''Law & Order,'' Jesse L. Martin, and Benjamin Bratt made news this week

By Joe Flint
Updated May 14, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Switch hit?
Memo to NBC: Although it’s a Peacock tradition to agonize over whether to pull the plug on good old ratings-deprived Homicide: Life on the Street, this year we’ve saved you the heartache by devising a way for you to keep Homicide alive and use its Friday-night time slot to launch a new series.

How, you ask? By dusting off a tactic that worked nearly 30 years ago when you rotated Columbo, McMillan and Wife, and McCloud as NBC Mystery Movies. We recommend alternating Homicide with upcoming Law & Order spin-off Sex Crimes.

We know, a lot has changed since 1971: TV’s not a three-channel universe anymore; viewers could get confused by such a ploy; and since programming is more expensive these days, a two-shows-in-one-slot stunt is much more risky.

But the good news is, you’d have a built-in audience for Sex Crimes (quite a coup for a new series), and by rotating the shows, you could air more original fare all season (quite a coup for viewers). As for the confusion issue, since you preempted Homicide nearly 30 percent of the time this past season anyway, you’re practically splitting its time slot already. And if you market the switcheroo well (and Lord knows, you’re capable of heavy promotion), viewers will figure it out.

”It’s an intriguing idea,” says Homicide exec producer Tom Fontana, who underscores that there’s no guarantee Homicide‘s replacement will do better, and could even do worse. ”I wish you were running the network.” Be careful what you wish for.

New Order
A few years back, struggling actor Jesse L. Martin landed a bit part on Law & Order but nixed it. ”I figured I’d wait and get a better role,” he says. Patience paid off: L&O creator Dick Wolf tapped the Ally McBeal actor to replace departing Benjamin Bratt. And Martin didn’t even audition. ”It happened so fast, there wasn’t time — Dick just gave it to me.” Since L&O is based in New York, what about Ally? ”I’m open to coming back,” says Martin, ”but it’s a long commute.”