A year ago, one of the longest-running drama series in television history came to a close.
A year later, one of its spinoffs is ending, with the luxury of knowing in advance. And that may have helped get its original stars back.
After premiering on NBC in 2001, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" has made its main home on USA Network since 2007. That's where the Dick Wolf-produced show is wrapping up its run of original episodes with eight weekly stories that begin Sunday, May 1.
NBC will have second runs of them starting Monday, May 30 -- and after a year's absence, New York police detective partners Robert Goren and Alexandra Eames are back and reunited for the victory lap, played again by Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe.
Jay O. Sanders ("Revolutionary Road") becomes a regular cast member for the series' home stretch as the new chief of the Major Case Squad, who's a friend of Goren's but sternly tells the therapy-taking sleuth, "I've got your back. You respect my face. And don't get in it." Julia Ormond ("Legends of the Fall") plays the psychologist treating Goren.
Also the mentor of the NBC spinoffs "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Law & Order: LA," Wolf maintains he wouldn't be surprised if "Criminal Intent" ultimately has a longer life span.
"I'm always an optimist," he says. "I know this is supposed to be the final year, but I have a feeling the audience is going to be re-energized. When I went to Vincent about it, I said, 'Very few times do we get an opportunity to wrap things up with a bow.' He was very excited, and getting (Goren) back to the cop he was in the first season is an interesting journey."
The ripped-from-the-headlines approach of all the "Law & Order" shows remains in place for "Criminal Intent.""It's a formula that has, knock wood, stood the test of time," Wolf notes. "You've got great episodes going back to the very first year of 'Law & Order,' where everybody thought we were doing the story of the Menendez brothers (convicted of killing their parents), but our take on it was that it was a mob hit."
Goren and Eames were the sole "Criminal Intent" investigating team for the show's first four seasons, then they alternated with a second duo in the four subsequent years. Mike Logan, revived from the parent "Law & Order" (and played again by Chris Noth) was the male partner in seasons five through seven, with Zack Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) joining after that. Their female partners were portrayed by (in order) Annabella Sciorra, Julianne Nicholson, Alicia Witt and Saffron Burrows.
It was just Goldblum and Burrows in the ninth year, and now Erbe says she and D'Onofrio are "so excited to be back. I was devastated to be let go. I love the character, I love the job, and I love all the people I get to work with every day. We have an amazing crew, 95 percent of whom waited to come back to do these eight episodes with us, out of incredible loyalty. And the fans have been so amazingly supportive, it just feels good all around."
Also a veteran of movies ("What About Bob?") and theater ("The Speed of Darkness"), Erbe adds that had D'Onofrio not agreed to return for the swan song of "Criminal Intent," she still would have been up for it.
"As a working mom, I need a job, and this is one that I know. As a woman in this business, it is not easy to have your life respected, and these people are incredibly supportive of my being a family person. They do their best to help me achieve that, and I don't know where else I would find that.
"Vincent and I have such a history, we really get along well. We have a shortcut to everything we do; we really don't even have to talk about stuff anymore. We just look at each other and know exactly what we need to do in certain situations, in terms of what might need to be punched up in a scene and how to handle it. It is such an amazing feeling to have worked with him for essentially 10 years and for us to know each other so well."
If the 10th round remains the end for "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," which has yielded foreign versions in France and Russia, Wolf says he'll leave it with satisfaction.
"It's a really good show, and I'm very proud of it," he reflects. "And I think Vincent is the epitome of what you want in a television 'star turn.' In my mind, the best television stars classically have been character actors, even if you go back to shows like 'Have Gun Will Travel' and 'Kojak.' In series, I think audiences respond more to psychologically complicated characters than to matinee idols."
Goren and Eames still will be seen in "Criminal Intent" repeats, some of which make up entire programming days on USA, but Erbe will picture their lives continuing. "I am choosing not to believe that this is the end of these characters," she says. "Whether they come back on another 'Law & Order' or in some other capacity, I feel they have given so many people so much enjoyment, I can't really think about it in any other terms."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun