With much fanfare, the latest addition to the hugely successful Law & Order franchise was announced for the Fall 2010 television schedule. Law & Order: Los Angeles would, for the first time, take the action of the series out of New York and start ripping stories from the California headlines. The series, airing on Wednesdays after Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had performed moderately well, but was still noticeably losing viewers from its lead in. A retooling was deemed in order, and in January, three cast members – Skeet Ulrich, Regina Hall, and Megan Boone – were let go from the series.
The changes did not stop there. Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard, who each had previously appeared on alternate weeks in the second half "Order" segment, were bumped up to weekly appearances with Molina's character, Ricardo Morales, deciding to leave the DA's office and go back on the street as a senior detective. Joining Terrence Howard's character, Joe Dekker, in the prosecutor's chair will be Alana de la Garza, reviving her Law & Order character of Connie Rubirosa, who had moved from New York to Los Angeles to care for her ailing mother.
When Law & Order: Los Angeles last aired on December 1, 2010, only eight of the filmed episodes were broadcast. When the series returns on April 11, 2011, the remaining episodes with the original cast will be skipped over and the series will pick up with the episode in which Skeet Ulrich's character, Detective Rex Winters, makes his exit. After the retooled episodes have aired, the series plans to circle back around and broadcast the remaining Skeet Ulrich episodes.
Law & Order: Los Angeles is scheduled to run all the way through June 27 to finish up its first season.
USTOWNHALL SPEAKS TO DICK WOLF, ALFRED MOLINA, & ALANA DE LA GARZA OF LAW & ORDER: LOS ANGELES:
USTH: Obviously, the big news is that there's been sort of a cast shakeup – three cast members have departed, and we have Alana de la Garza back from the "mothership" Law & Order series. What was the decision-making process that went into that? And how do you think this new cast configuration will benefit the show going forward?
DICK WOLF: The history of the show was rather strange. I think that I was one of the more surprised people on the planet when the mothership Law & Order did not come back.
It was sort of in everybody's plans that that was going to continue. There had been a different schedule laid out with Los Angeles coming on after a sort of final group of episodes from the mothership. When that didn't happen, we were in a very much breakneck race to get on the fall schedule in time.
We had not shot a pilot – this was basically a transition at 60 miles an hour. And some things get to go through their growing pains on screen, which is never the first choice of the people making these shows. I would have liked to have had more time at the front end to sort of explore some different options.
When we had the situation with Fred [Alfred Molina] and Terrence [Howard] – that I had two of the best actors in America who were only getting used 50% of the time – that showed up pretty early in the season. And it was time to – we were given the opportunity to retool.
And for that I'm very, very grateful to Bob Greenblatt because he came in, we had a very honest conversation – I think the second, third day he was there – that he had some problems with the show. And he specifically had some problems in the front half – that he just didn't think it was clicking the way it should.
It wasn't a question of, "Do this, do that." We had a very open discussion and he was, frankly, very supportive of the idea of having Fred and Terrence in every episode. And it sort of evolved into that. And obviously when Fred went back to the street, we wanted an additional presence to bolster Terrence in the back half.
And Alana [de la Garza] was somebody who very quickly came to mind. I think that she was well-loved by the mothership audience. Everybody who has worked with her is crazy about her. And the opportunity to put her in, we felt, was too good to pass up.
And as I said, it was definitely evolutionary, but it was rather revolutionary to change clothes on screen – or just off-screen. Never done that before but I think that, frankly the proof is in the pudding.
For those of you who've seen these first two episodes, I think that they're both better than anything we did in the first 13. Sorry we didn't come out in our terpsichorean finest at the beginning, but you know it's one of those things that we were given the chance.
If I had my choice, I'd almost call it Law & Order: Los Angeles 2.0 – that this is a real major change. And the rhythm of the show is different. I think the rhythm of the show is better. It's a pretty world class group of actors across the board. I mean, I've known most these people for an extended period of time and seen them do great work over a large number of years.
So as I said, it's you pays your money, take your chances. This is a bigger risk than any show that I can remember in recent history taking. But, I think all I can say is, if given the same set of circumstances, I would unhesitantly do it again with the talent involved.
