“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.
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.
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.
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.
Even bigger changes were afoot by this 9th season. The year began with one of the biggest two-part episodes in the entire Law & Order franchise. Ross is killed, and both Goren and Nichols band together to catch his killer. They have to fight the old jurisdiction war with the FBI. By the end of that episode this version of Law & Order would change drastically. It would be the final episode for three characters (Ross, Goren and Eames) and Goldblume’s Nichols would take all of the season’s remaining episodes. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio takes over the captain’s seat as Capt Zoe Callas. Nichols gets a new partner in the form of Detective Serena Stephens newly arrived from Chicago and played by Saffron Burrows.
The season also featured a wonderful guest star performance by F. Murray Abraham (yeah, the guy who killed Mozart) as Nichols’s father. The stories would begin to explore Nichols a bit more but the writing was already on the wall and the show would only last one more season and then only 8 episodes. We’re left with a whole lot of might have been: “Oh, come on with the regrets!”