Murphy's Law & Order
In The Criminal Justice System, If Anything Can Go Wrong, It Will. In the TV Ratings System, All Three Hit Law & Order Shows Can't Go Wrong. Meanwhile, A Nation of Addicts Suffer In Silence, Untreated!
By Heather Havrilesky, Salon
March 19, 2003
"Law & Order" is always on. Find the remote right now and see for yourself. Between NBC, TNT and USA, including "Law & Order" and its two spinoffs, you could watch 26 hours of "Law & Order" this week alone, if you felt like it. But who would feel like it? Just look around you. All three shows are in the top 20 for the season in total viewers, and each show is dominating its regular competition among viewers ages 18-49. A conservative estimate is that 88 million viewers watch
"Law & Order" and its spinoffs and reruns each week. That's 30 percent of the United States population, which means that 3 out of every 10 people you see have watched the show in the past week. By piecing together anecdotal evidence, though, a more shocking picture emerges: It's more likely that one out of every 10 people you see watched a whopping three episodes of "Law & Order" this week.
Indeed, "Law & Order" may be the silent scourge of our cities, its crippling addiction afflicting couch potatoes from all walks of life. I had a roommate whose addiction almost destroyed him. Every night when I came home, there he was, bong in hand, "Law & Order" rerun on the TV. I tried to confront him about this very serious problem, but minutes later I'd find myself glued to the couch, unable to leave without finding out whether the creepy activist or the defensive grad student was responsible for the popular professor's death. Five years later, I thought I had shaken the "Law & Order" bug, only to find myself living with a man who would end up watching the show every time he picked up the remote. Despite my complaints, he once spent an entire Thanksgiving weekend tuned in to one of those "Law & Order" marathons on TNT. As I tried desperately to entertain his mother by chatting and playing Scrabble, there he sat in the same room, headphones plugged into the TV, watching his fifth "Law & Order" of the day.
In the past few days, I myself have fallen prey to this hideous harlot of criminal justice. Figuring I'd watch one hour each of "Law & Order" and its two spinoffs to prepare for this piece, I regained consciousness nine hours later, dazed from commingling with snarky detectives, thick-headed from pondering unforeseen investigative twists and still anxious to find out whether or not the arrogant businessman had really been molesting his children. I tried to will myself to fast forward to the end of the episode and call it a day, but as the scenes sped by, my curiosity over the emerging details of the case overtook me, and I had to rewind and watch the rest of the episode in its entirety. Afterwards, I wanted to hurl myself over the nearest cliff.
But stories like mine are just the tip of the iceberg. What creates this relentless addiction to "Law & Order," and how can we stomp it out? More importantly, do we really want to? Creator Dick Wolf controls our weak little minds with all the tools you'd expect, primarily great casting and excellent writing. The show's plots are remarkably unpredictable, given how long it's been on the air (13 years) and how obvious the story lines of most other cop shows are. The snappy dialogue is witty and intelligent, with pop-cultural references squeezed in between important bits of information. "They kill abortionists, don't they?" Jerry Orbach quips to Jesse Martin during one investigation. "So that's how a brain looks on embalming fluid," Jamey Sheridan remarks after coming across a spaced-out stoner who dips his joints in formaldehyde. Unlike soapier shows, "Law & Order" doesn't focus on the personal lives of its detectives, lawyers and judges at all. As a result, you can pick up in the middle of the season without feeling like you're missing anything. This also explains the show's success in syndication -- tune in for any episode of "Law & Order," new or old, and one show feels just as immediate and interesting as the next. While little is revealed about the show's main cast of characters, we learn a great deal about the witnesses and suspects we meet along the way, all within a few seconds of encountering them. "My wife and I were driving back from the Forum in Pennsylvania ..." says the suspect's neighbor. "You guys remember every doughnut you eat?" the telemarketer asks the cops. "She used to call the woman a slut. Of course, she was one," says the old lady down the hall.
The show's formula is set in stone: A felony occurs, the cops seek out clues and find them easily, a suspect is identified, obstacles arise and injustice usually prevails. Yet every scene has a life of its own, thanks to the writers' devotion to breathing life into each character, no matter how small and insignificant. Not only does this strengthen the show's nonlinear "pick any episode" appeal, it may also explain why it's possible to start watching in the middle of most episodes and still get caught up in the action within minutes. Of course, pinpointing the guilty party at the earliest possible moment is the main challenge -- and draw -- for "Law & Order" addicts. Once you learn the show's vocabulary of unpredictable twists and turns, it becomes much easier to identify the criminal. Outspoken, angry suspects with extremely bad attitudes usually aren't guilty, unless they're very arrogant, rich and/or powerful, or they're members of extremist religious sects or radical political groups. Slightly creepy but quiet suspects with no apparent link to the crime, or victims who are especially emotional and self-pitying who appear early on are the best candidates for guilt. Politicians, doctors, men who cheat on their wives, mothers who insult their children and embittered grad students are also, typically, guilty. While you may come across a few cheating men and sleazy politicians per episode, there's a look of restrained fear common among the guilty that becomes easier and easier to spot the more you watch the show. The crazy thing is, the better you get at predicting who's guilty, the more you want to watch. Addiction is a curious foe, indeed.
