|Shocked! Dismayed! Grieved! Outraged! I am at a loss -- and that's a very rare thing -- for the right word to describe my reaction to the sad news that Adam Schiff is leaving. |
The character played by Steven Hill on "Law & Order" is being replaced as district attorney by Dianne Wiest next fall.
The stunning news was dropped through the transom the other week at the height of all the excitement about the new fall season schedules.
Hill, the last remaining original cast member of the NBC series, served as DA for 10 years. Giving him the ax now is as outrageous, indefensible and inconceivable as having another actor replacing Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock on "Star Trek."
How can producer Dick Wolf do this to us again? "Is he a werewolf who must regularly tear the throats out of his characters?" asks R.B. Bernstein, a professor at New York Law School. George Dzunda (1991). Paul Sorvino (1992). Dann Florek (1993). Richard Brooks (1993). Michael Moriarty (1994). Chris Noth (1995). Jill Hennessey (1998). Benjamin Bratt (1999). The Wolfman seems to strike whenever the moon is high in somebody's house.
But Hill's departing for the Big Courtroom in the Sky is something more profound and even more upsetting than the other mass murders.
Art imitated life
Adam Schiff was a superb character, in part because of his uncanny resemblance in manner to the real district attorney of New York, the legendary Robert Morgenthau, in the premier prosecutorial job in the nation. He was absolutely perfect as Morgenthau, those in the know tell me. In part, too, Steven Hill just made the Schiff character his own superb creation.
As an actor, Hill was brilliant, amazing, fantastic, a thoroughly believable DA. He stole every scene he was in. He was the heart of the show and as much the soul of New York as Jerry Ohrbach's Detective Lenny Briscoe.
I just loved the guy, especially when he had his brawls with Sam Waterston, assistant DA Jack McCoy.
How could the Wolfman take Hill out for a pinch-hitter in what has to be the ninth inning of what has to be the perfect law drama series, when he still had swing?
If it ain't broke...
I can't understand why Wolf is always trying to destroy "Law & Order." "If it ain't broke, fix it," seems to be his guiding principle all these years.
Usually characters leave successful shows for the usual petty reasons: They demand exorbitant raises, they want greater challenges (starring in the movies). Or, like Paul Sorvino, they want to study opera.
Hill reportedly is throwing himself out of office by the traditional "mutual consent." At 78, he wants a rest. He can't keep up with the shooting schedule anymore.
Of all the lame excuses. He is in only two or three scenes a show. He holds his glass with the brown liquid that's supposed to be scotch, and gives his "moving on"' speech. Too tired? They could probably use clips from old episodes.
Hill is such a powerful actor, though, that his two minutes on the screen are unforgettable. He gave the show that certain gravity and dignity that it needed.
Sure, he wanted to quit. Like Chris Noth as Detective Mike Logan wanted to quit.
A dangerous Wolf
I may be too harsh, but my trust in Wolf has taken too many phaser blasts to the engine room. My rule of law in dealing with producers like Wolf is that he is guilty until proved innocent. With his rap sheet, the remaining cast members should be listening to the scratching at the door. Who will go next? In order of longevity, Detective Lenny Briscoe should be requesting a 24-hour police guard. I wouldn't want to sell him an insurance policy now.
In defense of the esteemed producer, the problem may be that he is too distracted by his attempts to get a series on the air that isn't a "Law & Order" clone. His mantra seems to be: "If at first you don't fail, try, try again." Most recently it was "`D.C." on WB. Next fall it's "Deadline" on Fox.
None of this is a knock against movie star Dianne Wiest, an innocent bystander in all this. She is a superb actor, though she has doubters. "Who is going to take Wiest seriously when she says, 'Make a deal! Fifty percent is better than losing the whole case!'" asks Irene Barrett of Huntington Station, New York. "I just remember her as the cocaine-sniffing bozette in 'Hannah and Her Sisters.'"
I, for one, am willing to withhold judgment. It all depends on how they handle her entrance in the plot.
At this juncture, I will say she is a great improvement on the Wolfman's usual attempt to bring balance to the cast: replacing the hot, sexy assistant DA with another hot, sexy assistant DA who herself replaced a hot, sexy assistant DA.
In the meanwhile, I'd like to see Hill joining Moriarty and Waterston in a show being written by Michael M. Thomas of Sag Habor, New York, "about a law-cum-investigation firm that makes things hot for the evil big boys in pinstripes."