|(NDW : le contenu de l'interview ne date clairement pas du 3 mai 2006)|
HE'S big and burly, the fat cat of television moguls.
Yet when you sit down for a chat with Law & Order creator Dick Wolf you are quickly mesmerised by his sense of fun.
"What do you think about Tom Cruise?" he enthusiastically asks this interviewer. He hilariously quotes Mimi Rogers from a magazine interview regarding her ex-husband's lack of willingness in the bedroom, and discusses how Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's coupling wildly improved Mr. and Mrs. Smith's box office takings.
Wolf, 59, a former advertising executive, publicist and brander, knows more than anyone how sex sells. Yet his long-running crime series adheres to the tenet of not delving into a character's personal life, and presents stories propelled by older men like Sam Waterston and for many years, the late Jerry Orbach (who was replaced by Dennis Farina in 2004 when he became ill).
Yet the original show is now being challenged in the ratings by its spin-off, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU), and Wolf livens up when talking about its success.
"Originally I wanted to call it Sex Crimes, because all the New York cops and prosecutors refer to it as the Sex Crimes Unit. But that made the network a little nervous. I think the ratings would have been even higher," he says, chuckling in his raspy New York manner. "Somebody said they did a title test at NBC and people were very offended and I said, 'Yep, but they would have watched, I guarantee it.' There would have been all those outraged comments in the press regarding the lowering of standards and how can they do this? But everybody would have watched."
That a sexy woman cop features most prominently in the show greatly pleases him of course, and he is the first to admit that Mariska Hargitay is a true force of nature.
"Somebody once asked me, 'Is that her real body underneath that dress?' It's unbelievable. And I said, 'Wait a minute, her mother was Jayne Mansfield and her father (Mickey Hargitay) was Mr Universe – if she doesn't get a good body, who gets a good body?'," Wolf says.
He has also enlisted an attractive new female recruit, Annie Parisse (Jennifer Lopez's friend in Monster-In Law and seen alongside Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep in Prime) to the original Law & Order series. She plays the new assistant district attorney.
Wolf's second highly successful spin-off, Law & Order: Criminal Intent is the series undergoing the biggest change at the moment. It is being split in two, as Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays the super-sleuth Detective Robert Goren, has been under too much pressure. Wolf, as always, calls a spade a spade.
"No, he didn't become exhausted just because of the show. The other reason he became exhausted, which was upsetting, was that last summer when Criminal Intent wrapped, he went off and made his own short (film), which he wrote, produced and directed. I haven't even seen it, but the point was, it wasn't the best use of his time, when he was that exhausted after nine months straight, and he did literally collapse not once, not twice, but three different times. It's going to be an interesting year with him trading off episodes with Chris Noth."
(Noth will be one of the guests at the Logies in Melbourne on Sunday.)
Noth, possibly the most popular member of the original Law & Order cast in the early '90s, was unceremoniously dumped from the series after Wolf decided there wasn't enough conflict between him and his partner Jerry Orbach.
He was replaced by Benjamin Bratt. At the time Noth said he would find a way of landing on his feet and indeed he did, as Mr Big on Sex and the City. Now, seemingly with no bad blood between them (Noth in fact came back for the top-rating 1997 telefilm, Exiles : A Law & Order Movie), he will now reprise his Detective Mike Logan role and have Annabella Sciorra (Tony's ex-mistress in The Sopranos) as his sidekick.
So which of the shows – whose stories are derived from newspaper headlines – is Wolf's favourite? "It's like my children, I like them all for different reasons," he says. "They were designed to do different things. Law & Order was the first show that dealt with both cops and prosecutors. Until then all the lawyer shows were about defence attorneys, not the prosecutors. Shows like Perry Mason and The Defenders were always about lawyers getting people off and I was more interested in the lawyers who sent people to prison when they killed other people. Special Victims Unit was just a very unique area of the law – sex crimes – and then Criminal Intent is really Sherlock Holmes with Kate (Kathryn Erbe) as a kind of Dr Watson.
The fourth Law & Order series, Trial By Jury, has been less of a success. It has been cancelled after one season, though it may come back slightly changed, says Wolf. Was he disappointed? Sure. "Disappointed? I was furious, because it shouldn't have been cancelled. It was skewing too old, the people watching it were older than the network (NBC) wanted, so if it comes back there will be more young people in it," he laughs.
It did not help that Orbach died quite suddenly, as Trial By Jury's premise revolved around his Detective Lennie Brisco retiring from the NYPD to work as an investigator with the DA's office. Orbach's death from prostate cancer came as a personal blow to Wolf, who believes the actor may still be alive if he had undergone surgery instead of radiation therapy 10 years earlier when the cancer was first diagnosed – and then supposedly cured.
"Most conservative doctors will tell you no there's only one way to be sure. But Jerry was wonderful, a true gentleman. It's very funny when you think over all the shows – and this isn't putting down all the other actors – but the two people who have never caused anybody 10 minutes of trouble in more than a decade that they've been on the show were Jerry and Sam. They're inarguably the biggest stars on any of the shows and are just wonderful people who are just very happy to be working."
Wolf, who cut his teeth on Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice and is a good friend of crime writer James Ellroy, keeps a keen eye on the competition and the way crime shows are heading.
Though now he says he is less hands-on than he used to be.
He says that Jerry Bruckheimer, who reportedly was inspired by Law & Order with his CSI series, is not a big threat. But Wolf is always quick to point out that the CSI spin-offs are just the same show set in another city, while each Law & Order series is different.
Keenly aware that youngsters do not watch his shows, Wolf pays careful attention to what his own kids say. "It's a challenge to get people in their 20s and 30s to watch any television. My smart 21-year-daughter watches this doctor show where the people would be lucky to spell doctor but she says, 'It doesn't matter, they're hot.' The next generation is even worse. I have a 12-year-old son who doesn't watch television; he and his friends play video games.
So will there one day be Law & Order video games?
"Actually yes, we're working at video games. In actively pursuing them the hope is that one of the video games can be turned into a television show. That would be good," he says.
"We had a big meeting in California recently and I said I feel like I'm now running a tobacco company, in that we have to hook the 12 years olds."