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Law & Order: Articles, 1993-1994
Law & Order, Crime & Punishment
Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly, 2.26.93

Right off the bat, you get a strong feeling that Crime & Punishment (NBC, Wednesday, March 3, 10-11 p.m.; Thursdays, 10-11 p.m.), a crisp, self- conscious new cop show, could use some of the wrinkled authenticity that Jerry Orbach is bringing these days to that other ampersanded drama hour, Law & Order (NBC, Wednesdays, 10-11 p.m.). In November, Orbach, a lanky bloodhound among veteran New York actors, replaced Paul Sorvino as the police detective paired with costar Chris Noth. I'd had my doubts about this new matchup; the moody, rangy Noth had always benefited from the contrast supplied by amiable, roly-poly costars (George Dzundza had waddled around in a bulging trench coat the season before Sorvino arrived). The teaming of two such similarly heavy- lidded, tall drinks of water as Orbach and Noth seemed like a potential mistake. Instead, the casting has proved to be inspired. Orbach has restored to Law & Order the grit it was starting to lack at the end of its '92 season. As Det. Lennie Briscoe, Orbach displays a smoky voice, impatient manner, and perennial air of hangdog cynicism that adds some realistic rust to L&O's gleaming efficiency. He has also added new depth to Noth's prematurely world-weary Det. Mike Logan, who now seems intriguingly callow and caught off guard whenever his new partner gets tough with a suspect. Both Law & Order and Crime & Punishment are the creations of executive producer Dick Wolf. Wolf established his career working on stylish crime series-Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice are two of his previous credits. The success of L&O has enabled him to launch other shows, but last season's Mann & Machine-futuristic tripe about a tough-guy cop partnered with a babe- alicious robot-was a particularly silly misstep. It's obvious that with Crime & Punishment Wolf wants to get back to meat & potatoes (sorry, meat and potatoes): terse thriller plots, with the good guys as rough mannered as the bad guys. C&P stars Jon Tenney (Equal Justice) and Rachel Ticotin (Total Recall) as Ken O'Donnell and Annette Rey, Los Angeles police detectives who are both so improbably good-looking they should be Gap T-shirt poster kids, not cold- coffee-guzzling cops. Tenney and Ticotin maintain admirable poker faces as they murmur Dragnet-style, just-the-facts dialogue, and the cases that their O'Donnell and Rey investigate are equally blunt. In this week's debut, they solve the murder of a parking-lot attendant and the kidnapping of a corporate executive. Soon after the series moves into its regular Thursday-night time slot, they hunt down the killer of a 13-year-old boy. Wolf is a producer who loves gimmicks in his shows, whether it's crime- fighting robots or Law & Order's rigid two-part structure (apprehension of suspect in the first half hour; trial of suspect in the second). So what makes Crime & Punishment distinctive? Wolf's most intrusive notion yet: Periodically in every episode, various characters look straight into the camera to answer the questions of an unseen creation who is referred to in the C&P production notes as the Interrogator. Speaking in a low, even tone supplied by James Sloyan, the Interrogator asks the cops how they felt at this or that moment and questions criminals about their motives. In a later episode, he even asks the murdered 13-year-old what it feels like to be dead. Wolf has said that the Interrogator is ''the voice of God...the voice of the audience'' asking the questions that are in our heads as we watch. But it's more like the voice of a pretentious psychotherapist who refuses to just shut up and watch the show like the rest of us. The Interrogator's segments stop the action dead and ruin any ambivalence or subtlety we might read into the characters. With everyone's motives spelled out, the emotional complexity of Crime & Punishment is nil, and the result is just a better-acted, better- plotted variation on Hunter. Last year, I suggested that Wolf entitle his next series Death & Taxes. Given how hokey his new show is, though, I'm beginning to think it's more likely he'll come up with an entry about a sexist pig of a policeman joined by a wise guy of a partner and call it Pork & Beans.

Playing It Anew, Sam
Waterston takes on a `Law & Order' tough-guy role
Verne Gay, Newsday, 9.21.94

