The veteran actor will leave the series’ flagship entry and make appearances on a new entry.

Like Detective Lennie Briscoe, “Law & Order” actor Jerry Orbach is headed into semiretirement.

After 12 seasons on Dick Wolf’s mother ship, Orbach’s wisecracking gumshoe will retire from the force and join the new “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” as an investigator with the D.A.’s office.

“Dick carved me out a golden parachute,” Orbach, 68, said. “I’ll only work one or two days an episode, instead of six or seven. He’s giving me a semiretirement package after all the hard work I put in.”

Veteran tough guy Dennis Farina (“Get Shorty”), 60, a Chicago cop for 18 years, will replace Orbach as a New York City detective.

On the tube, Farina costarred in last season’s mercifully short-lived CBS “comedy” “In-Laws.” He made his bones on NBC’s terrific 1986-88 Chicago drama, “Crime Story,” as Lt. Mike Torello.

“Jury,” to launch in midseason, is the third “L & O” spin-off, after “L & O: Special Victims Unit” and “L & O: Criminal Intent.” Set in the courtroom, it follows a case each week from arraignment to resolution.

After putting in up to 15 hours a day for nine months a year, most of us approaching our seventh decade would opt for sunshine and a recliner.

Orbach’s a different kind of cat.

“It’s actually fun,” he said. “I get to stay home, in New York. It’s what I do. I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and I love it. Any other business, I could have been the CEO and retired by now.”

A Tony-winning stage actor (“Promises, Promises”) and celebrated pool shark who claims he once beat Minnesota Fats, Orbach isn’t looking to ditch Detective Briscoe.

“He fits me like a glove. The character is sort of half me, half him. I don’t know where they overlap, where they start and stop. I think there’s a reason I’m comfortable playing him so long.”

Briscoe is no Sherlock Holmes, but his humor makes him irresistible to Orbach.

“Humor resonates with me more than anything else. It’s the main difference between a character that’s interesting to me and one that isn’t. If a guy has a sense of humor, I’m always interested.

Briscoe will get a new partner on “Jury;” no casting yet. Farina will hook up with Jesse L. Martin’s hyper-intense Detective Ed Green.

On the personal side, Orbach said his only concession to age “is avoiding things where I might get hurt or laid up, like squash and racquetball.”

His new sport of choice: golf. Unlike pool, he can’t hustle it “because it’s too pure a game.

“You play against the golf course. You find a lot of people who are very successful in their own fields take up golf. It’s one of the few things that humbles them and makes them feel human.”

“I’ve known Dennis for 20 years, and he’s a terrific actor, a consummate professional and a truly nice guy,” says “Law & Order” mastermind Dick Wolf.

As expected, Farina will play a New York detective, a role similar to Orbach’s Lenny Briscoe. Just don’t expect the parts to be that similar.

“Just as Dick has done when he’s introduced every one of the new characters on “Law & Order’ through the years, they’ve each taken on their own personality and reflected the character who plays them,” says NBC Universal Television President Jeff Zucker. “Dennis Farina’s obviously going to be a different kind of cop from Jerry Orbach.”

A former Chicago cop, Farina has played characters on all sides of the law in film and television projects including “Crime Story,” “Manhunter,” “Get Shorty” and “Big Trouble.” He also starred in the short-lived NBC comedy “The In-Laws” for a brief period.

Orbach played Det. Brisco on “Law & Order” for 12 seasons before deciding to depart at the end of this season. He’ll make the move to “Trial by Jury,” where other characters from the “Law & Order” universe will make occasional appearances.

“I think Jerry just came to a point where frankly he was ready for a change and ready to take on a different schedule,” says NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly. “He’s going to play the same role in the new show, but the schedule’s going to be more flexible for him. This has been a very big load for him to carry five days a week.”

Just last week, NBC and Wolf films agreed to an extension that will keep “Law & Order” and spin-offs “Special Victims Unit” and “Criminal Intent” with the network through at least the 2005-06 season.





Carson Daly, host of NBC’s “Last Call,” has signed a three-year contract extension, through “07. … Mark Nelson, former vice president and executive producer at the National Geographic Channel and a veteran of ABC’s “Nightline,” will join CNN Monday as senior executive producer of Paula Zahn’s “Now.” He replaces Jim Miller, who was forced to resign in March.



(c) 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer’s World Wide Web site, at http://www.philly.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-05-17-04 1920EDT



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