Wolf isn't helping matters much with his latest spinoff, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," whose star, Vincent D'Onofrio, is impossibly appealing. This eclectic, slightly dorky, vaguely sociopathic detective steals every scene, smashing the macho-detective stereotype to little bits with his odd head-cocking, mumbling and awkward gestures. Unlike most TV actors, D'Onofrio dares to be extremely weird. He's sneaky, playing the naive witness in order to mention inadmissible evidence on the stand, and spilling coffee on his notes on purpose to catch his suspect off guard. He smiles at inappropriate moments. He delights in toying with arrogant men, but goes out of his way to be sensitive to old ladies and children. Just when he's starting to show a little swagger, he leaps out the
door, blurting, "I need to use my most important investigative tool: my library card!" And despite the breakneck pace of the series, D'Onofrio takes up long blocks of screen time by just ... thinking. He pauses, mid-sentence. He looks around the room. He screws up his face. The camera zooms in. What can he possibly be pondering? Unlike the other two shows, on "Law & Order: CI" we
already know who committed the crime. Somehow, the fun comes from watching D'Onofrio manipulate his way to truth.
The weakest of the trio is undoubtedly "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," a show so melodramatic and sensational that it's clearly the "Baywatch Nights" of the franchise. The creators insist that the show isn't gratuitously violent or salacious, despite offering up scenarios like a young boy who witnesses his stepmother being beaten to a bloody pulp, or a teenage girl who stands in the hallway of the precinct, screaming, "He raped me, mother! I was 12 years old! Where were you? Why didn't you help me?" Then, of course, there's the mother, whose lines are as subtle as the chorus in a Greek tragedy: "How do I make sense of this? My husband is dead, killed by my own child's hand! How awful it must have been for my husband!" But even "Law & Order: SVU" is tough to turn off.
With ratings that continue to rise and increasing numbers of our citizenry developing serious addictions, the question is not when "Law & Order's" omnipresence will end, but what will come next? "Law & Order: Animal Control"? "Law & Order: Financial Crimes Unit"? "Law & Order: Parking Violations Division"? Based on his track record, there's no doubt that Dick Wolf could make everything from credit card fraud to stray dachshunds suspenseful and fun to watch. But it's up to each of us to resist the siren call of new "Law & Order" spinoffs, before the inevitable "Law & Order Channel" emerges and draws us into a black hole of murderous womanizers, high-minded but world-weary prosecutors, and snarky, unstable detectives.
Networks Eye Third "CSI," Fourth "Law & Order"
By Brill Bundy, Zap2It
November 25, 2003
Those tired of turning on the TV to see yet another procedural drama are in the minority. The networks aren't immune to the siren call of seemingly sure things either, so don't be surprised if a third "CSI" and a fourth "Law & Order" make it to CBS' and NBC's primetime schedules.
Les Moonves, the ever coy chairman and CEO of CBS, will only admit that discussions have begun, four "big" cities are being considered and New York "might be" one of them. However, there's no word if ABC's failure to make "L.A. Dragnet" fly has crossed the city of lost angels off the short list.
"We've had a few meetings with the producers," Moonves says. "We don't want to spread them too thin; they're so actively involved. 'CSI: Miami' is creatively up leaps and bounds this year, so we want to be very careful that we have the right people to do it."
For his part, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker bristles at the suggestion that the peacock network relies too much on Dick Wolf's powerhouse franchise.
"Quite frankly, we really see these as three distinct cop shows, all bound by the same title and the same music," he asserts, admitting that while it might not make it on air next fall, NBC and Wolf are "actively" developing another sibling for "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."
Noth in New York Magazine Gossip
Demcember 8, 2003
"Looks like Mr. Big is settling down. We hear notorious skirt chaser Chris Noth, who plays Sarah Jessica Parker's sometimes playboy boyfriend in Sex And The City, is now living with his girlfriend, fledgling actress Tara Wilson. A spy reports that Noth was shopping for a necklace at a downtown estate-jewelry shop last week, blathering about his new domesticity. (Given that it's Noth, we're
imagining a scene in a movie where the pivotal pickup line is, 'I want to buy a necklace for my girlfriend. Do you think you could try it on for me? She has a lovely, slender neck -- just like yours....')"
