|Has Law & Order lost its creative energy? |
Frankly, I never thought I'd raise that question about the cop-and-court series now in its 17th NBC season.
I consider myself an original "ca-chung, ca-chung" groupie.
When things are dull on first-run network prime-time television, I'll go to TNT cable for an L&O rerun and occasionally find an original hour I've missed.
As fellow L&O groupies know, NBC moved the series from Wednesday to Friday last fall, where audience ratings have dropped, primarily because of competition from Numb3rs, CBS' well-executed FBI drama.
Actually, L&O's audience decline began last season in its traditional Wednesday-night time period when it lost viewers to CBS' CSI: New York.
However, the decline in creative energy this season can be traced mostly to the scripts, although recent cast changes haven't helped.
In an attempt to be timely, L&O writers have offered several ludicrous "ripped-from-the headlines" plots.
One, last fall, featured Chevy Chase as a Mel Gibson-type star involved in a nasty drunken- driving scenario that also dealt with anti-Semitism.
The script played like an old, bad Chevy Chase routine on Saturday Night Live.
A recent hour offered a contrived O.J. Simpson- inspired story about the murder of a female publisher whose company was about to launch a book written by a former baseball star acquitted of killing his wife.
Ripped? How about ripped off?
During L&O's 17-season run, producer-creator Dick Wolf has changed cast members with the frequency of a mother changing a new baby's diapers.
Some changes were based on Wolf's casting decisions; others have been made by the actors who, for a variety of reasons, wanted to move on.
One unplanned change, unfortunately, really stands out.
When Jerry Orbach (Detective Lennie Briscoe) died, L&O lost part of its heart and soul.
Joining the cast last fall were Melina Govich as Jessie L. Martin's detective partner, and Alana De La Garza, the assistant DA working with Sam Waterston.
Both are extraordinarily good-looking (with low-cut blouses and tight-fitting sweaters) - perhaps too much so for the rough-and-tumble world of the streets of New York.
Still, even such shaky casting could be overlooked if the scripts were better.
Three strong constants remain - the performance of Waterston, the series' use of guest actors and bit players and the on-location filming.
Waterston's performance as Jack McCoy, the assistant DA, is rarely out of focus, thanks to his abilities and a consistency in his character - the one area where the writing remains consistent.
The extraordinary acting- talent pool in New York allows L&O to feature performers not regularly seen in Hollywood-produced dramas.
And the street scenes always are a plus, even if sardonic Lennie Briscoe is not around to put mustard on his "dog."
In January, NBC announced the next season renewal of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
No mention was made of the "mother ship" coming back for an 18th season. Perhaps L&O's future is being weighed.
I vote for its return, even though this season has been sub par.
I'm scared that my TV set couldn't pick up NBC if Law & Order, even with its problems, weren't on the schedule.