And so it begins. USA Network’s ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent‘ (Tuesdays at 10/9c) is in the midst of a bit of a makeover, having killed off Eric Bogosian‘s Captain Ross in grand fashion and in doing so laid the groundwork for a storyline that will lead Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe off the canvas in this week’s episode. Fancast invited executive producer Walon Green to shed some light on this significant segue and assure longtime fans that the ‘CI’ they love is here to stay.
Before we get into discussing your actual negotiation of ‘Law & Order: CI’s transition, tell us what brought it about.
I was only on the series doing last year’s Vincent shows and then this year doing all the episodes, but what I heard is that it was very difficult for him when they were doing 22 episodes [a season]. Then they broke it into 12 [with D'Onofrio] and 12 with Chris Noth, and last season we went to cable, so that dropped him to eight shows. I can’t really answer for Vincent, but he had thought about walking away when his deal was up. The other thing that sort of turned it around was the thinking that this could be a double-lead show with 16 episodes: “If Vincent leaves, instead of going back to the 8-and-8 [split between two detective teams], let’s build a show around the character Jeff Goldblum is playing.
We saw what you did to Eric Bogosian last week. Was killing off Goren and/or Eames ever entertained as a possibility?
I can’t say it was never a possibility – you can’t imagine how many discussions precede the actual sitting down to write an episode where characters are leaving – so everything was bandied about. But the feeling was that Eames and Goren really were the series, so they deserved a good and honorable exit. I’m not saying that Eric didn’t [Laughs], but we wanted a very powerful and compelling crime to serve as a catalyst that could sustain two episodes.
And as a result, I think you got some of Vincent’s best work yet.
As you see in the next show, he just gets better and better. While there’s more of Jeff and [a new detective played by] Saffron Burrows is introduced, there are more and more performance opportunities for Vincent and Katie, right up until the last scene.
What words of comfort can you offer the viewers who worry they’re losing their last ties to the classic ‘CI’?
In terms of the storytelling, the direction is more towards the classic ‘CI’ than any other direction. [Goren] lent himself to a great deal of exploration, and the season before last really went as far with that as I think you can go. There was nothing left to do with him on a personal level. As a result of that, for the eight shows I did last year, I went back to the idea of a crime anthology featuring a very interesting case. This year we’ve done fundamentally the same thing: Let’s go back to emphasizing the case, and leave people wanting more on these new characters.
What can you tell us about Saffron’s character, Detective Serena Stevens?
Her father is an army officer who was in charge of the marine guard at various embassies around the world, so she grew up in several different countries and speaks a couple of languages. She has some unusual abilities in that respect.
Jeff Goldblum’s Detective Zach Nichols isn’t as quirky as USA Network characters such as ‘Monk’ or the guys from ‘Psych.’ Is it your plan to stay that course and not make him too “character-y,” to fit the mold of the network?
The show has done well with its own DNA. Even though it differs from the rest of their shows, I don’t think it differs in a bad way. I have been asked, “Did you tweak the show so it would be more USA?” And I will tell you, even at the risk of annoying some people, we really didn’t do that. We thought, “Who is this guy? And what’s an interesting dynamic between him and the new detective, and the new captain (to be played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio)? You have two women who can conspire against the lone male, and you can get interesting stuff out of that. With all due respect to the USA shows, we really didn’t look at them and think, “Could ['Law & Order: CI'] be more like them?” The show itself is a character. This is a show more about why people did it than how.
And let’s face it, very little of what Jeff Goldblum does isn’t interesting.
Yeah, and he’s also a super-nice guy who’s fun to work with. Sometimes you’re hesitant to call actors and tell them stuff you’re doing storywise – because you never know what’s going to come back. But Jeff, I can tell him anything. He’s very engaged in the character.
Watch Jeff Goldblum solve crime on NBC’s ‘Raines’: