Since there are several iterations of “Law and Order”, I decided to handle them in their own column.
Of course, there is the original, which premiered in 1990 and lasted 20 years until 2010. It featured the arrests made by detectives in New York City’s 27th Precinct, “the 2-7” as they called it.
In the original, the first commander was Captain Donald Cragen, played by actor Dann Florek. He was later transferred to Manhattan Special Victims Unit, or SVU. For most of the rest of the run, Lt. Anita Van Buren ran the 2-7. There were several detectives, but the most popular was Det. Lenny Briscoe, played by veteran actor Jerry Orbach. His sarcastic comments became legend.
Most of the time his partner was Det. Ed Green, played by Jesse L. Martin.
Orbach came down with cancer, and he left the series after the 2003-04 season, He took the role of Lennie Briscoe to a new “Law and Order” iteration entitled “Law & Order: Trial by Jury”, which was to accommodate his illness by giving him a lighter schedule than he had had on the original series. But he was only featured in the first two episodes, both of which aired following his death.
On the “Law” side, there was District Attorney Adam Schiff — which ended up being life imitating art, since there is a California congressman by the same name, same spelling.
The executive assistant district attorney was played, for most of the run, by Sam Waterston, who played Jack McCoy. At the end of the series run, he becomes the DA.
McCoy had a long string of female assistant DAs who played “second chair” and assisted McCoy with the trials, as did Van Buren, Briscoe and Green.
The lady DAs included one of my favorites, Det. Jane Rizzoli from “Rizzoli and Isles,” Angie Harmon, who played Abbie Carmichael. Jill Hennessey, whose character is killed off in a traffic accident by a drunk driver while giving Briscoe, a recovered alcoholic, a ride home after he got drunk. She would later star as medical examiner in “Crossing Jordan” from 2001 to 2007. Elisabeth Rohm, played Serena Southerlyn; Jamie Ross, played by Carey Lowell; Annie Parise played Alexandra Borgia, whose character was also killed off when Borgia was murdered. and Alana de la Garza, played Connie Rubirosa after McCoy became DA and he was replaced by the new executive assistant DA, Michael Cutter, played by Linus Roache.
Three real-life New York City mayors appeared in the series — former Republican presidential candidate and current attorney for President Trump who was mayor during 9-11, Rudy Giuliani; former Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, and former mayor David Dinkins, who endorsed Bloomberg for president. One former mayor who surprisingly did not appear was Ed Koch.
There was “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” which featured the Major Crimes Unit and featured the unusual Det. Robert Goren, portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio, a skilled actor who also played the bug in the original “Men in Black” movie and the TV series from 1997 to 1998. Goren would be able to figure out complicated cases by deranged criminals. He always carried a notebook. The character would eventually go out on sick leave for a mental illness.
One of the other detectives when Goren was gone was Jeff Goldblum, who portrayed Det. Zack Nichols. I think the producers were going for another unusual character there, because Goldblum could do it. He lasted 24 episodes. Another detective was Mike Logan, played by Chris Noth, who transferred there from the 2-7, via a trip to State Island’s Domestic Disputes squad. Noth was one of Briscoe’s partners, along with Det. Rey Curtis, played by Benjamin Bratt.
There were a couple of attempts at spin-offs, like “Law and Order: Trial by Jury” in 2005, with Dr. Lilith Sternen from “Cheers” Bebe Newirth. But “Trial by Jury” lasted only 13 episodes, half a TV season. This iteration showed more of the legal end of the criminal justice system — from the arraignment, and continuing through the lawyers process of building a case, investigating leads, and preparing witnesses and defendants for trial.
Another one-season LAO was “Law and Order: LA”.Alana de la Garza, ADA Connie Rubirosa in the final seasons of the original, starred.
Then there was “Law and Order: True Crime”, a mini-series in 2017 with “The Sopranos” vet Edie Falco. The mini-series showed the story behind the murders of a Hollywood movie executive and his former beauty queen wife by their sons. The story was loosely based on the real-life story of the Menendez brothers, who killed their parents. Jose Menendez, the boys’ father, attended Hazleton High School.
There was also “Law and Order: UK” which was the British version that ran 53 episodes from 2009-2014.
But the most successful version — which is still on NBC — is the second longest-running TV series of all time, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”, which premiered in 1999 and is now in its 21st season.
The cast has twisted and turned over the years. The one constant is Det. Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, daughter of late actress Jayne Mansfield, who is promoted to sergeant and leads the unit after the departure of Cragen. There have been a host of detectives in the unit. Most of the time, Eliot Stabler, played by Christopher Meloni, was Benson’s partner. Rapper Ice-T has plays Det. Odafin Tutuola the entire run. Another long-time detective was Sgt. John Munch, played by former stand-up comedian Richard Belzer, who also played the character in “Homicide: Life on the Street”, and transferred from Baltimore to SVU.
You can find “TV’s Greatest Hits” on accessnepa.com, under “Featured Content” and “Screen Time.”
TRIVIA QUESTIONS FROM LAST TIME:
QUESTION: Who played Paul Drake Jr. in the “Perry Mason” movies? Why him?
ANSWER” “Greatest American Hero” William Katt played the younger Drake. Katt is the real-life son of Barbara Hale, Della Street.
Q. Who acted in “The New Perry Mason” in 1973?
A. They used a lot of actors who were known faces, but I’ll bet you couldn’t name them — my Unsung Heroes of TV. Monte Markham played Mason. Sharon Acker played Della Street. “Dirty Harry” actor Harry Guardino played DA Hamilton Burger, and Dane Clark played Lt. Tragg.
Q. Who played the detectives in “Perry Mason”?
A. Ray Collins played LA homicide Lt. Arthur Tragg in 241 episodes. Wesley Lau played Lt. Andy Anderson in 82 episodes from 1961 on, and Richard Anderson, Ocsar Goldman from “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman”, played Lt. Steve Drumm in 26 episodes in the last two seasons.
Q. What “Perry Mason” judge was a regular in “Three Stooges” short films?
A. Kenneth MacDonald, who appeared the second-most of any actor as a judge –32 times — often played a bad guy or an authority figure of some kind in the old Stooges shorts. S. John Lautner played a judge 33 times, the most. He is recognizable from “Dragnet” 1967-70 as a police chief or defense attorney.
TRIVIA QUESTIONS THIS TIME:
QUESTION: Which actor/actress appeared the most in the original “Law and Order”?
Q. Which “Law and Order” character spent part of his childhood in his mother’s native Wilkes-Barre?
Q. Who were the four district attorneys?
Q. What other TV series did Steven Hill appear?
Q. Who was the original executive assistant district attorney on “Law and Order” before McCoy?
Q. What lady judge was familiar to two other TV series, one a soap opera?
Q. What other female judge was in “One Life to Live”?
Q. What female judge was in “Sudden Impact”, the fourth “Dirty Harry” movie in 1983 with Clint Eastwood?