Law & Order Channel Mulled
NBC Plans to Launch 5 New Digital Broadcast Outlets, Including One Centered On Hit Series
November 24, 2003
A top NBC cable executive said Friday the network is hammering out plans to launch up to five new digital broadcast channels, just weeks after General Electric-owned NBC agreed to purchase Vivendi Universal's portfolio of motion pictures studios, cable channels and theme parks.
"We're considering a number of digital nets," said David Zazlav, president of NBC Cable, in an interview with Reuters.
Zazlav, speaking at a television conference hosted by Digital Media Wire and New York University, said as many as five new digital channels were being considered.
In October, NBC executives said the company hoped to boost revenue by as much as 10 percent driven by the launch of new channels and emerging technologies such as the ability to order up shows and movies by clicking a remote control.
The owners of the Peacock network sold investors on the idea that Vivendi's sprawling portfolio of media properties that include Universal movie studio, cable channels such as Sci-Fi and USA Network, and Universal theme parks could help it create new cable channel ideas.
NBC Entertainment president Jeffrey Zucker told Reuters that a crime channel built around NBC's hit "Law & Order" franchise and another that played movies from Universal's film library were two possible ideas.
Legacy Interactive Ships Law & Order II: Double Or Nothing To Retail Outlets Nationwide
From Legacy Entertainment (A Press Release)
October 1, 2003
Legacy Interactive, a premier developer of Real Life Games, announced today that the latest addition to its popular "Law & Order" computer game franchise, Law & Order II: Double or Nothing, has shipped to retail outlets with an SRP of $29.95. Exclusively for PC/CD-ROM, Law
& Order II: Double or Nothing is distributed by Vivendi Universal Games and is rated T for Teen.
Legacy Interactive also announced today the availability of an online demo for Law & Order II: Double or Nothing. The demo gives players a first look at the sequel by allowing them to uncover the first clues of the case. Game-play begins as players arrive with Detective Lennie Briscoe to search the crime scene and collect evidence. The clues lead players to three key witnesses, the crime
lab and medical examiner's office, each providing crucial pieces of the investigation. Players are also invited to compare their scores with game players and compete for the top sleuth spot on the demo. The demo can be found at http://lawandordergame.com.
"We've been able to create a new standard of quality for our Law & Order computer game franchise, in both aesthetics and substantive game play," said Ariella Lehrer, President of Legacy Interactive. "The game's compelling plot, beautiful graphics, intriguing puzzles and enhanced animation, have been raised to a new level in Law & Order II: Double or Nothing."
Featuring accurate depictions of the award-winning Law & Order television franchise, complete with celebrity voiceovers from stars Jerry Orbach, Elisabeth Röhm and S. Epatha Merkerson. Law & Order II: Double or Nothing offers players the chance to explore the intricate worlds of criminal investigation and legal prosecution. With game play divided between the investigation and trial, the
player experiences the storyline from a variety of angles. In the detective role, the player uncovers clues leading to the murder of an esteemed scientist found shot to death in his car in midtown Manhattan. As Assistant District Attorney, the player prepares a case against the defendant and takes to the courtroom, hoping to convince a jury to return a guilty verdict. Including improved graphics, new puzzle challenges and a variety of enhanced gameplay features, Law & Order II: Double or Nothing delivers an in-depth mystery adventure experience.
An Evening Of Law & Order
March 10, 2003
In the lives of New Yorkers, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the makers of Law & Order, who consistently churn out topical, interesting, and entertaining programming; and the Law & Order fans, who eagerly watch the show and its offshoots on NBC, TNT, USA, and wherever else possible. These are their stories.
The New York Times, in its bid to be even more of a leading cultural authority in the city, sponsored its second annual "Times Talks" during an "Arts & Leisure Weekend." In a clear move to pander to NYC intellgentsia, one of the panels was "Law & Order: The Real Reality TV." And the NYC intelligentsia loves to be pandered to when carrots like Law & Order producer Dick Wolf and star Jerry Orbach are dangled in front of them. In addition to the Law & Order faction, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and criminal defense attorney Bruce Cutler (whose most infamous client was John Gotti) were present to represent the reality.
Moderated by Times general culture writer, Julie Salamon, the room was packed with people, most skewing towards the over 40 demographic, but everyone had one thing in common: a passion for Law & Order. Salamon commented that her husband said it was like "a Star Trek convention for intellectuals." Or obssessive-compulsives. She also added that moderating this panel had made her very popular recently, with her phone ringing off the hook for passes into the show. As introductions were being made to the panel, it was noted that the panel would be done in time for everyone to get home to watch Law & Order Special Victims Unit.
The men were all dapper, all wearing French cuffs with cufflinks. Jerry Orbach was pretty dazzling, mainly because he got to smile, showing off his gleaming teeth, and bask in the Lennie-love from the audience. Dick Wolf was notably handsome (clefted chin, devilish eybrows), Bruce Cutler seemed like a pugilistic teddy bear, and Commissioner Ray Kelly was cool as a cucumber.
Interesting moments from the evening:
- Jerry Orbach was supportive the NYPD's anti-terrorism efforts but was very anti-Ashcroft.
- Julie Salamon had spoken to an Iranian literature professor in Teheran about Law & Order. The professor was fascinated with the show because in a totalitarian state, there is no respect for the law, no rights of the prisoner, so it was amazing to her how things are twisted and reworked in the criminal justice system.
- When asked what his favorite police/legal shows were, Commissioner Kelly said he loved Law & Order but admitted he hadn't "time to watch much TV lately." He also mentioned his disdain for gratuitous violence on television.
- In measuring the show's expansive power, Dick Wolf said that during a trial, a defense lawyer said to a jury, "You all watch Law & Order - you know the first suspect is never the one who did the crime."
- Law & Order was originally referred to as "Catch 'em & Cook 'em" - marking the show's compressed time for efficient police and legal tasks
- Commissioner Kelly pointed out that the murder rate in 2002 was 580, whereas in 1990 it was 2200.
- When then NBC president Brandon Tartikoff asked Dick Wolf what Law & Order's bible was, Wolf said it was The New York Post. "We look at the front page and say, 'Oh, yeah, we can do that.'" Jerry Orbach chimed in, "'Headless Body in a Topless Bar,'" recalling the most famous 1983 NY Post headline.
- Dick Wolf grew up in Tudor City.
- Bruce Cutler thought it was odd that in Law & Order, everyone speaks to the police, including the suspects. Dick Wolf snarked, "Well, not everyone's a professional suspects, like your clients."
- Dick Wolf's love with the detective procedrual began with reading Sherlock Holmes and watching Dragnet start its run in 1952.
- Jerry Orbach's favorite episodes have to do with bringing a criminal to justice long after the crime, such as in White Rabbit about a 70s radical who had gone underground and established a new life for herself and the recent Absentia with guest star Mandy Patinkin.
- Bruce Cutler may be knocking on the Law & Order casting director's door, as his acting bug caught hold when he found out William Kunstler appeared as himself in White Rabbit.
Gothamist asked a very Law & Order nerd question, which went something like this: "Part of the comfort in Law and Order is its framework, 22 minutes of crime, 22 of the law...but one episode that my friends and I like is Aftershock, which diverges from that form. All the characters are coming back from the execution and Claire Kincaid dies...in that episode, you learn more about the characters' personalities...there's more emotional texture ...is there any interest in doing another episode like that?"
Dick Wolf responded, "Well, the next time we want to kill off a character, we'll do it!" He added that it was not popular with fans, because it was not the usual Law & Order formula, it was too soap opera-y. Jerry Orbach acknowledged the interest in characters' personal lives with "What the fans really love is when Briscoe is having a drink with someone and they hear him drop some personal fact - they love that, they say it's so great." Then Dick Wolf joked that Jerry wanted to do "Aftershock" for an Emmy nomination. Jerry said, "Yeah, have someone die in my arms for an Emmy."
The room erupted in applause and it was a fitting end to a great evening.
Barnes & Noble Will Publish DIck Wolf's Law & Order: Crime Scenes in October 2003
From Business Wire
July 24, 2003
Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE: BKS), the world's largest bookseller, announced today that in October 2003 it will publish Law & Order: Crime Scenes by Dick Wolf, the creator and producer of the longest-running drama on network television. The more than 100 photographs in the book are by Jessica Burstein who has been the photographer for Law & Order since 1994. The book's publication date is October 15th.
"We're proud to be publishing the first official book about this extraordinary television program by its creator, Dick Wolf," said Alan Kahn, president of Barnes & Noble Publishing. "The format of the book resembles a police blotter and captures all the gritty realism and fascination of the show itself. It is the definitive collector's edition for Law & Order's millions of fans. We are also pricing the book at $30.00, which is consistent with our strategy to publish books of extremely high quality at affordable prices."
