about mentors and students, and the drive to emulate those we admire, no matter what the cost.
The play features scenic design by Jeff Cowie, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by Howell Binkley and sound design by John Gromada. Production Stage Manager is Susie Cordon.
Under the leadership of Artistic Director Tim Sanford, PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS is a writers's theater dedicated to the support and development of contemporary American playwrights, composers and lyricists, and to the production of their new work. In its 32 years, Playwrights Horizons has presented the work of more than 350 writers and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. Outstanding productions include Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero, Kirsten Childs's The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey's James Joyce's The Dead, William Finn's March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, Christopher Durang's Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You and Betty's Summer Vacation, Jon Robin Baitz's The Substance of Fire, Scott McPherson's Marvin's Room, A.R. Gurney's Later Life, Adam Guettel and Tina Landau's Floyd Collins and Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley's Violet, as well as three Pulitzer Prize winners: Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George, Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy and Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles.
Playwrights Horizons is supported in part by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts (a state agency), and the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of New York. Playwrights Horizons is a proud participant in the Leading National Theatres Program, a joint initiative of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In addition, Playwrights Horizons receives major support from Ford Motor Company, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, The Shubert Foundation and The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.
The performance schedule for WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN will be Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3 & 8 PM and Sundays at 3 & 7:30 PM. Tickets are $50. Student Rush Tickets will be available for $15 (cash only, day of performance). Additional performance: Monday, November 25, 8 PM.
For tickets to WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN call TELE-CHARGE at(212) 239-6200 (24 hours, 7 days a week) or visit the box office at The New Victory Theater (209 West 42nd Street), Tues.-Sat. 12 to 6 PM, Sun. & Mon. 11 AM to 5 PM.
PAY WHAT YOU CAN NIGHT for WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN will be Friday, November 15th (the first preview). A limited number of tickets will be offered on a walk-up, cash-only basis, starting one hour before showtime. Audience members are asked to "pay what they can" at the time of admission. Seating is subject to availability. Tickets, limited to 2 per person, will go on sale at 7pm for the 8pm curtain. PAY WHAT YOU CAN NIGHT, a new initiative at Playwrights Horizons made possible by Ford Motor Company, allows the theater company to reach out to those who may not be able to afford the cost of a full-price theater ticket.
For subscription and ticket information to all Playwrights Horizons productions, call TICKET CENTRAL at (212) 279-4200, 1 pm to 8pm daily or visit the Playwrights Horizons website at www.playwrightshorizons.org.
The Secret Vice of Power Women
By Michael Kinsley, Slate
Updated Thursday, November 14, 2002, at 10:45 AM PT
(Note: In the marital relations system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups: the wives who watch Law & Order obsessively, and the husbands who don't. This is their story. Ka-chunk.) Recently I got married, fairly late in life for that sort of thing, and have made astonishing discoveries. Most of these revelations turn out to be common knowledge. But one, I believe, has not been widely aired.
People's Exhibit A (my wife), Your Honor, is a formidable, intelligent woman with an important and challenging job and a full private life. (Also undeniable loveliness and charm, which are not strictly relevant to the present case.) She doesn't squander her time. And yet she spends many hours a week watching reruns of Law & Order-often back-to-back (the shows, that is).
It would be misleading to call her a fan. Law & Order, the long-running crime drama, is not just one of her favorite TV shows, or even her very favorite. Other than reruns of Law & Order, she has almost no interest in television at all. Specifically, she has no interest in any of the (to me) barely distinguishable Law & Order spinoffs and rip-offs (such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Double-Entry Bookkeeping, CSI, CSI: Miami, Mayberry R.F.D. and so on.) She's not even interested in new episodes of Law & Order itself. She couldn't tell you what night it's on and has no view about what this country is coming to when a man like Fred Thompson can be plucked from the obscurity of the United States Senate and entrusted with the responsibility of running the prosecutor's office on Law & Order.
Nor does she care-or even, possibly, notice-whether it is Michael Moriarty or Sam Waterston who is being unvarnished in any episode she may be watching. Don't ask her whether the female assistant district attorney is the blonde or one of the brunettes. Don't attempt to amuse her by predicting what demographic category the judge will be from. ("They've had four black women in a row, so I'm thinking white man. No, I know, that's ridiculous, so I'll go with white woman-but in a wheelchair. Whaddya think, Honey? Honey?? Ouch, that hurt. OK, never mind.")
