Thursday, December 30, 2004

I always loved that guy, but he's not on TV anymore

Sardonic quipsters everywhere mourn the passing of actor Jerry Orbach, best known as veteran Law & Order detective Lennie Briscoe, who succumbed Tuesday night to prostate cancer. No word on what his last words were, but as Orbach was by all accounts virtually indistinguishable from the wisecracking detective he portrayed, one likes to think that he greeted death in his best Briscoe fashion -- with an irony-drenched witticism.

Orbach's death is a blow to NBC. While he had recently handed off his veteran detective position on the flagship show to the always-entertaining Dennis Farina, he was slated to anchor the upcoming L&O spinoff, Trial by Jury.* But as Briscoe might say, I don't think their star is going to be making it to rehearsal. Or perhaps he'd say, "Forget the funeral director -- call a casting director."** Or maybe he'd say something else. No one did Briscoe like Orbach.

At least Orbach had the grace to die on a Tuesday night, putting his passing in the headlines just in time to supply NBC with a sure boost to the ratings of the Briscoe-era rerun of L&O that they aired the following night. A consummate pro and a class act, all the way.

* Normally, one might say three L&O spinoffs would be a little much, but Vincent D'Onofrio is doing such great work on the last one, Criminal Intent, that one is inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. Plus, Candice Bergen and Bebe Neuwirth are both slated to star in Trial by Jury. Murphy Brown and Lilith? The prospect of two of TV's most entertaining yet ballbusting characters teaming up makes one's jaws slaver with anticipation even as one's testicles ache.

** Here's a suggestion: Bring Briscoe's old partner Mike Logan back from exile on Staten Island to take over the vacant spot on Trial by Jury. With the end of Sex and the City, ol' Mr. Big is all dressed up with nowhere to go, and at age 50, Chris Noth now has the crow's feet to fill the "older detective" role.

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