After an introduction by Dick Wolf, the book opens with "Anatomy of a Crime Scene," which follows the production of a specific episode's crime scene. Included are interviews with cast and crew members, from the executive producer to Jerry Orbach to the "murder victim." Chapter Two, "Scenes of the Crime," is the centerpiece of the book, featuring stunning, never-before-seen photographs of Law & Order's most provocative crime scenes. Wolf describes the photographs by Jessica Burstein as "emblematic of my initial vision of the show."
In Chapter Three, "In the Criminal Justice System," Wolf finally "goes home" with the show's characters, revealing the personal lives of the detectives and attorneys throughout the history of the series. The book concludes with a "Postmortem" by Burstein, featuring thumbnails of the photos with notations on which episode each one came from and anecdotal information about the shoot and the actors.
The Law & Order franchise, from Wolf Films and Universal Network Television, is the most successful in the history of primetime television, with all four branded series regularly placing in the top 20 of all primetime television programs. Entering its 14th season on NBC, Law & Order holds the record for most consecutive outstanding drama series Emmy nominations, winning the award for "Outstanding Drama Series" in 1997. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is entering its fifth season; Law & Order: Criminal Intent is entering its third season; and the "drama-mentary" series Crime & Punishment is currently in its second season, all on NBC.
Law & Order: Crime Scenes can now be preordered on Barnes & Noble.com www.bn.com. Sterling Publishing, a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, will distribute it to the book trade and specialty retailers.
The Rule of Law
No Matter Who Wears The Badge or Writes The Brief, Viewers Can't Seem To Get Enough of Law & Order
By Juan Morales, From Emmy
It looks like Law & Order may be the rule that proves the exception. While the survival of many series these days seems to hinge more on the art of the deal than the art of the artists (see: Friends, Frasier and The Sopranos), L&O is still setting longevity standards the old-fashioned way: ratings.
Martin, Orbach, Rohm and Waterston
And the secret to that, says its famously pragmatic creator, Dick Wolf, is no secret. It’s just fine acting. In fact, so much performing talent has passed through the L&O era that you don’t even have to watch the show any more to see Wolf’s point – not that you’d want to skip it on that account.
Over thirteen seasons – and, as of May 21, 300 episodes – NBC’s Law & Order has not only become an institution, it has spawned two flourishing spinoffs, L&O: Special Victims Unit and L&O: Criminal Intent, making Wolf (who also oversees ABC’s updated Dragnet) one of the most prolific and successful producers in the business.
Many reasons have been cited for the continued popularity of L&O: its story-driven (rather than character-driven) ethos; its controversial, ripped-from-the-headlines plots; its dismissal of cliffhangers and long-term story arcs in favor of self-contained narratives that are resolved at the end of each episode. But its secret weapon may be something that is rarely mentioned.
"You don’t have this kind of success with mediocre actors," Wolf says. "One of the things that has been massively overlooked over the years is that, in a sense, this is the toughest kind of acting to do. It’s a lot easier to cry on camera than it is to be effective delivering straight-ahead language. The ability to make strictly procedural scenes compelling is a gift of really, really good actors. Otherwise it’s crap."
Any discussion of L&O’s actors inevitably leads to the observation that, despite the departure of several major cast members over the years (remember Michael Moriarty, Paul Sorvino, Chris Noth, Jill Hennessy, Benjamin Bratt and Angie Harmon?) the show has not only survived, it has thrived. Interestingly, according to Nancy Perkins, senior vice-president of casting for Universal Network Television, the studio behind L&O, the cast shake-ups may have contributed to the show’s longevity.
"This is a new theory," Perkins says, "but one of the things that we’ve been discussing is that the recasting, after being on the air so many years, may actually be rejuvenating the show. When you bring in new people, it creates different dynamics between the characters than those that have existed up to that point. It’s invigorating."
Some cast members left voluntarily (like Moriarty, who resigned via fax) and some by request (like Dann Florek and Richard Brooks, who moved on when NBC wanted more women in the mix; Florek later resurfaced on SVU). But in Wolf’s view, changing the lineup is good for the writers, actors and, yes, the audience: "As Jerry Orbach [Detective Lennie Briscoe] said, ‘If the original cast never changed, the show wouldn’t be on the air.’ Also, hopefully, it mirrors life in the real workplace. Things change. Life is flux."
Because of its reputation for quality, L&O is not only an enviable gig for its regulars, but for guest stars as well. "The show has become known as a repository of great guest stars," Wolf says. "People have gotten Emmy nominations for guest roles on Law & Order, so we’re able to get actors that normally don’t do episodic television."