Exhibit A and I assumed that this was our little secret. Perhaps it had to do with our weather here in Seattle, which affects some people oddly. Or too much coffee. But then we had a visitor from the East Coast who announced that his wife was about to become the TV critic of a major newspaper. "And the amazing thing," he added, "is that she never watches TV except for reruns of Law & Order."
Good grief. I began making discreet inquiries. My closest chum in Washington is a political columnist and TV pundit. I thought I knew her pretty well. Turns out that for years, on all those evenings when I assumed she was at parties to which I wasn't invited, she was at home watching reruns of Law & Order. The dean of a major business school poured out a similar confession, as did a senior editor at a newsmagazine. The girlfriend of one of my Slate colleagues. Half the women at the University of Texas (according to another Slate colleague, who may be exaggerating). Another Washingtonian, this one a teacher, though her husband says she is "drifting back to C-SPAN." Always women. Always high-powered. Always Law & Order. Always reruns. What on earth is going on?
It is not a cult, because a cult is communal. Sex and the City has a cult following: Women, especially, watch it together and/or discuss it the next day at work. New episodes are considered, on balance, a good thing. The obsession with Law & Order is something different. Far from discussing it with one another, women seem to watch it alone and may be unaware that anyone else shares the habit.
Exhibit A may be an extreme case. In a rare glimpse into this secret world, Molly Haskell wrote an essay last April for a local section of the New York Times in which she frankly and courageously labeled herself a Law & Order addict. But she claimed to discuss the show freely with other addicts. She also described her addiction as an essentially New York phenomenon, which suggests that even Haskell does not appreciate the full extent of the situation. This would all be merely curious except for one ominous recent development. Law & Order reruns used to be scattered across the cable schedule like wildflowers. (Or weeds.) To catch them all, you needed to be able to play the remote control like Paderewski. More important, you had to control the remote control. Under these circumstances, only the smarter and more high-powered women were able to indulge this temptation. Now, though, TNT cable has exclusive rights to Law & Order reruns and, near as I can tell, runs them more or less all the time. That means Law & Order addiction is now available to all women with access to even basic cable.
This presumably is just the kind of chic new social problem the Democrats are being advised to rebuild their party around, now that George W. Bush has solved all the old ones. The new Democratic leader in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, is just the kind of dynamic, smart, take-charge person who can ...
Uh-oh. Do you suppose ...?
Law & Order CD-ROM Deserves Favorable Verdict
By Gene Emery
Sun Nov 17, 7:05 AM ET
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Reuters) - The new computer game based on television's popular Law & Order program gives PC owners the chance to play both detective and prosecuting attorney in the case of a murdered investment adviser.
Law & Order: Dead on the Money ($30, Windows) unfolds like an original episode of the hit TV show, with interesting characters, sharp dialogue and some nice twists and turns -- some of which involve insider trading on Wall Street.
Legacy Interactive has created the mystery story and courtroom drama using features typically found in an adventure game, such as video clips, scenes to explore and plenty of personal interaction with the characters.
The "puzzles" involve finding a password to a computer, the combination to a safe, and the right pieces of evidence to get people to spill their guts.
The story opens with the discovery of a woman's body in New York's Central Park. Detective Lennie Briscoe is called to investigate and players assume the role of Briscoe's partner.
The game uses virtual characters, sometimes known as cyberpuppets. But the computer-generated humans have a convincing array of expressions: you can see the perps twitch nervously when Briscoe and his partner ask the right questions.
And there's nothing virtual about the voices. Jerry Orbach, who plays Briscoe on the show, does the voice-over for his character, as do the actors who play Briscoe's supervisor and the assistant district attorney.
The first half of the game focuses on the police investigation. At the murder scene, the player must scour the area, looking for clues to the identity of the victim. You'll need a good computer monitor to see some of the tiny pieces of paper that must be picked up. Items that seem significant must be stored in a case file, where they can be sent to the crime lab or the research department to get more information.
When someone needs to be interviewed, the player selects from three questions -- an aspect of the game that isn't particularly challenging. Many of the questions are obviously not relevant to the investigation, and if you miss the opportunity to ask a key question the first time, the game gives you other chances.
The controls for the game are very easy to use. To send things to the lab, just click on the casebook to open it, find the lab form, drag a picture of the evidence into a box and click "submit." Your cell phone rings when the results are ready. If you need to go somewhere, click on the map icon and select the location -- but be careful because some locales are below the screen and you need to scroll down.
