Tuesday, May 25, 2010


We all know that sound. The deadbolt notes played before the opening Law and Order vignette where they discover the body. We hear it between acts.

The last Law and Order aired last night to little fanfare other than a final doink- doink.

Last night's episode ended the series and its 20th season. ‘Law & Order’ is tied with ‘Gunsmoke‘ as the longest-running TV drama. Over 400 episodes, that means you could watch a L&O ep everyday for a year with no repeats. I was surprised NBC cancelled L&O giving up the chance to break the tie with Gunsmoke. Creator/producer Dick Wolf is reportedly interested in going to TNT for the tie breaking season. The spinoff series, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, has already left NBC to produce new eps at TNT. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is still going strong on NBC.

S. Epatha Merkerson is an actor's actor. She is one of the greats. Talk about making an impression, S. Epatha Merkerson did a dramatic gut wrenching guest starring role on L&O's first season. In season 3, she appeared as a different character, Lt. Anita Van Buren, and the rest is...you know. And it really is because Merkerson's Lt. Van Buren is the longest running black female character in TV history. We've seen her strong leadership, her soft side, her private life with husband and sons and private battles like with breast cancer this season. We've seen her put on the NYPD blue jacket and go on raids and hit perps upside their heads. But she does her best work, like all the L&O detectives and attorneys, in the interrogation room.

The L&O interrogation room is where the actors really got to exercise their acting muscles. This small room with only a table and chairs and a two way mirror is where we watch the innocent grieve and beg, the guilty maneuver and lie, soul searching, family secrets told, the strong fall apart and the weak conjure up some backbone. The detectives often do their thing and leave to watch through the mirror as the perps or witnesses squirm, pace and react.

I remember the detectives all taking a turn questioning a belligerent, hard core teen thug ranting about how he wasn't gonna tell nothing. He wanted to talk to "the man." Lt. Van Buren, after grabbing him up and giving him his options to no avail, gets quiet and simply tells him that "in this house, I am the man." Without any more words, she conveys through her demeanor, authority, strength and just enough compassion to jog him in the direction of trusting her. You could see him physically change. His eyes, body posture and even his relationship to the table and chair and to the Lt. actually change. L&O is good for these scenes. This police drama was not all about car chases and shoot outs. It was about human misbehavior and how the legal system deals with it. It's about characters, both the criminals and the law and the order teams.

L&O has a Alfred Hitchockian nature. When everything points to an obvious suspect, it's almost never him or her. Plot twists and shocking and surprise endings are always in the L&O mix and it may just circle back to the original suspect. Happy endings are not promised and the good guys don't always win. You never know until you see -Created by Dick Wolf- fade in on the black screen. Doink-Doink

First season- Law Chris Noth and George Dzundza. Order Micheal Moriarty and Richard Brooks.

Broadway song and dance man, Jerry Orbach as wise-cracking Detective Lennie Brisco.

Order: Jill Hennessy as Claire Kincaid and Sam Waterson as Jack McCoy.

Steven Hill as DA Adam Schiff came to the show in season 9 joining Angie Harmon who came on as DA Abbie Carmichael in S8. Season 3 added S. Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Van Buren, S5 added Benjamin Bratt as Det. Rey Curtis. In the center is Jerry Orbach (Det. Lenny Brisco) and Sam Waterston (DA Jack McCoy)

Rent star, Jesse L. Martin joined Jerry Orbach in solving crimes in season 9. Two song and dance guys now representing the Law.
S. Epatha Merkerson said she loved singing Broadway tunes with Jerry and Jesse.

Diane Weist as DA Nora Lewin joined the show in 2000 and Fred Thompson, (prior to his real life presidential bid) helped with the Order in 2002.

The court room where the district attorneys worked in the second half of the show.

In 2004 native New Yorker, Jerry Orbach died. Law&Order was never the same without Lennie Brisco. NYC policemen loved Jerry Orbach and the lights on Broadway were dimmed in his honor.

Actor Dennis Farina came on to partner with Jesse L. Martin (Det. Ed Green)

Season 19 and 20 brought in Jeremy Sisto as Det. Cyrus Lupo and Anthony Anderson as Det. Kevin Bernard.

S. Epatha Merkerson had decided this was to be her last season even before the show was cancelled. Lt. Van Buren, fought cancer and finacial struggles due to medical bills in this last season. How will she go out? Will the fade to Dick Wolf leave us forever in a cliffhanger? Will there be a Law and Order movie? Doink-Doink!

