|Three years ago on "Law and Order," when New York Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) punched out a contemptible politician in a fit of rage, District Atty. Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) said the cop would be lucky to be allowed to walk a beat on Staten Island.|
That's where we find Logan in "Exiled," a new movie airing this Sunday (8 p.m. on WMAQ-Ch. 5) that brings back arguably one of the most heartfelt of all the show's characters.
It's good to see the return of Logan, whose dogged determination, uncompromising approach and sometimes abrasive nature shone despite "Law and Order's" rather restrictive environment, which stresses storylines ripped from the newspapers over character development. His presence was sorely missed after Noth left the series at the end of the 1994-95 season, the series' fifth.
In the enjoyably tense TV film, the detective stumbles on what appears to be the murder of a prostitute found in New York Harbor. Seeing a chance to return to his old stomping ground, Logan finagles jurisdiction over the case and works it with a new partner, played by Dana Eskelson.
"It's a homicide. You don't do homicide anymore," says Logan's superior, Lt. Dennis Stolper (Dabney Coleman).
"You know how many homicides I've worked?" Logan asks.
"In Manhattan," Stolper answers. "This happens to be Staten Island."
"Believe me," Logan sneers, "I know the difference."
Logan finds that the homicide opens more doors than he bargained for, as he bumps into gangsters, a dirty cop and his old buddies at the 27th Precinct.
"Exiled" also features appearances by Jerry Orbach as Logan's old partner Lennie Briscoe, S. Epatha Merkerson as his ex-superior Anita Van Buren, and Dann Florek as another old boss, Capt. Don Cragen.
Also showing up are Waterston as McCoy and Benjamin Bratt as Logan's replacement, Rey Curtis.
But it is Logan who is in the spotlight in "Exiled," which the native of Madison, Wis., wrote with his best friend, Charles Kipps. The two hashed out Logan's return "over a lot of bottles of wine" at their favorite Italian restaurant.
Noth, who has been acting for some 15 years, says one reason his portrayal of Logan may have struck such a chord is that he tried to imbue the character with the qualities of real New York police officers -- chief among them a way of "actively listening," meaning "a conversation that you're having with yourself, in a way, and with the other person: What are they saying, what they're not saying, what they're implying.
"The character of the New York cop is different than any other cop," he says. "It's a point of view about life. It is sometimes a harsh point of view because it has to be, and I definitely try to embrace it."
In "Exiled," Noth gave himself the opportunity to really get under Logan's skin -- he even has a love affair, a taboo on "Law and Order." Noth wanted to highlight Logan's "great wealth of humanity" and a sardonic side he says is natural for anyone living in New York.
Noth's exit from "Law and Order" wasn't exactly on good terms. It capped years of artistic acrimony between the actor and creator-executive producer Dick Wolf. Noth says, however, that the circumstances of his departure were blown out of proportion -- somewhat.
"It was nothing more than being burned out after five years," Noth says of leaving the series, although he says he didn't appreciate how "the rug was taken from under me" when Wolf announced Noth would be replaced without the two of them sitting down and discussing it first.
"It wasn't really animosity," Wolf responds. "I hate to quote movie-wise, but what we had was a failure to communicate, and I think it was on both sides. It was what I had thought had been sort of a mutual decision, (which) was presented as a unilateral decision. I think that's what made him more upset than anything."
Considering the sometimes stormy relationship the two have shared over the years, what are the chances of future "Law and Order" movies featuring Logan?
Wolf says the ratings for Sunday's movie will dictate that. "The door is certainly open to discussion," he adds.
Noth agrees that future movies will hinge on Sunday's ratings, but he also says there "has to be a real discussion" among Wolf, himself and Kipps about the creative direction of any follow-up movie.
Some decisions and compromises were made during the filming of "Exiled" that Noth says he found painful. He says he would like to take more chances in a sequel, "in terms of complexity, in terms of subtlety, in terms of even the music."
Meanwhile, both parties say they are pleased with "Exiled." Noth, who starts a new season as Mr. Big on the HBO comedy "Sex and the City" in the spring, says he thought the cast and tone of the piece were strong.
The movie may even have an impact on the TV show, Wolf says, causing the structure of "Law and Order" -- delving into the cases without getting into the personal lives of the characters -- to be threatened from within:
"What I'm afraid of," he says, "(is) the six regulars now on the show are going to come at me with knives saying, `See? We can do this!' "