NEW YORK – Det. Lennie Briscoe turns in his badge on tomorrow's "Law & Order" (search) after 12 years - but both he and the only man who's played him, Jerry Orbach, will return for the new "L&O" spinoff kicking off next season.
"It was a mutual thing," Orbach told The New York Post about his decision to leave "L&O," the show on which he's been a constant through hundreds of episodes - and many cast changes.
"Dick Wolf had the spinoff coming and it looked like the perfect opportunity to do one or two days a week rather than all eight days of the [shooting] schedule," said Orbach, 68. "It's sort of like a golden parachute. As far as the real cops go, they would've retired me years ago."
Orbach will appear regularly on the new show, "Law & Order: Trial By Jury," (search) scheduled to kick off later next season.
"Briscoe is now retired and is working for the DAs office as an investigator. It's just another venue for Lennie," Orbach said. "This show will have DAs, defense lawyers and judges who will revolve, so that I and a partner will be regulars and they can get a big star, like Helen Mirren (search), to do an episode.
"It could be very interesting."
Orbach said it was "very emotional" filming the final episode, after walking the "L&O" beat as Briscoe since 1992.
"I've been doing this an awfully long time; it's been 12 years with that group of people. You see the cast and crew more than you see your own family," he said. "You live with those people. They've become like a real family. It's a real lovefest."
Orbach will be replaced on "Law & Order" by Dennis Farina (search), an ex-Chicago cop known for his tough-guy cop roles in "Crime Story" and "Buddy Faro."
Orbach said this will, most likely, be his last regular series work.
"I used to say when I was working in the theater that if I ever had five seasons of a hit TV show I'd never have to worry about money and wouldn't have to do anything I didn't want to do," he said.
"The 12 seasons on 'Law & Order' really made that possible. It was a wonderful break for me at that stage of my career."
And the legacy of Briscoe?
"What the New York cops say - 'Keep making us look good,' " Orbach said.
"Law & Order" airs Wednesday at 10 p.m.