Law & Order SVU: Articles, 2001
A Rising Texas Star
Candace Cooksey Fulton, San Angelo Standard-Times, 3.11.01
When Dick Wolf wrote the character of Alexandra Cabot into his NBC spinoff series “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” he had in mind Stephanie March would be cast in the role.
So if it seems the smooth as glass assistant district attorney is a bit pointed, a tad irritated and generally annoyed, there’s a story that explains the demeanor.
A mad “this is so tapping on my nerves” March auditioned for another Wolf-written TV pilot.
“My agent thought I should audition for a pilot show called ‘Deadline,’” March said recently in a telephone call from New York. “But there was this huge hassle involved, and my attitude was, ‘If I just get in there and get out without killing somebody...’”
The attitude made an impression and Wolf told March’s agent he’d like to write a character for it (or her) in the Special Victims Unit series.
March debuted in October, at the start of the “Law and Order” spinoff series’ sophomore season. According to Wolf, the part of the unruffled assistant district attorney “added a much needed legal component” to the show’s dynamics.
The show airs at 9 p.m. Fridays on NBC affiliate stations.
In calmer circumstances with a little energy, wit and sense of humor, Alexandra Cabot could gracefully metamorphose into the slightly softer Stephanie March. But March applauds the character’s solid grounding.
“Alexandra provides a really good contrast in the character mix. There’s a point in her being there,” March said. “I’m thankful to be in the show, but even more thankful I’m there not just to play someone’s girlfriend.
“I have an opportunity to grow and the character has the opportunity to grow.”
“Stephanie’s made the character more compassionate, we believe,” said Jane Greene March, an SVU fan and – coincidentally – the actor’s grandmother. “She told us that’s where she wanted to go with it.”
Actually Stephanie March has so many kin and connections to San Angelo, she can practically be called a hometown girl. When a solid case of Texas homesick sets in, San Angelo is at the top of the list of places March misses the very most. March’s family ties to San Angelo include her mother and stepfather, Laura and Bob Derby; her paternal grandparents, Jock and Jane Greene March; her aunt and uncle, Jane and Bill March.
Though technically March grew up in Dallas, there is enough family in San Angelo for her to call the city home. Anyway, her grandmother said, Stephanie was always here summers and holidays.
“We like her to call this home.”
And calling from New York, Stephanie March admits, “People from Texas don’t want to live any place but Texas. I truly understand that, but I love where I am and what I’m doing.
“Here’s the way I look at it. Texas is my mother and New York is my lifelong love affair.”
It was no family secret, Stephanie dreamed and planned to become an actress.
“She studied to be an actress. We knew all along that’s what she wanted to do,” said Grandfather Jock.
“Stephanie was at a pretty tender age when the family went to Colorado and there was a summer theater there. The first time she went and saw a play, she said, ‘That’s what I’m going to be,’” added Grandmother Jane.
To have been cast as a regular on a solid series is a break most actors don’t realize so early in their careers. March’s hard work has caught her several lucky breaks. Last summer she had a part in “Death of a Salesman,” presented on Broadway.
Still, March said she expected to “toil away in non-equity for years probably. Even on Broadway acting’s a hand-to-mouth existence. You cannot make a living doing just that.
“And I kind of had this mind set that I wasn’t going to do something I hated doing just for the sake of saying, ‘Well, at least it’s acting.’”
March said she knows to count herself among “the really, really lucky ones.”
“I think the formula that makes this show successful is that it is plot oriented not character oriented. That absolutely broadens the range.”
Carrie's Mother on Law & Order: SVU
Damon Romine, TV Guide, 11.2.01
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit scored a November sweeps coup by casting three-time Oscar nominee Piper Laurie in tomorrow's episode, "Care" (airing 10 pm/ET on NBC). Best known as the psycho mama to Sissy Spacek's psychic teen in Carrie, she'll play an earthy grandma caught up in a murder investigation on SVU.
"I always like to do new things — it keeps me alive and on my toes," the L&O fan tells TV Guide Online. "I'm even happy that they used such an unforgiving lens on me and [no] makeup! It's not flattering, but I think it adds to the character."
As in Carrie, Laurie also played a crazy shrew in the cult phenom Twin Peaks. "It's great release and great fun to be bad," she enthuses. "But on the other hand, it's wonderful to play someone who is genuinely a good person. When I'm not playing nice, everyone on the set does their work and is professional. But when you play a good person, it's amazing how people treat you! They just can't do enough for you... They seem to attach your role to what they feel about you."
Hmm... so how did folks on the SVU set treat the veteran actress? Well, to answer that query might reveal too much about her latest kooky character. "I haven't even told my family and friends," admits Laurie, who begs us to keep the story's twists a secret. Shh! We'll never tell.
Michael Buckley, TV Guide, October 2001
Dick Wolf's successful spin-off series about the New York Police Department's Special Victims Unit starts its sophomore season. It was the only new show of the 1999-2000 season to be picked up for more than one year (it's being renewed through May 2002).
Midway through season one, the show (Wolf originally wanted to call it Law & Order: Sex Crimes Unit) found an audience after it moved from Mondays at 9 pm/ET (where it followed the disastrous coupling of Suddenly Susan and Veronica's Closet) to the old Homicide timeslot on Fridays at 10 pm/ET. Its viewership increased from 12.2 million to 12.7 million, and it became the most successful series for NBC in that timeslot since Miami Vice, more than a decade ago.
