Thursday, 27 May 2010

Law and Order - Why Dick Wolf Is Wrong.

I think that Dick Wolf did something amazing when he came up with Law and Order, way back in the late 80s. He created a new kind of format for the police procedural that it became the format for countless others. CSI sprung up from that format, Without A Trace, The Practice-- both sides of the story, the Law and the Order (as the original narration tells us). From Law and Order came Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and also my personal favourite, Law and Order: Criminal Intent. There were misfires, Law and Order: Trial By Jury, Conviction-- it seems that Wolf can't work a law and law show like The Practice could way back when.

I've been binging on Law and Order: Criminal Intent for three-ish weeks now. With birthday money comes great horror when you set up 1-Click Shopping for Amazon on your mobile phone. So I have the first three seasons, and am just starting the third this week. I love it. You can't go wrong. There are reasons for this, but I'll get to it in a moment.

Law and Order has been cancelled. 20 years this show has been on the air, and it's been cancelled. Not before the networks green light Law and Order: Los Angeles of course, or Special Victims Unit gets another season, and Criminal Intent is reformatted to revolve around Jeff Goldblum's character Zach Nichols (not a terrible thing, but bear with me)... the original (and some might say the best-- I wouldn't) has been cancelled. It's a shame. Not for me, I don't think, I stopped watching it around the time I got into Criminal Intent, and it's never been the same without Jerry Orbach as Lenny Brisco. God, I loved that man.

But something caught my eye in my recent perusal of the internet when it came to Law and Order. Dick Wolf said that it doesn't matter what the cast is (in regards to Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe being moved off Criminal Intent), because the audience is more interested in the stories.

Well that's just ridiculous.

The reason I watched Law and Order was because I loved seeing Jerry Orbach in action. I loved Sam Waterston as DA. I think I caught the tail end of the Benjamin Bratt era and met Jesse L Martin when he came onboard. That was great. These were the characters I'd watch and care about. Just because major details about their lives weren't revealed doesn't make them any less interesting. Without them on the screen I wouldn't have been half as interested. As time went on I stopped caring about Law and Order because the episodes became derivative of themselves, but what do you expect when you're on air for 20 years? I wish I'd stuck with it though, because the later seasons introduced Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson, brilliant actors who shined in their previous outings in other shows-- Sisto in Kidnapped, one of those amazing shows that was cancelled after one season, and Anderson in The Shield, where he demosntrated an ability to mainline malevolence like nothing else. Good stuff. But I stopped caring because the quality fell, because characters I loved were no longer present.

With Criminal Intent, that show was all about Vincent D'Onofrio as Bobby Goren. It wouldn't have been the same thing without him. I didn't care as much about the stories, more about how he would solve them. D'Onofrio bought so much to the role that I doubt the show would have been as successful without him as the lead. Kathryn Erbe as Eames was the great resounding view point character, helping to... not simplify, but explain... every single leap that Goren made. The stories came second.

So for Wolf to say that Law and Order isn't about the actors is just a ridiculous statement for a man who had previously reached pinnacles of greatness. He's out of touch with his audience, more interested in boosting up his ego than admitting that the only reason his franchise has been as popular as it has been is because of the actors that have come into frame. Orbach was the heart of the show. Chris Noth was so popular as Mike Logan that after he was fired from the main show he got a spin-off film and then became one of the main detectives in Criminal Intent. You don't forget these guys. But you forget the stories.

So who's right, Dick Wolf? The people or you?


  1. I watched Criminal Intent for Goren and Eames and secondly, their stories. When they left so did I.

  2. You are SO right on! And I lost interest in the original series the same way you did - when Lennie Briscoe was gone - and I discovered Criminal Intent. Vincent D'Onofrio grabbed me immediately as the brainy, mercurial Detective Goren. I enjoyed years of watching him and Kathryn Erbe (Detective Eames) play off each other.

    Dick Wolf was totally wrong in that statement and the quietness of the LOCI message boards is proof of that. Since Goren and Eames left, so did a vast number of the longtime fans, and so did most of the discussion of the episodes.

    I am one of those who left with Goren and Eames, on principal, after the way things went down last fall. I'm happy with my DVD's, thank you.

    Bobby Goren and Alex Eames made Criminal Intent. Without them, it's just not the same show.

    And WORD to what you said about the characters being unforgettable. I got interested in Law & Order to begin with because of Chris Noth's portrayal of Mike Logan. I was heartbroken when Mike was written out after S5, and then when he came back via the movie, I was somewhat mollified. But when he came back to Criminal Intent and stayed for three years, I was ecstatic! Mike Logan - another of those characters that will live on forever - no matter how many other projects Noth does - and there are many good ones - I will always love Mikey the best!