|"Law & Order: Criminal Intent" is planning dramatic cast changes for next season, with four regulars, including star Vincent D'Onofrio, departing.|
D'Onofrio is expected to exit sometime during the series' upcoming ninth season, handing over his badge to Jeff Goldblum as the top detective on the major case squad.
Kathryn Erbe, who, like D'Onofrio, has been with the show since its beginning and plays his long-suffering partner Alex Eames, also will be phased out, as will Eric Bogosian, who plays the force's captain, Danny Ross.
As previously reported, Julianne Nicholson, who played Goldblum's partner but has just had a baby, her second, also is leaving. She's being replaced by British actress Saffron Burrows.
Details about D'Onofrio, Erbe and Bogosian's exit are still unclear as the actors' deals are being worked out. The network only recently renewed the Wolf Films/Universal Cable Prods. series for a ninth season, slated to premiere in late spring with a two-parter.
Creator and executive producer Dick Wolf has long said that it is the stories, and not the actors, that form the core attraction of his "Law & Order" franchise.
Yet, like Sam Waterston on the original "L&O," D'Onofrio has long been identified with "Criminal Intent" and has helped set its tone as Det. Robert Goren. His trademark gesture, the in-your-face tilt of his head when he interrogates criminals, is a highlight of each episode, as is his encyclopedic knowledge of the arcane that often helps in fingering the suspect.
But, after originating on NBC, "L&O:CI" migrated to sibling USA, which has put together a cluster of dramas that are lighter in tone and subject matter and have more quirkily upbeat characters, as in "Monk," "Psych" and "Burn Notice."
Goldblum, who brings an easy eccentricity to most of his work, is more in the tradition of Tony Shalhoub's "Monk" than D'Onofrio's brooding and tortured Goren.
Additionally, cost savings always factor in production equations these days, with long-standing actors on a show, like D'Onofrio and Erbe, pulling in substantially more than more recent additions.
The sweeping cast changes on "CI" resemble the 2003 shakeup on ABC's "The Practice" when several key actors, including lead Dylan McDermott, Lara Flynn Boyle and Kelli Williams, were let go as a way to slash production costs.
The "CI" changes also represent the biggest shift so far for a show that has seen a number of faces come and go since it began in 2001. For several years, Chris Noth, who played detective Mike Logan, has alternated with D'Onofrio in the top role. He exited the Wolf fold at the end of the 2008 season and is now recurring on the CBS freshman series "The Good Wife."
While D'Onofrio is departing as a regular, it is possible for him to reprise his character in guest stints.
Elizabeth Guider reported from Los Angeles; Roger Friedman reported from New York.