If you identify the perpetrator and include all the key evidence into your arrest warrant, you'll move on to the trial part of the game and assume the role of prosecuting attorney.
You'll also have to do some gumshoe work because the judge has thrown out a key piece of evidence, so you must snoop around for additional information.
At trial time, you select the order in which the prosecution witnesses are presented and the questions to be asked. You can also object to a defense question if it's out of line, although the game gives you only a few seconds to do so -- something that is unlike in a real-life trial.
Players unfamiliar with court procedure can do a little research in the assistant D.A.'s office to find explanations of the different reasons for objecting as well as other rules. Those are important to know. Near the end of the game, the defense tries to exclude a piece of testimony. If you don't select the correct counter-argument (you have a 1 in 3 chance of being right if you simply guess), you lose the case and the bad guy goes free.
Fortunately, you can save the game at any point and try a different path.
Aside from the need to object almost immediately if the defense lawyer asks a bad question, I have a few other objections to the game's design.
You can't dawdle in your investigations. For reasons that are not explained, Law & Order gives you a time limit for finding all the right clues and zeroing in on the suspect. In real life, the statute of limitations for murder is a lot longer than one week.
There are times when the cursor takes on a life of its own, rapidly skimming past the point on the screen where you're trying to click. It's the most maddening element of the game.
Ultimately, with its twists and timing geared to the fast pace of TV drama, Law and Order: Dead on the Money is guilty of simulating a television drama better than a real-life murder mystery. But fans of the show and people who like whodunit games will find that this CD-ROM acquits itself well.
(Gene Emery is a columnist who covers science and technology. His Internet address is Gemery@Cox.net. Any opinions in the column are his alone.)
NBC's making a New Year's resolution to air more Law & Order, while Fox is double-pumping "Andy Richter (news) for the holidays.
NBC will air all three editions of the Law & Order franchise on Saturday, Jan. 11, from 8-11 p.m., making way for a regular 8-10 p.m. Saturday block of L&O and L&O: Special Victims Unit that will start Jan. 18. NBC is expected to keep repeats of L&O on Saturdays through February sweeps, likely returning to theatrical pics in the spring.
It's unclear what NBC intends to air Saturdays at 10 p.m., though a reality show (maybe the new Let's Make a Deal?) makes sense.
'Jordan' Crossing Over to A&E
Fri, Nov 22, 2002 03:51 PM PDT
LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - NBC has struck a deal with A&E that gives the cable network rerun rights to Crossing Jordan.
Under the agreement, reportedly worth as much as $600,000 per episode, A&E will begin airing reruns of the show's first season early next year. Jordan, in its second season, stars Law & Order veteran Jill Hennessy as a Boston medical examiner.
Second-season repeats will air next summer.
"We believe Crossing Jordan exemplifies the type of quality programming that viewers have come to expect from A&E," says Abbe Raven, the channel's executive vice president and general manager.
Crossing Jordan, which airs at 10 p.m. ET Mondays, was NBC's top-rated new drama last season. It's dropped off somewhat this fall in the face of tougher competition -- chiefly CBS' CSI: Miami -- but still averages a respectable 10.6 million viewers a week.
Sci-Fi Channel Is 'Taken' with Miniseries
by Kate O'Hare, Zap2it
Mon, Dec 2, 2002 02:53 PM PDT
Say "Roswell", and what do you think of? If it's flying saucers and little green men, you're not alone.
Writers and filmmakers have drawn upon the Roswell tale for years. The X-Files launched a nine-season TV run based on the idea of a massive government cover-up of alien visitations, beginning with Roswell. The WB Network and UPN aired a science-fiction series called Roswell, set in the modern-day town. In many ways, it's the Holy Grail of UFO mythology.
Whatever came to Earth on a New Mexico ranch in 1947 -- and was later taken to the Roswell Army Air Force Base for examination -- it was a crash heard 'round the world. Some say it was a weather or spy balloon, others speculate it was a secret aircraft, and many believe it was an alien spaceship.
On Monday, Dec. 2 -- and continuing through Friday, Dec. 6 and the following Monday through Friday, Dec. 9 to 13 -- Sci-Fi Channel airs its most ambitious project ever. Taken, a 10-night, 20-hour miniseries, examines the 20th-century mythology of alien visitation and abduction, beginning with the Roswell crash in the summer of 1947, continuing into the early years of the Atomic Age and ending in the present day.
