|It was a dose of good news for "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" fans late last year when it was announced that original cast members Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe were returning to the long-running series after departing the year before. However, the good news came accompanied by a dark cloud as it was also announced that this 10th season would be the show's last. After the abrupt cancellation last year of mothership "Law & Order," the crystal lining is that at least the execs at the USA Network, where "Criminal Intent has been housed since 2007, granted the show a chance to properly wrap up the acclaimed crime drama. Enter Executive Producer Chris Brancato, who was freed up from consulting duties on FOX's now-delayed series "Terra Nova," and took over the "Criminal Intent" showrunner reigns.|
In between shooting in New York City, Brancato took a break to talk with our Jim Halterman about this final crop of episodes and the new focus on D'Onofrio's Detective Robert Goren. While this season will feature the usual cavalcade of guest stars like Jay Mohr, Julia Ormand, Steven Weber, Julie White, Neal McDonough and Geri Ryan, Brancato also teased this Sunday's season premiere inspired by the real life troubles of actor Charlie Sheen as well as the upcoming episode modeled after the drama of Broadway's "Spider-Man: The Musical."
Jim Halterman: There was some shuffling around of episodes so the first episode back is actually not the one that explains the return of D'Onofrio's Goren and Erbe's Eames, right?
Chris Brancato: Actually, [the network] took our episode four, which is our 'Charlie Sheen episode,' and they decided it was so timely so they decided to put that as the first episode that will air on Sunday night. It's called 'Rispetto.' A writer came to me with the notion of doing a study of the collateral damage that occurs when a Charlie Sheen-like person exists. Of course, there are multiple people around Charlie Sheen that have reasons to try to protect him if, for instance, he was accused of a murder because they make so much money from him. From the President of the studio that makes 'Two and a Half Men' to the creator of the show, etc. But, for our purposes for 'Criminal Intent,' we decided to set the character in the world of New York Fashion, kind of like [designer] Michael Kors. I should point out that it's a very, very good episode and one that will leave many diehard viewers wondering 'How'd [Goren and Eames] come back?' and now that is our episode two, 'The Consoler.' You'll be asking 'Why are they back?' and then episode two will answer how and why they've come back. It was my goal to not make a big deal about it. I didn't want to start with them staring at each other across the squad room saying 'I've missed you' and hug. It's not what we do on 'Law & Order' so I actually started three weeks into their return on a major case and then, yes, in episode two we explain the circumstances of that return.
JH: Can you talk about shaping this season and if you approached it differently because it is presumably the final one?
CB: I felt like there needed to be some sort of organizing principle or umbrella under which to kind of filter the shows; to act as a determinant as to whether the show was right for this batch or not right. Obviously this show has done many, many episodes and lived many years at NBC, which is a broadcast network, and when you're doing 22 episodes you have a very wide latitude to cover every corner of the city. Now, with a more limited number of episodes on a cable network that, first of all, bills itself as 'Characters Welcome' what Dick [Wolf, Executive Producer and creator] and I decided was to organize these episodes around a basic umbrella concept. Greed is a motivator in many of the crimes you see on television but we wanted to make this batch have a kind of organizing principle, an exploration of love gone wrong. That act fits many different scenarios. Sometimes it's romance and love goes wrong. Sometimes it's the love for one male friend for another [and] sometimes it's the love of a daughter for a father or one family for another. In other words, ultimately what you'll find is an exploration in these eight episodes of where and why love went awry. For me, that allowed me to have some 'fusion' or organizing principle for the show.
JH: How has it been for Kathryn and Vincent to be back in these familiar characters and environment?
CB: When they came back to do these episodes, I remember Katie said, 'You know, I spoke to Vincent a few days ago and we're really excited to come back and do this. It's been tougher than we thought to leave the show and leave the crew...we feel this sense of excitement." I'm a big believer in that if you can harness how the actors are really feeling and make that sort of a little bit part of the fiction you're creating it often serves the fiction quite well.
JH: All of the 'Law & Order' series are careful about delving too often into the personal lives of our regular characters yet we're going to spend quite a bit of time on Goren's life. How did that decision come about?
CB: Dick wanted Goren to essentially be shrunk and to have to go under some psychiatric counseling and it was a condition of his return to the major case squad that he had seven police-mandated shrink sessions with an outside specialist that is hired. So this season features Julia Ormand playing the shrink and we're going to have an arc that is essentially Goren getting interrogated over the course of seven episodes with the on-the-nose purpose of determining his fitness as a case detective but at the same time, a plumbing of what makes him tick and hopefully leave us with some kind of sense of a conclusion in terms of his mental health and well-being. At first, I was skeptical about the notion partially because 'The Sopranos' used a shrink to create effect, as have other shows, including the original 'Law & Order.' We ended up hiring Warren Leight, former show runner of this show but also show runner of 'In Treatment,' to write that shrink-arc because he really specializes in this kind of thing. And as I sat there just a few weeks ago watching Vincent D'Onofrio and Julia Ormand do these scenes my skepticism just vanished immediately.
JH: Did the fact that you were exploring Goren's character make you want to perhaps do the same with Eames?
CB: First of all, I completely agree with that sentiment which is to say this - in some people's minds the show can be looked at as 'this is a Vincent D'Onofrio vehicle' because you can get in the mindset that over here is Sherlock Holmes and over here is Watson and the movie is called 'Sherlock Holmes,' not 'Sherlock and Watson.' That said, there is no doubt in my mind, and I would guarantee that Vincent would agree 1000%, that this show is a two-hander meaning. It's about two detectives and it's about their relationship and Bobby Goren wouldn't be the character we've come to love without Eames, no way. There are very few actresses that could pull off what Katie does. We like to joke about it and I don't mean to undersell it but somebody has to carry the water in a procedural. They have to recount the information that the detectives have observed or sussed out or come out with a stream of facts that you just learned getting off the phone. Though it would seem to be the simplest thing in the world to regurgitate information there's almost nobody who can do it and make it interesting and make it feel completely organic to the scene. Katie is a master at not only doing that [but] nobody delivers a little bit of attitude better than her.
JH: The episode focusing on the controversial Broadway musical 'Spider-Man' is also getting the 'Criminal Intent' treatment. Can you talk about how you approached that topic?
CB: We're doing a version of 'Spider-Man: The Musical' where the rigging breaks and it turns out to be murder. Our version, since we can't obviously use 'Spider-Man,' which is a trademark property, is 'Icarus: The Rock Musical.' We're not involved in this insanely complicated computerized rigging mechanism much but I'm only getting a taste of what poor Julie Taymor and all these people have to go through because we're going to do a wire rigged stunt. It's insanely complicated to pull off even though we're just dropping the guy from the ceiling to the floor. [Laughs.]
JH: So, let's say these episodes do really well. Is there a chance 'Criminal Intent' could come back for another season?
CB: I think we all probably know that Dick Wolf never says never. I know the show and my interaction with him was phenomenal. He cares so deeply and he is engaged in the show in a way that you might not expect somebody who is so successful and been doing it for so long. He loves it! This is his baby, of sorts. Yeah, I think if viewers are enthused about Vincent and Katie coming back I don't see why it has to be the final season.
"Law & Order: Criminal Intent" premieres its 10th season this Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on USA.