Putting things in ‘Order’: Who was there the longest?

TV Pipeline

Jerry Orbach

Q: Was Jerry Orbach the longest-running actor to play a detective on “Law & Order”? — Scott Ward, Sacramento, Calif.

A: With 11 seasons on the drama as Lennie Briscoe, he was the actor with the longest run on the show as a street detective … but if you count S. Epatha Merkerson (now working for executive producer Dick Wolf again on NBC’s “Chicago Med”) as headquarters-based Lt. Anita Van Buren, she actually had the record with 16 seasons, the longest any performer was on the series.

Thus, she was there even longer than Sam Waterston, whose prosecutor Jack McCoy held forth for 15 years. Some might think the runner-up to Orbach was Chris Noth as Mike Logan, but he had five seasons while Jesse L. Martin’s Ed Green had eight. Of course, if one broadens this out to include other shows in the “Law & Order” franchise, the overall champ is Mariska Hargitay; she’s now in her 22nd season of playing Olivia Benson on NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Q: Why was there no “I Love Lucy” Christmas special this time? — Mary Garrett,
via e-mail

A: As of this writing, there is no definitive explanation for why CBS didn’t continue that annual tradition last month. It’s not as if the material wasn’t available, obviously — and in fact, half of the show already would have been done well in advance, since the classic sitcom’s Christmas story always makes up the first half of that yearly hour, with another classic episode (which varies from year to year) newly colorized to fill out the special.

One hunch we have is that the technicians who normally work on it might not have been available. Colorization is a painstaking process, even in the computer age, since the hues have to be matched accurately in each frame to what they would have been had the footage been in color originally. As might be expected, that’s especially critical when it comes to getting the proper shade of Lucille Ball’s hair. Of course, the ever-popular “Lucy” lives on every weekday on multiple cable networks, but here’s hoping for a return of that typically well-rated holiday showcase at the end of this year.

Q: In the Bee Gees documentary on HBO, I was interested to see clips from
“The Merv Griffin Show.” How long was that show on the air? — Judy Darren, Kansas City, Mo.

A: Griffin had a good run with his talk show over roughly 25 years and several platforms. It began on NBC in the fall of 1962 and lasted about a half-year there, but he took it into syndication in 1965 and ran for more than four years with it before going back to the network world on CBS from 1968 to 1972.

Then, “The Merv Griffin Show” had its longest continuous stint by returning to syndication from 1972 to 1986 … the incarnation that the Bee Gees footage came from. Griffin made that deal even before his time at CBS ended, so he was able to keep going in syndication the Monday after his CBS showcase had its final airing. Known for being a savvy businessman, Griffin also created (and before selling them to what is now ViacomCBS, produced) the game-show powerhouses “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!,” which continue to earn big ratings and profits to this day.

Q: If most of “Good Morning America” was pre-recorded for Christmas morning — as was mentioned on the air — how did Robin Roberts know to introduce Eva Pilgrim for the up-to-the-minute news segments? — Jim Rath, via e-mail

A: From the work schedule … with a little bit of luck mixed in. It wouldn’t have been hard to look ahead and see who was slated to do the news on the ABC program that morning, but even then, mentioning the name in the taped sequences was a risk to take. Had anything transpired where Pilgrim ultimately wasn’t able to be on duty that day, the introductions of her could have played awkwardly. It’s entirely possible that alternate versions not naming a specific newscaster also were taped, precisely to cover that possibility.

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Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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