Three actors have been Emmy-nommed for those guest turns – multi-Tony nominee Elaine Stritch, multi-Oscar nominee Jane Alexander and Oscar winner Julia Roberts, who appeared in the two-hundredth episode when then-boyfriend Benjamin Bratt was still on the show; Stritch is the only of the three to win. But the high-caliber guests keep coming; they’ve included: Karen Allen, Adam Arkin, Elizabeth Ashley, Talia Balsam, Tom Berenger, Gary Busey, Len Cariou, Jill Clayburgh, Chris Cooper, Lisa Gay Hamilton, John Heard, Gregory Hines, Mary Beth Hurt, Anne Jackson, James Earl Jones, Alan King, Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, Joe Piscopo, Chris Sarandon and Eli Wallach.
On occasion, guest roles have led to full-time employment. Orbach joined the cast as a cop in season three after playing a defense attorney in season two. S. Epatha Merkerson, who stars as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, guested back in season one as a cleaning woman whose child is killed before being tapped as a regular in season four.
Wolf credits much of the top-to-bottom quality of L&O’s talent to the fact that it is filmed in New York City, home to a rich pool of theater actors. "If you go to a Broadway show and you read Playbill," he offers, "any actor who doesn’t have Law & Order as a credit either just moved from California or probably isn’t very good."
While New York stage actors have provided L&O with years of memorable performances, the series has provided many of them with a valuable career boost. "For a lot of actors, Law & Order is one of their first big filmed parts," Perkins says, "because there aren’t many opportunities in New York in terms of series television or film. And because the guest roles are usually so well written and people are able to do great scenes, they come away with wonderful experience – and sometimes a very good tape of themselves."
Especially gratifying to Suzanne Ryan, the show’s casting director since the first season, is that many actors who got early breaks on L&O went on to become stars in their own right, including Laura Linney, William H. Macy, Samuel L. Jackson, Claire Danes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Taye Diggs and Jennifer Garner. "When certain people make it, you’re usually not too surprised," says Ryan. "When Claire Danes did the show [in 1992], for instance, she was very young, but it was evident that she had a gift beyond her years. It wasn’t as if I saw something that other people couldn’t see." And Alias star Garner? "She was so gorgeous and so talented that it was hard to believe she wouldn’t have some kind of career."
With no sign of slowing down, Law & Order is on track to achieve Wolf’s long-term goal of outlasting Gunsmoke, which aired for twenty years to become the longest-running prime-time drama in television history. Which not only means that a lot more actors – both known and unknown – will pass through L&O before its final gavel is struck, but that Ryan has her work cut out for her.
"If you’re a New York actor and you’re good, chances are you’ve been on the show," she says. "But there are wonderful actors whom we have not cast yet. They’re still out there, and thank God, because at the rate things are going, we’re going to need them."
Law & Order To The Actors' Rescue
By Vanessa Grigoriadis, From The New York Times
June 15, 2003
To the residents of Craig Walker's SoHo neighborhood, he is mostly known as a talented barista. From 8 until noon, he plies his trade at Porto Rico Coffee on Thompson Street, a dimly lighted anti-Starbucks with the Rolling Stones on the stereo, paperback copies of Jacques Derrida in the sagging bookcase and a cluttered bulletin board advertising giveaway futons and classes at a local "D. J. university."
But Mr. Walker, 35, who has a shaved head and stands 6-foot-3, is also sometimes recognized for achievements beyond the espresso machine. "I was watching a 'Law & Order' rerun last night with my girl," a customer in chunky glasses told him the other day, "and I was like: `I know that guy! How do I know that guy?' "
Mr. Walker grinned. "You know, man, I get that all the time," he said, grinding a pound of dark roast.
Mr. Walker is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of struggling New York actors who owe their fame, and a share of their financial solvency, to the ever-expanding "Law & Order" franchise on NBC, which now includes the original crime drama, 13 years old, and two spinoffs. With each of the three shows producing about 22 episodes a season, and a supporting cast of at least 20 needed to
play each episode's lawyers, police officers and gruesomely slain paralegals, the "Law & Order" industry has become the most important staple in a traditionally lean New York acting diet.
"We have students who've been on it, instructors on it, even the artistic director of our playwriting affiliate," said Kathryn Eaker, managing director of HB Studio, which has been an acting school in Greenwich Village for over 50 years. "It's become a benchmark in an acting career: 'Yippee, I landed my first spot on "Law & Order"!' "
A quick scan of Playbills from the Broadway hits "Nine," "Gypsy" and "Oscar Wilde's 'Salome' " shows 15 biographies listing a credit for "Law & Order."
