Can't Tell the Players With the Program as 'Law & Order: Los Angeles' Returns

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A footnote in television history will be written Monday night at 9 when Law & Order: Los Angeles returns to NBC (Channel 4 in Detroit) with a two-hour episode – and a totally revamped cast.

While NBC will never admit its mistake in prematurely canceling the original Law & Order last May after 20 seasons, depriving the show from setting the record for TV’s longest running drama and providing a natural audience lead-in to launch its LA spinoff – a strategy CBS has never overlooked while introducing new versions of CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds – the truth is that LOLA fell flat on her face. Despite the L&O seal of quality and the star power of cast members Terrence Howard and Alfred Molina, the new series averaged less than 8.5 million viewers a week.

However, such is the stature of executive producer Dick Wolf after giving NBC decades of outstanding Law & Order and SVU entertainment, maybe the network felt it owed him a Mulligan. Think about it: How many times do you remember seeing a TV series debut, get pulled off the air a few months later, then return under the same name with a completely reshuffled troupe of actors? If you answered “Never,” you’re probably right. Typically when a network yanks a prime-time show off its schedule, it’s gone for good. But Monday, after a 19-week hiatus, Law & Order: Los Angeles is getting a reprieve from the governor, a second chance to impress.

“For the second time in 20 years, a Law & Order detective will lose his life!” the promos for LOLA 2.0 forewarn. It’s Skeet Ulrich, whose Det. Rex Winters gets blown away tonight. (Thought about a spoiler warning here, but the commercials all but point to Ulrich with arrows.) The first L&O cop to be killed, diehard fans remember, was George Dzundza’s Sgt. Max Greevey in Law & Order season two.

Cast members Regina Hall and Megan Boone also have been pink-slipped, and we are supposed to believe that Molina’s character, DA Ricardo Morales, voluntarily left the district attorney’s office to return to the streets as a detective and “make a difference,” partnered with TJ Jaruszalski (holdover Corey Stoll). Howard thankfully remains as Deputy District Attorney Joe Decker, and in the wisest move of all, Alana De La Garza, one of the most stunningly bewitching women on television, was plucked from Law & Order’s final season to switch coasts and reprise her role as ADA Connie Rubirosa.

Will all the changes make a difference? Will more people watch the second time around? Who knows? But a lot of people with a lot to lose will be watching the overnight ratings very closely Tuesday. If two hours of a rebuilt LOLA can’t draw a crowd, it’s doubtful even the return of Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy – or returning Max Greevey from the dead, for that matter – can rescue this show again.

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