LOS ANGELES - No franchise has seen as much change in cast as the "Law & Order" programs. That starts with the original "Law & Order" and continues through "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

And the changes continue.

Fans of "SVU" were greeted to the addition of Adam Beach when new episodes launched in September. And now, the original "Law & Order" and "CI" return to the NBC lineup in early January with new stars: Jeremy Sisto has been added to the "Law & Order" cast; Alicia Witt is now part of the "CI" team.

Sisto brings a background of playing offbeat and out-there characters in works from "Six Feet Under" to "Waitress." His previous stint in network television was a different format. On "Kidnapped," he dealt with bad guys, cops, murder and all of the other elements that define "Law & Order." The difference was that "Kidnapped" was designed to deal with one case over an entire 22-week season. The show lasted six episodes.

So Sisto has been watching all of the "Law & Order" shows to get more familiar with the detective genre where a case is open and closed in the same show.

"My TiVo is filled with 'Law & Orders' and everything. You know, I really do love the format. So it was kind of exciting to get to know this genre of show," Sisto said during an interview in July to announce the "Law & Order" changes.

"So that's been a really fun experience, trying to find a different character, a character very different from 'Kidnapped,' different from anything I've done, and so you add a new thing to the show as well."

Sisto has been able to have fun because "Law & Order" is an established franchise. "Gunsmoke" is the only network drama to have been on the air longer than "Law & Order." It ran 20 years.

Sisto has no idea why the network pulled the plug so fast on "Kidnapped."

Dick Wolf, the man behind the "Law & Order" franchise, suggested that launching a new show is difficult. "The pie has been cut into so many pieces that even to promo new shows is very difficult. And it's increasingly difficult in a hyper-competitive environment. It's very hard to launch anything, and some good stuff falls by the wayside. It always has," Wolf said.

Witt doesn't have to worry. She's only been hired to appear in six episodes of "CI" this season. The time may be short, but the character is deep.

"She is going to be Chris Noth's partner and kind of no-nonsense, just wants to figure out who did it and get the person off the streets and move on to the next case," Witt said. "She very much wants to get to the bottom of everything. And the cool thing about her is that she's actually married with two young children." *