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''Law & Order'''s Jesse L. Martin speaks out about race on TV

He says better programming is more important than racial quotas

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Jesse L. Martin

On this week’s episode of ”Law & Order” (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), newcomer Jesse L. Martin will butt heads with series veteran Jerry Orbach as he questions whether his aging partner is still a competent crime solver. Off camera, Martin is asking some different questions, this time about racism. Though the NAACP recently announced plans for a New Year’s Day network boycott to protest the ”dearth of blacks” on television, Martin doubts that simply adding more people of color to Must See TV is the answer. ”It’s dangerous to break it down and say there are no black people on TV so the networks aren’t doing their job,” says the 30-year-old actor. ”I don’t think that’s the answer to anything.”

According to Martin, improving content should take precedence over quotas. ”I’d rather see people get upset about programming, not just black programming or Asian programming, and think about how we can improve everything as a whole as opposed to just throwing black people on TV,” says Martin, 30. ”There’s irresponsible programming on television and that should be what’s looked at more than whether it’s black or white or whatever.”

Not surprisingly, Martin points to his own show as an example of quality television — even though ”Law & Order”’s breakneck pace doesn’t offer much time for developing his character, the gambling addict Det. Edward Green. ”To me, that’s the best part of acting, just getting the story across,” he says. ”I think you learn more about a character through the telling of the story. I don’t think you need to spend a whole lot of time getting into what the character does at home or into his relationships.” Still, that doesn’t mean he’d mind returning to the completely character-driven ”Ally McBeal.” ”There’s always the possibility I could go back at some point,” he admits. Speaking of irresponsible programming, let’s hope he doesn’t return for one of the episodes about wattle stroking or toilet flushing.