LAW & ORDER. 10 tonight, Channel 10.
WE MAY BE saying goodbye to "Lost's" Jack Shephard and "24's" Jack Bauer, but I find it difficult to believe we're bidding farewell to Jack McCoy.
Even if tonight's episode of NBC's "Law & Order" truly is the last of a 20-season run - and I say "if" because producer Dick Wolf reportedly hasn't given up his dream of a record-breaking 21st - New York District Attorney McCoy could still be back on NBC.
The Sam Waterston character joined the mother ship in 1994 (only S. Epatha Merkerson's Lt. Anita Van Buren, there since 1991, has been in more episodes, scoring her own TV record for actress in a single series). According to IMDB.com, Waterston's already appeared three times on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." What's to stop him from returning?
"SVU" will be back in the fall, along with "Law & Order: Los Angeles," which, based on what I saw at NBC's presentation to advertisers last week, might as well be a glint in a network executive's eye at the moment.
"LOLA," we're told, is the future, but I've seen the future and so far it involves superimposing "Law & Order" on the Hollywood sign. I'd be surprised if it included transplanted McCoy to a sunny climate where he might attract the very over-50 viewers who don't interest NBC.
And while I've never pretended to understand NBC, it's hardly alone among networks in wanting to draw the largest number of viewers advertisers will pay to reach.
I'm also a big believer in getting out while the getting is good. "Law & Order," which has had some years that were better than others, is coming off a fairly decent one.
Tonight's episode, a slightly ramped-up effort for what was meant to be only a season finale - and a send-off of sorts for Merkerson, who'd planned to leave the series even before it left her - wasn't necessarily designed to give longtime fans the "closure" that viewers are always being told they deserve.
That's no doubt why NBC executives last week were talking about a possible "Law & Order" movie to wrap things up.
But if I were Wolf, I wouldn't necessarily see the point, and not just because it would be admitting defeat.
The man who originally designed the show so that it could, if necessary, be split into half-hour episodes for syndication, knows that "Law & Order" will likely be on television, somewhere, and probably at all hours, for the rest of all our lives. Its characters, who've been swapped out regularly, have not been searching 20 years for some one-armed man, much less the secrets of the universe.
"Law & Order" viewers are accustomed, in fact, to having most, if not all, of their questions answered by the end of each hour-long episode. Tonight's, in which Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn has a small part as a teachers union employee, involves the threat of a Columbine-like school shooting and should leave no one with any lingering questions about either the case or the characters.
And as anyone who recalls the disastrous "Is this because I'm a lesbian?" exit of Elisabeth Rohm in Season 15 knows, goodbyes aren't necessarily "L&O's" strong point, anyway.
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