“In New York City’s war on crime, the worst criminal offenders are pursued by the detectives of the Major Case Squad. These are their stories.”
Dick Wolf used to pretty much own NBC and prime-time drama. His flagship series Law & Order lasted 20 years, tying the record held by Gunsmoke for the longest-running scripted drama. It was his wish to break the record, but by season 20 the franchise had lost some steam and was axed by NBC. It wasn’t a total loss for Wolf, who had two other Law & Order shows still running at the time. Law & Order: SVU has been the more successful, but Law & Order: Criminal Intent had a pretty good run as well.
The series starred Vincent D’Onofrio as Detective Robert Goren. He was almost autistic in the way he solved cases. He was socially awkward and often stuttered when he tried to speak. But when he was on a case he was brilliant in his powers of deduction. His partner was Detective Eames, played by Kathryn Erbe. It was all she could do to keep up with Goren’s train of thought. She was loyal and always backed his play. They worked the Major Case Squad where they were given high-profile cases and those involving VIP or sensitive aspects. For the first four years each episode revolved around just this team.
In season 5 D’Onofrio was becoming a bit tired and was looking to maybe leave the series. A compromise was struck that allowed him to only appear in half of the shows. For the other half Dick Wolf brought back Chris Noth and his Detective Logan character from the original show. His partner was Detective Megan Wheeler, played by Julianne Nicholson. For part of season 7 he had a temporary partner in Detective Nola Falacci, played by Alicia Witt. The captain for both teams in season 7 was Captain Danny Ross, played by Eric Bogosian. He usually ended up having to deal with the politics and fallout from the work of his detectives, particularly Goren.
Now in season 8 Chris Noth has left the show and Jeff Goldblum has taken his place. He plays Detective Zack Nichols. Nichols was once Captain Ross’s partner and has been away from the force for several years. Both his parents were psychologists, so he has more than a working knowledge of the field. He’s an excellent piano player and often uses his playing to help him think. He’s as quirky as Goren but more socially adept.
Unlike the other Law & Order shows, the private life of Goren played a huge part of the show. Not so much in this season. We see him attempt to interact with his extended family, but the mother story has finally run its course. There’s not near as much self-pity in this season, and the focus was far more on the cases at hand.
The series was also different in how the crimes were portrayed and solved. At the beginning of each episode you saw the crime happen. You saw how it was planned and executed. The drama was more in the solving. Usually, Law & Order built its shows on a constant formula where the detectives put in the street work and interviews. They then turned them over to the courts. In this series the show focuses more on Goren’s detective process, and there is usually no court segment. They more often ended with Goren tricking the suspect into confessing or at least slipping up. The Logan episodes do follow the usual Law & Order MO without the court segment.
The series was not doing so well in the ratings by the 8th season. NBC dropped the show and passed it on to its sister-network USA where it had a much shorter season. There were only 16 episodes, and they ran a bit chaotically in their original run. By the end of the season Julianne Nicholson left the season to have a baby. The pregnancy was used in the series to explain her absence. For the last couple of Nichols episodes he teamed up with Eames, who pulled double duty on the show.
By now the show was really running out of steam. At times it sure looked like they were all going through the motions. Still, there were plenty of clever cases, and it was better than most of the shows out there at the time. “Nothing like a five-hour German opera to make you really appreciate a murder scene.”