|"Law & Order: Trial by Jury" opens in pretty much the same manner as its brethren in the highly successful NBC brand.|
The voice-over announcer intones "In the criminal justice system ...," followed soon after by the distinctive, two-note "chunk-chunk" sound before the first scene. The show's theme music, as in "SVU" and "Criminal Intent," is a variation on the original show's theme.
But once they're inside the show -- which premieres at 10 p.m. ET Thursday (March 3) and moves to its regular home on Friday -- viewers will find its rhythm a little different from its predecessors. Whereas the "L&O" mothership and "SVU" are for the most part whodunits told from the cops' and prosecutors' point of view, and "Criminal Intent" is a cat-and-mouse game between detective and perpetrator, "Trial by Jury" widens its scope to take in all aspects of a criminal trial.
"What's interesting about this is that it's sort of a non-form," says series star Bebe Neuwirth ("Cheers," Broadway's "Chicago"), who plays prosecutor Tracey Kibre. "There's no rigidity to it -- it can go anywhere on different aspects of any case."
That's the idea, says executive producer Walon Green: "It's an omniscient view, and this show will go where the story wants to take you. That's kind of the way we view each case and each episode -- where's the interest? And if the interest is with the judge, if it's with the jury, the prosecutor, the defense, that's where we go."
The show will revolve around cases tried by Kibre and fellow ADA Kelly Gaffney (Amy Carlson, "Third Watch"). They get a hand from DA's investigators Hector Salazar (Kirk Acevedo, "Oz") and, for the first couple of episodes, Lennie Briscoe ("L&O" vet Jerry Orbach, who was working on the show until a few weeks before his death in December).
In a departure from the other members of the franchise, though, "Trial by Jury" also spends considerable time with defendants and their lawyers, which allows for some meaty guest-star roles. Lorraine Bracco ("The Sopranos"), Annabella Sciorra ("Jungle Fever," "The Sopranos") and Peter Coyote ("The 4400") show up in early episodes.
Green, who worked on the original "Law & Order" from 1992-94 and has since written for "ER" and "NYPD Blue," among other projects, likens the structure of "Trial by Jury" to a game of chess, with viewers seeing each side plot its next move in response to something the other has done.
"It becomes more of a puzzle show than a show with red herrings and very traditional crime-drama elements," he says. "That was very exciting to me. I always like to try to do something I haven't done before. That's what makes writing really exciting."