Dick Wolf, who created the redoubtable franchise: its producer, Universal Television, is asking NBC for more than $550 million a year to keep it going, and a fourth spinoff is in the works, he said, "It's actually gotten to the point where if I go to the theater and open the Playbill and the actor doesn't have one of the 'Law & Orders' in his or her credits, I figure they either just got off the bus or they are really bad."
The "Law & Order" shows are not the only game in town. "Sex and the City," "The Sopranos" and "Third Watch" are also produced locally. But for character-actor roles of all ages and ethnicities, the "Law & Order" troika is unrivaled: the original series alone has meant over 36,400 days of work for New York actors since 1990 and has injected $602 million into the city's economy, the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting said. The three series -- the others are "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," which began in 1999, and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," dating from 2001, have so far produced 449 shows.
"Quite frankly, I've started to think about holding an acting seminar for New York actors called 'Let's Talk About the Victim,' " said Roger Bart, a former star of "The Producers" on Broadway and a two-time "Law & Order" guest actor. "We'd only do monologues that begin with, 'Well, I didn't think much of him at first,' 'He was just a quiet neighbor,' 'I'd only dated her for two months.' "
For bit players used to scraping by on temping and coffee-bar tips, a "Law & Order" check can be the difference between canned tuna and sashimi. Those hired for a single day earn a Screen Actors Guild minimum of $655. Weekly performers are paid $2,272 and a lead guest star, $5,240. Residual fees from reruns can also be lucrative since the repeats are among the most popular on
But even when the checks, which generally shrink with each rerun of an episode, grow tiny, they can still represent a lifeline for the proverbially starving New York actor. George Demas, who played the husband of a victim of medical malpractice ("She died during a routine laparoscopy -- don't ask me what that is"), said he received $1.22 for one rerun of the episode on TNT. "I didn't even frame that check," Mr. Demas said. "I cashed it. Now that's sad."
Aside from payment in whatever amount, "Law & Order" appearances add prestige to an actor's resume because the shows are critically respected, and even small parts are written with more depth than most television and film roles. With plot lines spun from headlines -- P. Diddy's trial after a nightclub shooting, Michael Jackson's dangling of his infant son from a window -- each episode
follows a foolproof formula of crime, investigation and trial, presented with the methodical chronology of a police report and usually leading to the satisfaction of a conviction.
"If you choose to make your life in New York as an actor because you love theater and want to do theater or independent film, it's one of the only ways you can make some kind of money as an actor and still have integrity," said Marianne Hagan, a pretty strawberry blonde in a flowing blue caftan, who was nursing a cafe-au-lait-size cup of coffee alfresco at Les Deux Gamins, a cafe on
Ms. Hagan was first cast on "Law & Order" when she returned from Los Angeles in 1997, fresh from a starring role in "Halloween 6." "I came back to New York to try to do theater, but everyone in New York was doing `Law & Order,' " Ms. Hagan said. She was cast almost immediately. "I was like, `Yes!' " she said, raising her cup in a toast. "I've returned back to New York, like Caesar
returning from Gaul."
The original "Law & Order" has a history of showcasing future stars, with Julianna Margulies (as a navy lieutenant), Claire Danes (child model) and Laura Linney (in a Japanese white slavery ring) all appearing during their salad days.
The jury is still out on what a guest spot actually does for a supporting actor's career. "The credit hasn't superseded Broadway in terms of casting, but it's allowed all of us who work in the business to see actors we might not have seen otherwise," said Tara Rubin, a casting director for "Mama Mia!" and "The Producers."
But the parts these actors are playing might not be the ones they want casting directors to see. "I don't feel like a lawyer, but they always cast me as a lawyer," said Bob LuPone, who has appeared in six episodes. "It hasn't done anything for my career to bring me out of the fray, as it were, as a career actor."
Nor has Mr. Walker been able to turn his appearances into a career that lifts him out of his SoHo coffee bar. So far, he has made $15,000 to $20,000 for three guest spots on the "Law & Order" shows, but has yet to find an agent. "They can't figure out my type," he said, referring to Manhattan agents and casting directors. "I get a lot of 'downtown hipster guy.' I mean, what does that mean?"
So Mr. Walker auditions mostly for commercials, like one for a beer. "It was a party scene," he said. "They hired a hypnotist, and the hypnotist says to one of the guys, 'You are a dog.' " Then another guest appears with beer. Everyone runs over to him, and the scene shifts to the hypnotized guest lapping water out of the toilet bowl -- " 'cause he's still a dog," Mr. Walker explained
grimly. "And they wanted me to play the dog."