Executive produced by Steven Spielberg (who put ET: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind into the movie-alien lexicon), co-executive produced by Steve Beers and written by Leslie Bohem, Taken follows three families over 50 years and four generations as they cope with the after effects and ramifications of an alien crash on Earth.
"When Steven and I first started talking about it," Bohem says, "the mandate always was to make this about this modern American mythology, to treat it as real, treat it with respect. I would preface this by saying that I loved The X-Files. The conceit of The X-Files is that there are professionals investigating this, and that's very different from ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events."
"Specifically, I didn't want a big, huge conspiracy. I think [X-Files creator] Chris Carter did conspiracy so well that no one should ever mess with it again."
"My take was very different. It was that, if you believe that something happened at Roswell in 1947, you're dealing with a government that yes, may have covered things up but has been playing catch-up ever since."
"These are the same people that didn't know the Berlin Wall was going to come down. They're not always in a back room with everything figured out. In our show, these are smart and not always particularly nice people, but they're trying to figure out, like everyone else, what's going on."
The large cast includes Dakota Fanning as Allie, a 10-year-old girl who narrates the saga; Catherine Dent (The Shield) as Sally Clarke, who falls in love with an alien visitor, John (Eric Close); Joel Gretsch as Owen Crawford, a military officer; Steve Burton as Russell Keys, a war hero caught up in alien abduction; Julie Benz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Angel) as Kate Keys; and Ryan Merriman (ABC's upcoming Veritas ) as Sam Crawford.
Also appearing are Michael Moriarty (Law & Order), Willie Garson (Sex and the City), Matt Frewer (Max Headroom), James McDaniel (NYPD Blue) and Heather Donahue (The Blair Witch Project ).
"I play a white sheep of the family," Merriman says. "My father's part of the alien cover-up. He works for the government, and I'm a young reporter. It's all about discovering these ancient writings that we think are hundreds of years old but it's actually alien writing on these rocks. And we find this mummy, and it's got an alien pear-shaped head and fingers. It's cool."
For Close, it was a return to familiar territory. Currently playing an FBI agent in the CBS drama Without a Trace, the actor starred in the 1996 NBC series Dark Skies. There, he played John Loengard, a man who, starting in the 1960s, becomes caught up in a government cover-up of alien invasion stretching back to -- you guessed it -- Roswell.
"I jumped at the role," Close says, "because on Dark Skies, I was chasing the aliens, so it's fun to be on the other side. It was an interesting character, because he's that Adam figure. He starts the human-alien race. I worked with Steve Beers, who produced it, and Tobe Hooper, who directed [my first episode]. We'd worked on [the pilot of] Dark Skies together."
Close's character, an alien crash survivor, gives himself a human appearance and fathers a hybrid son. "I started to discover that I was the guardian of this human-alien race, and especially Allie. I come back to be a guardian to her."
"What's most fascinating in all of this," Bohem says, "is this story goes back thousands of years. It's a mythology that's in every culture."
"Look at things that are as specific as an Irish story about going into the woods with these little creatures, getting into something -- that wasn't called a spacecraft then -- being fed a baked good. It's always a baked good: bread or crackers or cookies."
"Then there was this guy who claimed that he was abducted by aliens in the '50s in the South and had crackers that the Air Force actually tested. In fact, they were bread. Who baked the bread, again, is the question."
"If you think about how strange that is, down to the specifics, it's the same story. I often think, if this is objectively true, it's amazing, obviously. It's incredible. It's even more incredible if it's not true. Because, if it's not, then how do people keep coming up with these stories?"
Benjamin Bratt, Talisa Soto Welcome First Child
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Benjamin Bratt (news) and his wife, actress-model Talisa Bratt, announced the birth of their first little Bratt, er, child on Monday.
The little girl, named Sophia Rosalinda Bratt, was born in New York City on Dec. 6. She weighed a healthy 7 pounds, and is the first child for both Bratts. The baby's birth was announced on her father's 39th birthday. The couple have homes in New York City and San Francisco, California, where Benjamin Bratt grew up. The former Talisa Soto (news), 35, married Bratt on April 13 after co-starring with him in the critically acclaimed 2001 film Pinero, a biopic about poet Miguel Pinero. Bratt, a California native, was best known for his role as hunky Detective Rey Curtis on the hit TV show Law & Order starting in 1995 until he began dating actress Julia Roberts (news) two years later. The couple went their separate ways in 2001. Brooklyn-born Soto started modeling at age 15 and was chosen in 1990 as one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. She was married to actor Costas Mandylor (news) from 1997 to 2000.