Viewers, Actors Will Miss 'Law & Order'

Article excerpt

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

"Law & Order" is as dead as its weekly homicide victims: NBC has canceled the series, the network announced Friday, just as it was creeping up on "Gunsmoke" as the longest running prime time drama ever to appear on television.

Clang-clang.

We are stunned.

We're speechless.

We called a serious Shakespearean actor to get his analysis.

"They canceled 'Law & Order'? You're kidding! It's been 20 years."

That was the reaction of former Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Henry Woronicz, interviewed by phone as he was - no kidding - walking back to his room after taking in a production of "Antony and Cleopatra" by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

Woronicz, who ran the festival in Ashland from 1991 until 1995 and now teaches drama at Illinois State University, appeared twice on Dick Wolf's original "Law & Order" show, sometimes called the "mothership," and once on the "Special Victims Unit" spinoff.

He is one of countless thespians who found em-ployment in the show, the biggest thing to happen to underemployed New York actors since waiting tables.

"The first one I did was, I was just a lawyer who had been an informational witness for the police," he recalled. "I gave information about my boss, who had been murdered."

In a subsequent episode, he played the father of a murder victim. "I was a suspect for a while. I was not a villain, but I was implicated in the death."

Woronicz had no illusions, then or now, about the depth of a "Law & Order" episode.

"They're all the same kinds of stories," he said. "It never had much to do with character. It was all about plot."

The show may not exactly have been about character, but it did require a whole lot of characters to produce.

"So many New York actors got work out of 'Law & Order,' " he said. "Although, when they started to break off the franchises, they started to have rules about when you could be re-involved. If you were in one episode of 'Special Victims Unit,' you couldn't be in regular 'Law & Order' for another year."

The New York Times estimated Friday that as many as 8,000 New Yorkers were employed directly and indirectly by the three main "Law & Order" shows, which have always been filmed in the Big Apple. (Later, the newspaper, without comment, changed that estimate on its Web site to a more modest "thousands. …