Crime show rumblings

Jun 3, 2009 at 12:00 am

Ruminations of a professional vidiot …

The most pressing challenge facing NBC this summer — besides trying to make The Jay Leno Show at 10 o'clock five nights a week not look like The Tonight Show Lite, so Conan O'Brien won't figure out he got screwed — is what to do about Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, the mainstays of its hit drama Law & Order: SVU.

The contracts for both stars of the salacious and suspenseful cop series, renewed by the network for an 11th season this fall, expired last month. Each made a recession-busting $350,000 per episode, but SVU is the Peacock's top-rated scripted show, drawing nearly 11 million viewers every week, more even than the Law & Order flagship. Their characters — Meloni as the fuming ex-Marine Elliot Stabler, Hargitay as the sultry, sensitive Olivia Benson, partners and best friends working unspeakable sex crimes — are clearly the straws that stir this heady ensemble. Their opposites are attractive, their chemistry undeniable.

They probably both deserve even more money in the context of today's outlandish entertainment economy. They probably aren't going to get it.

Dick Wolf, executive producer and mastermind behind the L&O franchise, is a notoriously tough negotiator, and he's got the track record to back his bluster. The original Law & Order is the only series in history to replace every single member of its initial cast — several times, in fact — and is still going strong, returning this fall for a record 20th season. He's not rolling over. If Meloni and Emmy-winner Hargitay, for my money one of the sexiest women in prime time, are allowed to walk over money, SVU will suffer. But the show will go on.

Strong supporting performances, like the Richard Belzer and Ice-T odd couple, and Downriver native Dann Florek, will keep surroundings familiar if the worst happens. But SVU will have the additional stress of moving to an earlier 9 p.m. time slot because Leno is commandeering 10 o'clock, meaning its notoriously hard-hitting storylines and dialogue may have to soften. 

Meloni and Hargitay are renegotiating as a package, as they have before. In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Meloni said he was "very happy right now, very satisfied" with his longstanding role as Stabler. "I'm just doing this season. We'll see what decisions NBC makes, which will force decisions on my part."

Here's hoping he and Hargitay are still very happy when NBC slides its new contract offer across the table, keeping one of America's favorite shows intact.

Is Jeff a mutt?: Speaking of the L&O empire, does Jeff Goldblum seem terribly out of his element as the replacement for Chris Noth on USA's Law & Order: Criminal Intent? I've enjoyed Goldblum's eccentric performances since the days of Tenspeed and Brownshoe in the '80s, but his early CI episodes as Det. Zach Nichols haven't seemed to find a rhythm, as he searches to find nuances of his character and dialogue. Playing opposite the remarkable Vincent D'Onofrio in alternate episodes as the show's male lead, Goldblum for the first time in his career may not be weird enough for his role. Makes D'Onofrio's Det. Bobby Goren even more priceless by comparison.

Told you so: Way back in January, in my obligatory "Who the hell is Kara Dio Guardi?" column, I opined that American Idol was adding a fourth judge, whom we now know has the personality of wet laundry, to smooth the transition should producers decide to ease Paula Abdul off America's favorite show next season. Now, after the finale of the show May 20, word is revealed that Abdul's contract indeed is up this year, and delightfully ditzy Paula finally admitted to the ongoing rumors of her prescription drug abuse. Don't be shocked to see Idol return to a three-judge panel when season nine launches next January. Hell, Simon Cowell is hinting he might even depart. The fact that Adam got robbed? You already knew that.

Eight is more than enough: Can someone please explain to me why we care so much about Jon and Kate Gosselin's marital difficulties? Do we fear what will happen to those eight adorable kids? Jon & Kate Plus 8, already TLC's most popular series, has been the focus of tabloid rags and entertainment-gossip TV shows for months, and its fifth-season premiere last week — where the couple, on separate sofas, spent half the episode whining about all the media attention they've received — posted an all-time record 8 million viewers. 

"I did not sign up for public scrutiny of everything, and neither did Kate," Jon moaned. Guess what? You did! Those checks you've been cashing were meant to ease the suffering. We know them well by now: he's a witless jerk, she's a narcissistic shrew. Two more unappealing people you would be hard pressed to find. Two out of three U.S. marriages end in divorce. Let them go, America! 

Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]