Producer Dick Wolf has learned that slapping the ”Law & Order” label on any of his crime stoppers’ textbooks boosts prestige and profits. (It helped, for instance, when he advertised the 1998 Chris Noth TV movie ”Exiled” as ”a ‘Law & Order’ movie”; on the other hand, Mann and Machine, his ”L&O”-free 1992 bomb about a cop and a curvy cop-robot, probably wouldn’t have survived even if he’d subtitled it ”A Law & Order Fantasy.”)
Peel off Wolf’s labels, however, and these ”Law & Orders” become very different creations in various stages of development or regression.
Take the original Law & Order, now in its 12th season. On the police-procedural side, partners Jerry Orbach and Jesse L. Martin haven’t established any appreciable rapport; it’s only when a patented ”ripped from the headlines” script is juicy (such as Nov. 28’s clever sampling of the P. Diddy?Jennifer Lopez nightclub-shooting incident) that the series sparks.
These days, Sam Waterston is looking even more hangdog than usual now that his prosecutin’ partner is Elisabeth Rohm – whose acting style, as revealed in two previous series, Bull and Angel, consists primarily of talking in a monotone and staring blankly, as if trying to hypnotize her colleagues and the audience with the message ”I’m a young blonde…. Nothing else matters…. You will liiiiike me….” Sorry, Lizzie, your character’s pearls-and-cashmere-sweater wardrobe is a nice touch, but your WASP ice-princess act doesn’t cut it.