We are sitting in Sam Waterston's office in "Law & Order's" West Side studios, and the view - truth be told - is lousy.
A rotting pier stretches beneath its window, and far beyond that the equally decrepit Hudson shoreline of Jersey looms. The office is not much to look at either - small, cramped, barely a place to hang a coat. A deep pool of water sits in front of the elevator banks downstairs, forcing users to hopscotch to dry spots, or swim.
So what is a guy like Waterston doing in a place like this? Sam Waterston - the distinguished, intellectual Sam Waterston. Groton and Yale-educated. A Shakespearean actor. Writer of movie treatments. Producer of his own movies. Oscar nominee. An American actor who even speaks French.
But there's another slightly jarring "what's wrong with this picture" element: Waterston is the new star of a bona fide hit TV show, unlike his two previous efforts (1991's "I'll Fly Away" was praised but barely watched; 1982's "Q.E.D." was neither praised nor watched). Indeed, "Law & Order" is a hit, and it might just be the most important - and certainly the most visible - role in Waterston's long career.
"I pretty much believed the propaganda about TV series," says Waterston, 53, explaining his paucity of tube roles. "The hours are horrible, and the scripts are terrible, the experience is awful, and the only thing that is pleased is your bank account. So I pretty much avoided the whole thing. I didn't look, and I don't know whether I'd look again either."
That would be a shame. Tonight (WNBC/4 at 10) Waterston makes his "L&O" debut as Jack McCoy, the assistant D.A. replacing Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty). As McCoy, a gruff, takes-no-bull type with a reputation for sleeping with his assistants, Waterston is terrific and perhaps the best addition to this cast in its five-season history.
Yet, in person, Waterston would seem to be a universe away from McCoy, exhibiting none of his character's strident singlemindedness. Press interviews are not his favorite part of the job, and he deftly scuttles away from any personal questions. He asks that the location of his Connecticut home not be revealed, and when one wonders about his hobbies beyond acting, he simply replies his "four children." He also manifests some of that trademark Waterston cerebration, scrunching his face as he scrutinizes his mind for the proper words.
On why he decided to return to TV: "Somebody just said it was a really good show and close to home. There's not a lot that's extraordinary about it."
Naturally, there's a little more to it than that. Dick Wolf, "L&O" creator, approached Waterston last year about starring in another show that he was developing for ABC. But when Moriarty quit, Waterston became a leading contender to replace him. Waterston was intrigued by the role, in part, because "this business of the game of the law and the high purpose of the office is endlessly interesting."
Before joining up Waterston wanted some assurance that he could help create McCoy (he wanted to play something radically different from Moriarty's Ben Stone, who was incorruptible to a fault). "You'd have to have some sort of survival mechanism to be continually plunged into the absolutely horrible morally ambiguous situations [of the D.A.'s office]," he explains. "I mean, the most interesting aspect is staying afloat on a steady diet of bad news."
To research his character, Waterston spent several days in the Manhattan D.A.'s office, including one memorable afternoon with Thomas Schiels, a senior trial counsel and homicide specialist whom Waterston credits for inspiration in creating McCoy.
Schiels declined to comment, but a source said that Waterston "was shocked to learn that our first obligation is to find out whether someone committed the crime." Waterston also learned about the drinking habits of D.A.s. Schiels and a couple of other attorneys took him to Forlini's on Baxter Street in lower Manhattan and bought a round of Buds. Waterston poured his beer into a glass, but when he saw the others drink directly from the bottle, he too, put down his glass and drank from the bottle, says an eyewitness.
Of his education, Waterston says, "I got the very strong impression that [D.A.s] were not all cut from the same piece of cloth. They were not all little gray people in little gray suits all speaking in the same manner," adding that he was "surprised by their humanity."
McCoy would not appear to be vintage Waterston, who has often played characters who must wrestle with complex moral and ethical decisions. (The most recent examples include "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," for the stage, and Forrest Bedford in "I'll Fly Away.")
McCoy's demons, it would appear, have long been vanquished. "He's a very uncomplicated guy," says Wolf. "He's not nearly [as] tortured about the vagaries of criminal law that Ben Stone was. He's more straight ahead…a Nineties character."
In tonight's episode we see this '90s guy in full tilt. He decides to prosecute a female doctor who has presumably been prescribing a laetrile-like concoction to patients dying of breast cancer. The situation appears to be awash in moral ambiguity: Is this doctor selling "false hope," or saving the patients from cruel standard cancer treatments like chemotherapy that prolong dying? McCoy sees no ambiguity: He wants to charge the doctor with murder.
This aggressiveness attracted Waterston to McCoy and "L&O." He says he wanted to make the character "merrier and more unapologetically aggressive than certainly the people that I have played recently."
Perhaps Waterston is concerned about the widespread impression that he is drawn to sensitive, angst-ridden characters. "One of the raps against him - and he and I have talked about this - is that he's got this label as a `decent guy,' " says Newsday columnist Sydney Schanberg, whom Waterston portrayed in "The Killing Fields." "It's a funny rap, but you can get stereotyped."
Waterston denies that he made a career out of playing only one type of character, but he also leaves little doubt that he relishes his new role as a '90s tough guy.

Waterston Spices Up Role Made to "Order"
Alan Bash, USA Today, 9.28.94
Ahem. Do we detect a bit of sexual tension on NBC's otherwise-sober drama Law & Order?
Sam Waterston can't hide a smile as he pops another cookie into his mouth between takes on the set.
On last week's season premiere, he introduced us to assistant district attorney Jack McCoy, an aggressive, jeans-clad lawyer who is first and foremost described as having romanced all his female assistants.
Those who tune in tonight (10 ET/PT) also may notice that when McCoy confers with colleague Claire Kincaid (played by Jill Hennessy), it seems that something besides law is on his mind.
That's a departure for Law & Order, which is known for sticking to topical plots and not following characters' personal lives.
"I'm interested in not breaking this thing that I think is so good about the show, this business of it being about people engaged in their work," Waterston says.
"But without breaking that, there will be a continuing and.logical personal life," he says, raising his heavy eyebrows.
Of future plot lines for Kincaid and McCoy, Waterston is coy. He'll offer only that "if it works out the way I hope it does, you'll wonder what you saw."
An easier thing for viewers to discern: McCoy is nothing like Forrest Bedford, the consensus-building attorney Waterston played on NBC's acclaimed series I'll Fly Away.
"It's a whole different man and it's a whole different world," he says. "McCoy is very straight ahead, very aggressive, very optimistic, unapologetic and untroubled by doubts."
Shortly after being tapped to replace Michael Moriarty on Order, Waterston sat with the show's writers and helped develop his character.
"I can't remember the last time anyone ever invited me to help invent the person," he says, playing with his gold ring that bears McCoy's monogram, "JJM."
Waterston wrote for himself a back story to McCoy, the most extensive work he has ever done to sketch out a character. "There was a lot of wasted paper."
While he says he didn't model McCoy after anyone, he draws parallels to White House aide Bernard Nussbaum's testimony during this summer's Whitewater hearings.
"I was already doing McCoy when I saw it, but it was very affirming. He was very smart, very ahead of the conversation, very engaged."
Waterston, 53, who lives with his wife and four children in Connecticut, says he's thrilled that Law & Order is filmed entirely in New York.
In show business, "you can be on the road all the time," something Waterston did many years traveling to the West Coast and other locations for film roles.
Working close to home, he says, "is a very nice side benefit for me."