Although the initial idea seemed to be to spend more time investigating crimes than prosecuting them in the courtroom, that's now slated to change, and freshening and energizing even a young and successful series like SVU — particularly in making cast changes — is something that Wolf has fashioned into an art. So, if you've decided to spend more time in the courtroom, you need more lawyers, and Wolf's added a new assistant DA: Stephanie March plays Ivy League-educated Alexandra Cabot.
Its two main detectives are Stabler and Benson (Chris Meloni, Mariska Hargitay), but Wolf's smartest move at the outset was transferring Richard Belzer's sardonic Munch from the cancelled Homicide to the SVU, and it also helped to put Dann Florek as Captain Cragen (once the Law & Order detectives' boss) in charge.
Another new addition to the series this season is Det. "Fin" Tutuola, played by Ice-T, whose associations with Wolf include a memorable recurring villain on New York Undercover and a reformed con man on the short-lived Players. Now, his pairing with Belzer promises to enliven the proceedings. Any perps being stared down by both the deadpanned Belzer and steely eyed Ice-T should go running to Meloni and Hargitay to give themselves up.
Unlike Law & Order, this series explores the home life of its detectives, and it hasn't proven to be such a hot idea. The more dramatically effective, less strident episodes from last year were those that steered clear of problems with Stabler's kids and concentrated on the cases at hand.
Also, I know more than I need to about Benson's unhappy background (she's the product of a rape), which figured uneasily into some of last season's episodes. We know (and care) very little about the private lives of the frequently changing characters of Law & Order, and that seems to have worked out just fine. If SVU is to further mature and prosper, the trick is for it not to be too much a carbon copy of Law & Order while learning some storytelling lessons from it.
At this stage of the game, the SVU characters have many seasons (and more compelling cases) to go before establishing the kind of appeal that's made Law & Order such a durable property. On the other hand, if we can make comparisons to another Wolf series, they have a much better chance at succeeding than do the characters featured on his latest entry, Deadline. Further, it's been reported that NBC wants to tap the Law & Order franchise for yet another spin-off, which could start early next year.
In tonight's SVU season premiere, Stabler and Jeffries (Michelle Hurd) get some heat because of statements they made to a department psychologist during last season's finale, and the crime of the week involves a burning corpse.
Future storylines, says Wolf, include "the honor killing of a young woman, the highly charged resolution to last year's acclaimed episode with [Emmy nominee] Tracy Pollan, and an intense he said/she said spousal rape case between a homicide detective from another precinct and his wife."
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit could generate more of a buzz by giving its first-rate cast (particularly Meloni, who's as compelling here as when playing the repugnant Keller on HBO's Oz) more focused, provocative stories. Tonight's episode is a good beginning.
Michael Buckley, TV Guide, December 2001
Apart from the question of whether we really do need a seemingly inexhaustible number of Law & Order spinoffs, there are many things about the franchise that work just fine, and one of them is the use of familiar TV faces being cast — effectively — against type. For example, next Sunday, Jan. 13, Law & Order: Criminal Intent has a compelling performance by Michael Gross (Family Ties) as a murderous psychiatrist. A Law & Order episode from October had John Cullum (Northern Exposure) as a crooked diamond dealer. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has, in past episodes, featured Richard Thomas as a serial killer; Mark-Paul Gosselaar (the new addition to NYPD Blue) as a reluctant participant in porn movies; and tonight, SVU has a compelling John Ritter as Dr. Richard Manning, yet another psychiatrist who comes under suspicion.
The grisly crime that starts the proceedings involves Manning's seven-months-pregnant wife (Tricia Paoluccio), who's attacked in a parking garage and found unconscious and bleeding. Benson (Mariska Hargitay) accompanies the victim in the ambulance, where a shocked paramedic reports that the patient "sustained massive abdominal trauma" that looks "like [an] emergency C-section." The fetus is missing. Ritter is a suspect, but he's not the only one. It's revealed that the wife was having an affair and that the baby's father might be her lover (Bobby Cannavale, formerly of Third Watch).
Ritter's versatility will come as a surprise to those who associate him only with the character that gained him fame (and an Emmy) — Jack Tripper of Three's Company (which originally ran from 1977 to 1984). Since then, of course, he's done numerous TV movies, feature films (including Sling Blade and Problem Child), and Neil Simon's play, The Dinner Party, which marked Ritter's Broadway debut, alongside another TV name, Henry Winkler.
Tonight's episode enables Ritter to run a gamut of emotions. When first seen, he's a concerned but soft-spoken husband. "Nicole [his wife] was a good person... Nicole is a good person. The doctor says there's still a good chance she'll recover." Then his mood darkens and he turns irate when he comes home to find the police conducting a search, and — in an interrogation scene — accuses Stabler (Christopher Meloni) of "challenging my masculinity."
Ritter and Meloni have a battle of wills during an encounter that occurs during a trial, but not in the courtroom. "Usually, my time is worth $200 an hour," Ritter tells Meloni. "You're gonna shrink me now?" asks the detective. "You want me to?" replies the psychiatrist.
However, it's in the final scene that Ritter stands out. At first, he's giving testimony and is self-assured, but some surprising news affects him profoundly. The gradual change in his demeanor makes for a memorable piece of acting.