|Law & Order: Trial by Jury (2005)
Starring: Bebe Neuwirth, Amy Carlson, Kirk Acevedo, Scott Cohen, Fred Dalton Thompson, and Jerry Orbach
If you were wondering what the saturation limit is for the number of “Law & Order” series that can successfully survive on NBC, we now have an answer for you: it’s three. It’s unfortunate that Dick Wolf, the executive producer of the “L&O” franchise, had to find out the hard way, but live and learn.
The slogan for “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” might as well have been “Less Order, More Law,” as its intent was to offer a more in-depth look at how the D.A.’s office went about setting up their cases, from the selection of the jury to running their presentation past a pretend jury – albeit one selected to match the approximate demographic of the real jury – to see how well it would play. Bebe Neuwirth was the “name” of the show, playing A.D.A. Tracey Kibre, and she was ably assisted by A.D.A. Kelly Gaffney, portrayed by Amy Carlson; acting as their superior was Fred Thompson, reprising his role as D.A. Arthur Branch (and managing to pick up two paychecks a week, since he continued to play Branch on the original “L&O” series all the while).
While the show may not have been totally devised as a vehicle for the late Jerry Orbach, there’s certainly no denying that adding Orbach to the show’s cast – his character, Lenny Briscoe, had retired from the police force and was now serving as an investigator for the D.A.’s office – was designed to serve as the impetus for viewers of the other “L&O” series to make the leap to this new one. Orbach, however, was suffering from prostate cancer, a condition which resulted in his only managing to do two episodes of the new show. (Despite this, he appears front and center on the set’s artwork, which is more than a little deceiving.) Briscoe was always intended to have a partner on the show in the form of fellow investigator Hector Salazar (Kirk Acevedo), but, when – in tribute to Orbach – it was revealed that Briscoe had passed away, Salazar received a new partner in Detective Chris Ravell (Scott Cohen), on loan from the NYPD.
Wolf did the best he could to bring in viewers, offering crossovers with both the original “L&O” as well as “L&O: Special Victims Unit.” Candice Bergen had a recurring role as a judge (and must’ve liked the feel of the role, since she turned up on “Boston Legal” not long after), and guest stars like Lorraine Bracco (“The Sopranos”), Peter Coyote (“The Inside,” “The 4400”), Angela Lansbury (“Murder, She Wrote”), and Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2”) offered great performances. Nonetheless, the show was dropped by NBC after only 13 episodes (one of which never aired on NBC, though it did show up when the series ran on Court TV), never really giving it a chance to breathe; you’d think that, as much as the franchise has done for the network over the years, the least they could’ve done was give it a full season. Instead, not only did they kick it to the curb, but none of the characters have made so much as a cameo on the other “L&O” series, making it seem as though it’s been wiped from their collective memories.
Upon watching “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” in its entirety, you’ll find that there’s really nothing that can readily be pinpointed as its critical flaw. Like the others in the “L&O” franchise, it’s a well done, strongly written and acted series. It really just came down to the simple fact that people scoffed at the idea that we really needed a fourth “Law & Order” show. Perhaps we didn’t…but, in years to come, viewers will see these episodes – either here or on some cable network or other – and, rest assured, they’ll be mystified as to why it vanished so soon.