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Pasadena, Calif. · Flux is a constant with Law & Order. Dick Wolf feels the cast turnover helps keep his three New York crime shows fresh. They'll be fresher than an Irish Spring morning this fall.
Wolf has made significant changes in all three of the L&O brands, some of necessity, others by choice.
Death turned into an opportunity for Alana De La Garza, who is joining the original L&O as an assistant district attorney. At last sighting, she was getting killed in the CSI: Miami season finale. "If I hadn't died there, I wouldn't be here," she said. "So it all happens for a reason."
De La Garza replaces Annie Parisse, who played ADA Alexandra Borgia.
Hopping aboard the mothership with De La Garza is Milena Govich, as a detective who fills the void left by the departure of Dennis Farina.
Julianne Nicholson must have really impressed Wolf on his short-lived Conviction. He rehired her to replace Annabella Sciorra on L&O: Criminal Intent. There is no concern viewers will confuse Nicholson with her old character, Wolf said. "If more people had seen Conviction, I might be worried about it."
Nicholson said getting into Wolf's loop is a dream come true. "I had to audition for about two years before I was finally cast on Law & Order. I felt like I had arrived. As a New York actor, you feel you can't really call yourself that until you've been on one of these shows."
It really isn't that exclusive company, Wolf said. "I've said for years, if you go to the theater in New York and somebody does not have a Law & Order credit, they've either just gotten off the bus or they're really bad." At last count, Wolf said, Law & Order alone had employed more than 15,000 speaking parts.
Also joining CI is Eric Bogosian in place of Jamey Sheridan, whose Capt. James Deakins is being written out.
Connie Nielsen, who has Gladiator and some acclaimed art house films on her resume, has signed on as a short-termer on L&O: Special Victims Unit. She'll do a six-week stint while multiple Emmy nominee Mariska Hargitay finishes her maternity leave.
Wolf has demonstrated over the years that he has no compunction about letting people go when he thinks it's in the best interests of his shows. Farina and Courtney Vance, whose character ADA Ron Carver has been eliminated from Criminal Intent, are examples.
However, several of this year's changes were initiated by the actors, he said, including Sheridan and Parisse, who both asked to leave so they could move on to other projects. (Sciorra left by mutual decision, according to Wolf. This generally means one of the two sides had grown disenchanted.)
Rumors to the contrary, one L&O regular who isn't going anywhere, according to Wolf, is Sam Waterston, as ADA Jack McCoy. Wolf was emphatic that such reports are "totally, totally fallacious. I don't know where that came from. Let me put it this way. Sam is back for all 22 episodes this year. He has started shooting already."
Wolf also shot down suggestions that fans of Criminal Intent had turned thumbs down on Chris Noth and Vincent D'Onofrio splitting a season. "The Noth episodes were two-tenths of a rating point in the [target 18-49 demographic] behind the Vincent episodes. I think it's worked amazingly well and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this happen on more shows, especially where people have been doing it for a while and get really exhausted."
There aren't many hours when one of the L&O series is not running on NBC or in repeats on cable. But this fall will bring the first time two originals have aired back-to-back on NBC, with Criminal Intent and SVU filling the 9-11 p.m block on Tuesdays.
No big deal, according to Wolf. "Based on the fact that USA and TNT [both of which carry reruns] are the No. 1 and No 2 networks, it doesn't seem to bother them. I think there are people out there who would watch three hours in a row."
This season, even those loyalists will need a scorecard to keep track of the players.