|Legions of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" fans mourned when Stephanie March left her role as Assistant District Attorney Alex Cabot back in 2003.|
The actress gave up the role because she felt she had taken Alex as far as she could -- until now, at least.
Both March and her TV alter ego return to NBC in "Conviction," a "Law & Order" spinoff premiering Friday, March 3. Set in the world of young Manhattan assistant district attorneys, the new series breaks from the usual "L&O" mold by emphasizing the personal lives of its characters as heavily as the challenging cases they face each day.
"It's from the same people who created 'Law & Order,' but it isn't in the same vein as 'Law & Order,' " March explains. "So many of the issues that I have been able to deal with on this show so far have been personal issues for Alex, and that's part of the reason I decided to come back: to explore Alex's more intimate nature, which is a dream for me."
That's why the new series bears its stark, one-word title without the usual preface of the "Law & Order"brand, explains executive producer Dick Wolf, who calls "Conviction" a "character-cedural."
"It's multiple story lines and it's character-driven, which is the exact opposite of what the branded shows are," Wolf says. "Could it have branded? Sure: 'In the criminal justice system, the average age of a prosecutor in New York City is 28. These are their stories. Chung, chung!' That would work."
As the new series opens, Alex Cabot has returned from her stint in witness protection to the New York District Attorney's office, where she has been promoted to bureau chief. Her deputy district attorney, Jim Steele (Anson Mount, "In Her Shoes"), directly oversees the staff of ambitious assistant district attorneys who are at differing levels of skill and experience.
Just starting out is Nick Potter (Jordan Bridges, "Dawson's Creek"), the idealistic scion of a wealthy family who has abandoned a cushy job at a law firm for this new venture. Also on the staff: street-smart and politically driven Billy Desmond (J. August Richards, "Angel"); bad-boy charmer Brian Peluso (Eric Balfour, "Six Feet Under"); wide-eyed optimist Sara Finn (Julianne Nicholson, "Ally McBeal"); and feisty Jessica Rossi (Milena Govich, "Rescue Me"), who has risen from a working-class household to become one of the stars of the office.
"This really is a seven-person ensemble, and they spread the action around quite equally, so Alex doesn't have a lot of time in the first two episodes," March cautions fans who may be chagrined at how little face time her character gets in the premiere episode. "They just had so many brand-new characters that had to be introduced."
Later episodes, however, will deal in depth with Alex, both in terms of her family and what makes her tick.
"I had always thought, and it was really nice to see this materialize in the script, that Alex is a pretty political creature," March says. "She's an ambitious person, and 'ambitious' should not be a bad word when it comes to an intelligent and motivated woman. I don't think she's fearsome; I just think she's extremely motivated and she wants to use her job to work in those levels of New York politics and society and accomplish something in a public service capacity. It's kind of nice to see a politically minded woman on the screen. There aren't too many."
Fans who watched "SVU" closely may have enjoyed filling in the blanks as far as Alex's personality is concerned, but some things always seemed to be taken for granted, March says.
"I think it always has been assumed that Alex comes from a very WASP family," the actress says. "Who knows how politically connected or moneyed they are, but she seems to be someone who probably went to boarding school and then an Ivy League college, and her brother and sister probably did, too. She comes from a world that places certain expectations on their offspring, and Alex has enjoyed trying to fulfill those expectations."
While "Conviction" does deviate somewhat from the tried-and-true "Law & Order" formula, Wolf insists the new show still will remain true enough in tone to the other "Law & Order" shows that occasional crossover episodes would be possible.
"There are ways to do [character-driven stories], especially in an ensemble, that, so far, we are very pleased with," he says. "[Executive producers] Walon Green and Rick Eid have done an incredible job with the writing in terms of keeping the pot at a full boil, at the same time giving a lot of things for the characters to explore.
"This isn't a daytime soap. If you watch an episode, you don't have to have seen the one before it and the two that come after it to have an enjoyable viewing experience. There are a lot of different types of dramas working on television. This seemed like a natural extension.
"I see no reason why any of these shows couldn't interact. But this is a totally different construct than any of the 'Law & Orders.'"