Friday, March 04, 2005

LAW AND ORDER: TRIAL BY JURY

HELLO TRIAL BY JURY, BYE BYE JERRY ORBACH

Well, today, for a change of pace, I'll review the new L&O.

As you know this is the much-hyped new Trial by Jury series that was supposed to star Jerry Orbach. Unfortunately, Orbach died of cancer early into the filming of the series, so tonight will mark Jerry's final performance as Lennie Briscoe as this series moves to its regular time slot, Friday at 10, 9 Central.

Make no mistake, Jerry Orbach's loss will be felt. His Briscoe character was one of the compelling reasons to tune into Law and Order and a big reason why it stayed on the air. But frankly, the loss of Orbach will not affect Trial by Jury, except in the ratings department. Orbach fans would have been more likely to tune in with him on, but the series itself can stand on its own two feet without him. And the reason why is simple: the focus this time is on the lawyers.

As you know, the original Law and Order series on Wednesday nights had two separate and distinct components: there was the "Law", the grunt detective and police work where the cops tracked down the suspects and made the arrest. Then there was the "Order" part of it, the justice system end of things, where we saw the D.A.'s office hard at work trying to put the bad guys in the slammer during the second half of the show. It was a great, addictive, and might I add, fast-paced formula that worked well for the show over the years, through all its cast changes.

Over the years, there have been spinoffs, both of which deviated from the original Law and Order formula to concentrate primarily on the "Law" end of things, as opposed to the "order". The most successful, Special Victims Unit, focused primarily on nuts-and-bolts crimefighting, finding the bad guys and putting them away. But Trial by Jury is a big change for the L&O franchise. Its focus is on the "Order". It concentates on the justice system, big time. The lawyers and the jury consultants are the stars of this show.

There were many stark differences between last night's show and the Jack McCoy versions that we have grown used to over the years. Sure we had the jury trials, and the sidebars, and the motions and so on. But this time we pretty much knew that this clod had done the crime. It was obvious he did it. There was no mystery involved here. The question was whether or not the D.A. was going to be able to convict this dangerous, thoroughly evil sonofabitch.

Unlike the original show, we saw all the obstacles the prosecutors faced every step of the way, and in much more depth. If you are big into watching trials on Court TV you'll really like this show. We saw the grand jury struggling to come up with an indictment. We saw the suspect fire his first lawyer and hire a new one. We saw the second lawyer bring in the jury consultants, and tailor the opening statements to match the mock jury. We saw the jury selection process. We saw the trial, and we saw the jury room with the jury struggling to make their decision. I must say, I like the format. Fans of the original show will find the additional details refreshing and intriguing, and I think there's a lot of potential here for excellent storytelling. I hope we see some real twists and turns here. I don't want to see situations where the book is thrown at the main suspect every week. I want to see this show provide some suspense.

The jury is still out on whether I like the cast. Seems like a pedestrian cast to me. Other than Jerry Orbach, there's really no one who stands out. I know that the main lawyer characters on this show are women and it's been mentioned that it's the women who are the stars of this show. But we'll see if they develop the kind of strong personalities that we're used to seeing from Wednesday night's shows.

Bottom line is I think this show has potential, we'll see whether it lives up to it week in and week out. And contrary to what people say, this show is a risk. The Law and Order franchise has been wobbling in recent years, upstaged by the roaring success of CSI on the other network. Law and Order actually got beat earlier this year by the new CSI:NY. And Law and Order is on the air every night in reruns on what seems like every channel. A lot of people think there's too much Law and Order on the air, period. Why should struggling NBC bother with another one?

But like I say, this particular series concentrates on the justice system. So you can't call it yet another clone of CSI, or of any of these other crime-and-detective shows. It's not even a Law and Order clone of itself. This one should stand out and be able to come up with some storylines that haven't been done to death already on the other shows. And if it flops, I suspect the reason will be because this is ultimately a show about justice instead of a detective show. They're giving it the old Special Victims Unit slot on Fridays so it ought to work. In a way, this is the moment of truth for NBC: do viewers want to watch a drama about justice, or yet another cop show with plenty of forensics whose focus is on catching criminals? That's the million dollar question. In time we will know the answer.

Anyway, it's already got a must-see episode: Jerry Orbach's last performance is tonight at 10, 9 Central on NBC and CTV. Be sure to tune in.

THE APPRENTICE 3: TRUMP, YOU'RE FIRED

Well, this certainly beats talking about that pathetic Apprentice show which once again fired a project manager who got blamed for leading a team in chaos: mind you, Audrey did a terrible job and deserved to be fired. But you could see this firing coming a mile away. And it's obvious to me that these people are all idiots. I can't root for any of these people.

SO I say: Donald, every week it's the same thing, someone blowing himself or herself up, the project manager always gets the blame, and quite frankly, people are tired of seeing dysfunctional people fighting all the time. The novelty has worn off.

Donald, you're fired.

And I promise, I'll get around to writing about The Contender eventually, that show begins Monday.

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