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'Law & Order' shows get new blood

Dick Wolf, creator of the "Law & Order" franchise, talked to critics Tuesday, and he brought along a fairly new star from each of his three "L&O" shows. Wolf and crew discussed everything from a rivalry with "Gunsmoke" to the future of episodes starring possible presidential candidate Fred Thompson.

I've sorted interesting tidbits from the panel by show, so if you only care about one series, you can quickly find info on your favorite.

'LAW & ORDER' (original recipe)
Lots of changes in store for the main game. Jeremy Sisto, who was on Tuesday's panel, is joining the show, replacing Milena Govich. English actor Linus Roache (like Sisto, he was on the canceled "Kidnapped") will play the new lead prosecutor, and Sam Waterston will take over the lead DA job from Fred Dalton Thompson.

Thompson's possible presidential run makes for a sticky situation: Because of the equal-time rule, reruns of episodes he appeared in would have to be pulled from NBC, but not from TNT, since cable networks don't have to follow the same rules as broadcast. Alan Sepinwall, who asked Wolf the question, has more on that here.

Jesse L. Martin, Sisto's partner, is currently signed for only 13 of the next season's 22 episodes, and Wolf was vague about what will happen there. "Jessie could stay for the entire season...we could cast another new detective...it's all up in the air," he said.

The show will return in January, not in the fall, which suits Wolf fine. "I'm very happy to be on Sunday night after football," he said. "I think you will get a run of 22 (episodes) with basically no pre-emptions, no repeats."

Wolf was also asked about his show's shot at surpassing "Gunsmoke," which is currently the second-longest-running prime-time show in US history (the Disney series is #1, but it's not a drama). L&O is the longest-running show of those currently on the air. "I sure hope (we'll surpass them)," Wolf said, later adding that he'd met "Gunsmoke" star James Arness once years ago, adding "it's nothing personal."

One critic asked about the upcoming "Sex and the City" movie, wondering if that would affect Chris "Mr. Big" Noth's role as Det. Mike Logan. Noth wasn't on the panel, and Wolf was brusque, saying he didn't know if Noth had signed on to the film, and that it wouldn't change the TV show's shooting schedule.

Alicia Witt will be appearing on "CI" for six episodes, playing Noth's partner, Det. Nola Falacci, while Julianne Nicholson is out on maternity leave. (Nicholson is due in September.) Witt describes Falacci as a young married mother of two, who loves the intellectualism of her job, yet can't wait to get home to her family and "just be mom." Says Witt "I know she's...not necessarily the most tactful girl in the world."

Adam Beach is joining the "SVU" cast full-time as Detective Chester Lake, a member of the Mohawk nation. Beach said that something happened to his character as a child that brought him into contact with the SVU, and after a childhood spent in and out of foster homes, he eventually joined the unit. Asked about the Mohawks, Beach said "From what we say about the Mohawks is that they are the toughest cats as a nation of people...just who the heck is going to climb a hundred feet in the air and build buildings?"

Beach later talked about how "SVU" is his first major network show, comparing the experience to making films. "It's like a big-budget movie, but it's cut down in 10 days, and they put in the best parts," he said.