“Law & Order,” the quintessential New York series, which ran for 20 years on NBC (1990-2010), has continued a strong run in syndication.
To celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary, WE tv aired an “L&O” marathon and launched a media tour featuring the show’s veteran actors.
The Post sat down with “L&O” veterans Dann Florek (Capt. Donald Kragen), S. Epatha Merkerson (Detective Anita Van Buren), Jill Hennessy (ADA Claire Kincaid) and Carolyn McCormick (Dr. Elizabeth Olivet) for a rollicking interview in which they all spoke sincerely on what the show — and its players — meant to them.
Q: What are your memories of Michael Moriarty, who played ADA Ben Stone?
Florek: Michael had a habit of not making eye contact. One day I looked him in the eye and he said, “What are you looking at?” Another time I drew eyes on my forehead to get him to look at me.
When were you aware that the show was going to run for a while?
Merkerson: It took me eight years to put something in my dressing room. And then it was just a picture. And then I started taking Polaroids. I had a collection of Polaroids of the guest stars that I actually worked with. When I left the show, it took me two days to clean my dressing room.
“Law & Order” was known for its controversial stories. Do you remember any that struck a nerve?
McCormick: It was a 1993 episode called “Helpless,” where Dr. Olivet accuses her gynecologist of rape. Paul Hecht, wonderful actor, he’s the doctor and the camera’s on him. I have my little Spanks on and I’m in the stirrups. He was supposed to go over and get his gloves, come over and examine me. Every time he would put on the gloves, his hand would go through them. They did four or five takes. He was so much more nervous than I was.
How did you deal with the high volume of turnover in the show’s 20-year run?
Merkerson: Depended on the face.
McCormick: When an actor was let go, I felt badly, but sometimes an actor asked to because they’d run their course. And the producers were very forgiving. [Series creator Dick Wolf] was very conscious in those days of not building the show around one person.
The late Jerry Orbach, who played Detective Lennie Briscoe, was one of the most popular cast members. What was it like working with him?
Merkerson: One night we worked late and there weren’t enough cars to take everyone home, so they wanted me to ride with Jerry. He lived right at 53rd Street and 8th Avenue. I lived uptown. Jerry was notorious for jokes, one-liners. And I couldn’t tell a joke if my life depended on it. So we get in the car and … He said, “Look, kid. Three jokes. First joke.” He tells me the joke. “Repeat it.” Second joke. “Repeat it.” Third joke. “Repeat it. Tomorrow, I’m going to ask.” I get to the set the next day. The first thing Jerry says to me is, “Kid, three jokes.” And I screwed up the first one. I got the punch line wrong. And he looked at me, so angry. He hated the fact that I could not tell a joke.
Jill Hennessy: I was on the law side, so I usually worked with the lawyers. But occasionally I crossed over to the precinct. I’d be waiting for a set-up, sitting on a desk and Jerry would come in and do a tap dance; he would glide across the precinct squad room. And I would think, Jerry Orbach is dancing in the squad room. How lucky am I?