|Jack McCoy is getting a promotion. As for Sam Waterston…it depends on how you look at it.|
The 66-year-old Law & Order star will be changing onscreen jobs next season, moving into the New York District Attorney's chair recently vacated by Fred D. Thompson, who left the NBC drama to focus on a possible run for the U.S. presidency in 2008.
Waterston has played Executive Assistant D.A. McCoy on the Dick Wolf-produced warhorse for 13 years, the only actor to take the prosecutorial lead during the show's 17-season run besides Michael Moriarty, who served as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone from 1990-1994.
Meanwhile, five different actresses have filled in as the requisite sidekick/eye candy during Waterston's tenure.
But although McCoy's prestige has increased, if next season follows the usual Law & Order formula, Waterston will be getting much less screen time. Not to mention, he won't be giving any of his trademark wily-eyed closing arguments. (Dumping a bucket of bullets on the table to demonstrate how a gun manufacturer was guilty for a mass killing because it was too easy to turn the firearm into an automatic weapon, anyone?)
A spokeswoman for Dick Wolf said Thursday that it was too soon to comment on whether any changes might be made to the traditional D.A.-as-counsel role to better suit McCoy's fiery temperament.
In a statement Wednesday, Waterston called the change the "logical next step" for his character.
"On the other hand, politics isn't his game," he said. "There'll be fireworks. I'm looking forward to it."
In last month's season finale, McCoy tendered his resignation to Thompson's D.A. Arthur Branch after the two disagreed on whether to tell the defense about a mistake a prosecution witness had made on the stand, even if it meant letting a murderer go free. McCoy wanted to disclose the mistake, while Branch was all for keeping it a secret.
The guilty man was convicted and Branch wouldn't let McCoy resign, telling him that, "one day, you'll be sitting in this chair."
Earlier this year, however, no one could be sure if anybody would be sitting in the D.A.'s chair, as NBC weighed whether to renew Law & Order for an 18th season in spite of its steady decline in the ratings (albeit in the wasteland that is Friday at 10 p.m.).
The Peacock Network ultimately tapped the franchise's so-called mothership for a return in 2008 on Sunday nights—after football season ends—and instead shuttled the lower-rated Law & Order: Criminal Intent to USA.
Meanwhile, the original Law & Order will continue its bid to outlast Gunsmoke, which lasted 20 seasons, as the longest-running drama series in history.
While there's no word yet on who might be added to help repopulate the D.A.'s office, Jeremy Sisto will be joining the cast next year as a detective, taking up the badge left behind by Milena Govich, who played Detective Nina Cassady for one season.