USTH: Alfred, you're obviously transitioning from the "Order" part of the show to the "Law" part of the show. How has that been for you? I guess you're doing more location work now, and it's really a different side of your character.
ALFRED MOLINA: I'm enjoying it very much. It makes complete sense. It would have been very odd if it had been a completely different character. But it's someone who [is] going back to his original place, as it were. The transitional episode makes that clear that he was basically going back to where he feels he's most effective.
But the interesting thing, from a creative point of view, is that he goes back with all the knowledge and all the experience and all the insight and wisdom, hopefully – that he's gained as a prosecutor – going back to his original job as a detective. So, there's lots of room for the writers, lots of room for all the creative team to really explore that.
I think it adds up. When you have characters that reveal themselves to have many folds and crevices and creases that's where all the interesting stuff happens. And there's plenty there.
DICK WOLF: And I have to say that, because I can unabashedly beat Alfred's drum, that the interrogation scene in the second episode with the Secret Service agent is one of those wonderful scenes that you would have a hard time accepting if you were just dealing with a guy who had been a cop for the last 25 years.
It was so intellectually elevated the way Fred conducted it that it utilized the best of both a really good cop and the knowledge of how to deal with somebody at this level that he has obviously gained in the Prosecutor's office.
So that one scene – when I saw that, that was really worth a fist pump because it showed that it was sort of additive – that the experience that was in his backstory really came home to roost.
I'll give you one insight that, when I called Fred I said, "Look, I've got a proposition for you." And he was very surprised but very supportive because it was organic. It was something that came out of a situation that sort of made the decision rational – which you're always worried if an audience is going to accept that.
When I told him this backstory I said, "Look, I don't know if you knew this, but before you became a prosecutor you had been a cop for 12 to 15 years, and you were actually a pretty senior detective."
And Fred said, "Oh, that's marvelous. I'll be able to use that so fruitfully in my backstory." I said, "Well, how about front story? Because that's what we're..." He went, "Oh, my. What a surprising idea."
But luckily, he embraced it, and I think it was really, really, as I said, additive to the power of the show.
USTH: Alana, I'm just curious about the process about how you were invited back to join the Law & Order family. As Dick mentioned, you came from the mothership. How were you invited back to participate in this new Law & Order show, and how have you been enjoying it so far?
ALANA DE LA GARZA: Well, first of all I've been loving every second of it. It's very much like moving into a brand new home and somebody already put everything away for you. You know what I mean? It's so comfortable, but completely new and fresh and fun – I think genuinely fun.
And to be cast in such a fun, exciting way, kind of a last minute, "Hey, what do you think of this?" And of course I jumped at the opportunity to work with such incredible actors, but also a team that I love and that I know. And so for me it's just been fantastic.
And truly just came about with an email that said, "Hey, don't do anything rash and move on to anything. We're trying to resurrect Connie." And the next day they made an offer, which I was thrilled about.
USTH: And going into this new show, I guess your character had some prior relationship with Terrence Howard's character. Can you just talk a little bit about the different sides of Connie that we're going to be seeing with you in this new show?
ALANA DE LA GARZA: To be honest, I don't know what their backstory is, if they have just met...
DICK WOLF: No, there was no real connection between them. She came out...
ALANA DE LA GARZA: Right.
DICK WOLF: Connie came out to Los Angeles, basically to take care of her mother and left the New York DA's office. But we didn't have – I shouldn't speak for René [Balcer, creator of Law & Order: Los Angeles], but I haven't seen anything that indicates a previous kind of working relationship with the two of them.
ALANA DE LA GARZA: Right. And you know, the fun thing I always say about Connie is that she's kind of sassy and smart and quick, and will apologize later and will go head to head with anybody and question them in that sense.
And with [Terrence Howard's character] Joe Dekker, she does the exact same thing – behind closed doors will question and discuss. But then in the end, that's her partner and team and they're out for justice.
USTH: Thanks for clearing that up and providing your insights into how Connie fits in to the show. Our thanks to Dick Wolf, Alfred Molina, and Alana de la Garza for speaking with us today.
Law & Order: LA returns to television on Monday, April 11 at 9pm on NBC for a two-hour kickoff. In following weeks, it airs each Monday at 10pm after The Event.