On the other hand, John Dossett, who is starring in "Gypsy" on Broadway, recalled that last year he missed an audition for "Dinner at Eight" at Lincoln Center but was cast anyway from a "Law & Order" tape.
Casting directors on the "Law & Order" shows maintain they now have a difficult time finding new faces -- which might be the first time in the history of the New York acting world that demand has outstripped supply. Last season, Mr. Wolf ordered directors to wait 60 days between casting the same actor twice in prominent guest roles on any of the three shows. "We don't want someone to
tune in Wednesday night for `Law & Order' and then Sunday night for 'Criminal Intent' and see the same actor playing the villain in one show and the cop in the other," said Gayle Keller, the casting director of "Criminal Intent."
But as surely as BackStage appears once a week, New York actors will show up for an audition. On a rainy Thursday in June, 30 of them lined the gray-carpeted hallway of the Chelsea Piers offices where the three series are cast. This call was for an episode in the third season of "Criminal Intent," the story of a woman who avenges the death of her husband, a hit man, by marrying and then
murdering the killer. (Kinky!)
A New Yorker cartoon is on the casting assistant's corkboard: "In the criminal justice system, the courtrooms are cleaned every night by members of the cleaning crew. These are their stories."
Gripping dog-eared pages of script, actors trying out for mobster roles wore heavy gold chains and tight white T-shirts. Those reading for lawyers wore suits and carried leather portfolios under an arm. They had all dressed the part on their own --including Peter Mele, in a bright orange jumpsuit with "State Prison" stenciled on the back, hoping to be cast as convict. "I'm a Mafioso about to be paroled in a week, but there have been some complications because my son took it upon himself to do some dirty work on my behalf," Mr. Mele said, explaining the role. "But business is business in the mob world," he continued. "When you come down to it, family don't mean nothing."
Mr. Mele shot a sideways glance at the "lawyers." "I don't know who these suits are," he grumbled.
Stevie Ray Dallimore, auditioning for the part of a prosecutor, strode out of the casting room confidently, holding the hand of his 3-year-old daughter, Rose, in green galoshes. (Mr. Dallimore had brought her to save on the cost of baby-sitting.)
"It went well," he said, "though she" -- he indicated Rose -- "stopped me in one of my speeches. She just said, 'I'm finished with my fruit snacks.' I stopped and then went on. It was O.K."
Later, he learned he did not get the part. "They're saving me for something better," he said.
McCarthy Fired From Law & Order
From the IMDb
June 4, 2003
Pretty In Pink star Andrew McCarthy has been fired from the set of hit American drama Law & Order: Criminal Intent after falling out with show regular Vincent D'Onofrio. The 1980s movie pin-up was supposed to guest star in two episodes of the show, but series creator Dick Wolf gave him his marching orders when he failed to work amicably with the star. Wolf says, "Mr. McCarthy engaged in fractious behavior from the moment he walked on the set." An angry McCarthy
fires back, "I was fired because I refused to allow a fellow actor to threaten me with physical violence, bully me and try to direct me."
Chernuchin Leaves Law & Order
From The Hollywood Reporter
January 29, 2004
There has been a changing of the showrunner guard behind the scenes on Law & Order. Michael Chernuchin has exited his post as showrunner and executive producer of the venerable NBC/Universal drama series after having what sources described as a "falling out" with the big boss of the Law & Order shows, Dick Wolf. It’s understood that the void left by Chernuchin’s departure from Law & Order this month has been filled by staffers who were already on the show: Executive producer Matthew Penn and co-executive producers Eric Overmyer and Roz Weinman. Chernuchin is now focused on developing new projects through his overall deal with Universal Network Television. Chernuchin and a spokesman for Universal declined comment on the matter.
apocrypha has also learned that Chernuchin will likely be replaced permanently with current staffer Overmeyer. We'll miss 'Nuch, but we hear not everyone at the office will.
SVU Celebrates 100 Episodes
Photos below (click for a larger photo)
October 22, 2003
Photos courtesy Kitteridge
The invite The cake The wall projection The head cheeses: Dick Wolf and Jeff Zucker B.D. Wong, Stephanie March and Chris Meloni making nice. March being interviewed. March, Mariska Hargitay, Meloni (master of ceremonies). Dann Florek, March, Hargitay, Meloni crack up. The capos: Richard Belzer, Ice-T, Florek.
Chris Noth Hosts "Bad Apple" Premiere
TNT Movie Set to Air in February
Since the premiere hasn't happened yet, we're just providing some luscious pictures culled from the elaborate invitation. Yummy (but we're afraid of the fashion sense)! Click on small photo for a bigger version.