Can new SVU hires Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish save the Law & Order franchise on NBC?
One starred in blink-and-you-miss-it series about chasing fugitives and another was a supporting character for years on a cop show CBS canceled last year.
Still, the masterminds behind NBC's last Law & Order franchise left standing have cast former Chase star Kelli Giddish and ex-Cold Case actor Danny Pino to fill the shoes abandoned by Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Meloni failed to work out a deal to continue on the show, while Hargitay developed a plan to reduce her appearances on the program. Both moves were understandable; leading a network TV drama series is hard work and long hours -- after 12 seasons, it's understandable if the show's lead actors want new challenges.
But this curious casting choice may be the final nail for a cops and crime franchise which has been the backbone of NBC's drama programming for about 20 years.
Nothing against Pino and Giddish, both fine actors who may be positioned as pale doppelgangers of the actors they are replacing. Giddish, in particular, played a tough-talking, leather jacket-wearing U.S. Marshal on Chase who seemed a direct Xerox of Hargitay's tough-talking, leather-jacket wearing Det. Olivia Benson (at least the network didn't go with the first rumored choice, lightweight Ghost Whisperer star Jennifer Love Hewitt).
With the limp, unsatisfying series finale for Criminal Intent aired Sunday and unceremonious cancellation of the Los Angeles series in May, SVU remains the last vestige of the once-mighty Law & Order franchise still cranking out new episodes.
It's also the first L&O series to break producer Dick Wolf's vaunted edict that the mystery story take precedence over any character development, as SUV turned Benson and Meloni's Eliot Stabler into long-suffering examples of the toll investigating sex crimes can take on police officers. Viewers saw Stabler lose and regain his marriage and deal with a troubled daughter, while Benson coped with being the child of rape and meeting her biological brother.
It is ironic that this edition of Law & Order would survive longest, buoyed by viewers' connection to the kind of fleshed out characters that were never allowed in other versions of the show. Experience proves these are also the toughest shows to recast, however; Criminal Intent floundered for years as producers tried to find a substitute for Vincent D'Onofrio's new school Sherlock Holmes, Det. Bobby Goren.
But what really ails Law & Order is its storylines. As a longtime fan, even I had to stop watching SVU last season, as plotlines got increasingly outlandish and actions taken by the police grew more cartoonish (John Stamos as a smoothie lawyer who impregnate 40 women across the world? Lost alum Henry Ian Cusick as a painter and activist who turns out to be a secret rapist? Really?)
Seems that L&O is losing one of the last things which kept fans engaged -- the classic partnership of Benson and Stabler. And forgive me for being highly skeptical that the show's lackluster storytelling is up for the kind of serious reinvention now required to make these new characters stick (personally, I wish they had found an old L&O hand to come back, like Jesse L. Martin's Det. Ed Green).
But, as a fan who still dials up the old L&O episodes during Labor Day marathons, I can't help rooting for them to pull it off.