Benjamin Bratt is out the door, but costar Jerry Orbach explains why the hit show will survive without his partner in crime prevention

By Liane Bonin
Updated May 04, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Orbach and Bratt: Jessica Burnstein

The 200th episode of ”Law & Order” is Wednesday, but that hasn’t stopped the casting revolving door from spinning yet again on a series that’s had more lineup changes than Madonna’s boy-toy roster. Last week it was announced that Benjamin Bratt, who plays Det. Rey Curtis, will be leaving the series this month, after four seasons. According to Jerry Orbach, who plays Bratt’s detective cohort Lennie Briscoe and has been a show regular since 1992, the exit isn’t likely to have fans reaching for the remote, despite his costar’s popularity. ”The show is almost actor proof,” Orbach tells EW Online.

Orbach says experience shows that the show’s ratings thrive because viewers want plot, not character. Past episodes that delved into such off-duty issues as Briscoe’s alcoholism and the dissolution of Curtis’ marriage curried little favor with either fans or critics. ”We found out a couple of years ago that our audience really likes the show to be about a case, and for us to start a case and finish it within an hour,” says the 63-year-old actor, who readily admits that the rare episodes where ”you get to be a little emotional instead of just asking questions” are still his favorites. ”They don’t want us to drag on a bunch of personal problems except in a very background way that just makes the characters human.”

Having seen a cavalcade of stars come and go since he joined the cast in 1992, Orbach is taking Bratt’s exit and the arrival of new cast member Jesse L. Martin (”Ally McBeal”) in stride. ”It kind of makes it interesting when cast members come and go,” Orbach says. ”It’s like in the workplace when somebody gets pregnant and moves away or somebody else gets fired, it sort of jazzes up your life a bit. You meet new friends. In some cases, you’re very sorry to see a partner go or a coworker go, but that’s how it is. Life moves on.”

As for how long fans can expect Lennie Briscoe to continue collaring killers, that’s anybody’s guess, although Orbach does have some idea of where the future lies: ”The show’s gotten a three year pickup (through 2002), which is unheard of, and I’m sort of committed to at least two of those years, so we can look down the road that far.” But, given the show’s history, he’s hedging his bets. ”I’d like to think I’m indispensable, but, hey, probably not.” Too bad nobody explained that to Michael Moriarty.

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