Missing the series most will be New York City actors. There were plenty of famous guest stars on this show but for the NYC actor, they had to get their L&O creds. Appearing on L&O was considered a rite of passage for actors in New York City.

We won't get to miss it too much as the reruns are on practically 24/7 and now there are 20 years worth. So, the familiar Mike Post guitar riffs and the doink-doink will never be far away.

Celebrating 20 years brought together old and new cast members.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne

Back in the day, whenever a Black person appeared on TV, black folks called each other to make sure nobody missed it.
"Black folks on TV!"
This was especially true whenever Lena Horne was on perhaps a show like Ed Sullivan or Dean Martin, the phone wires burned up!
"You got Lena on!"

Lena Horne, the beautiful actress/jazz singer who broke color barriers in Hollywood and fought for civil rights during a seven-decade career that took her from being a $25 a week dancer at the Cotton Club in Harlem to Hollywood and the Broadway stage, has died. She was 92.

Horne became one of the highest-paid black entertainers in America by 1943. She was one of the last survivors of the era of popular music that produced Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917, into a professional middle-class family in Brooklyn, New York. Her paternal grandmother, Cora, was a community leader and a feminist, and she had her 14-month-old granddaughter Lena appear on the cover of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s October 1919 “Branch Bulletin.” At age 16 Lena Horne got a job dancing at the Cotton Club.

In 1941, Horne signed a seven-year movie contract with MGM that made her the only black woman with a long-term studio deal. She appeared in a dozen films over the next decade, mostly in singing roles that could be excised when the films were shown in white theaters in the U.S. South.

“They didn’t make me into a maid, but they didn’t make me anything else, either,” she later wrote. “I became a butterfly pinned to a column, singing away in Movieland.”

To MGM, Lena Horne was a double edged sword of racial difficulty. She had Caucasian enough looks to be accepted by white audiences but too dark-skinned to be considered for a starring role in segregated America. OK, but, she was nonetheless seen as too light and beautiful to play a maid.
The ridiculousness of racism was never made clearer than this stupid "dilemma." Nevertheless, she was a trailblazer.

“She opened so many doors as the first beautiful black woman in movies,” actress Leslie Uggams told Jet magazine in 2007. “Black women were only allowed to play maids in the movies, and all of a sudden, the black community had this goddess.”

She had major roles in all black productions “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather” in 1943. In other films such as “Panama Hattie” (1942) and “Swing Fever” (1943) she was used primarily in musical numbers.

Horne acted on her convictions about racial equality. During a World War II show for U.S. troops in Kansas, she walked off the stage because German prisoners of war were seated in front of black soldiers.

Because of her friendship with Paul Robeson, the black actor and activist, she was blacklisted from film, television, radio and recording in 1950. The blacklist did not effect cabaret. She prospered as a nightclub entertainer, appearing with Count Basie, Tony Bennett and Harry Belafonte and by 1956 returned to the movies as the blacklist was lifted.

In 1957, Lena Horne appeared at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel and starred in the Broadway musical “Jamaica” in 1957 to 1959.

During the 1960s, Horne appeared at rallies for civil rights throughout the South. In 1963, she marched on Washington with Martin Luther King.

“Whatever petitions I’ve signed or benefits I’ve played I’ve not done because I had any broad or deep political program I was pushing,” Horne wrote in her autobiography. “I had just learned from my father and from my grandmother not to take any nonsense from anybody."

In 1971 and 1972, she suffered the deaths of her husband, her father and her son, Teddy, in a period of 12 months and briefly retreated from public life.

“She was finally devastated,” Horne’s daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in a book on her family. “She retired to Santa Barbara, California, to plant cacti.”

After emerging from that crisis, she began to enjoy performing more.

“It took 1960s politics and 1970s personal grief for her to have the courage to present herself to an audience,” Buckley wrote.

She played Glenda the Good Witch in “The Wiz” (1978), directed by Sidney Lumet, Gail Buckley’s former husband. Her “Lena: The Lady and Her Music” played to sold-out crowds on Broadway for 333 performances in 1981 and 1982 and won a special Tony Award and two Grammys. Newsweek said of her performance: “Lena Horne is a revelation -- of astonishing power and complexity.”

Horne continued to record through the 1990s, releasing her last studio recording, “Soul,” in 1999. Her last major public appearance was in 1999 at an all-star salute, “Lena: The Legacy,” at Avery Fisher Hall in New York’s Lincoln Center.

Beautiful, sexy, sultry, sassy and outspoken, Lena Horne. Thank you and R.I.P.