‘Law & Order’: One Detective Played a ‘Golden Girls’ Love Interest Before Series

by Suzanne Halliburton

Six months before NBC premiered Law & Order, one of its most successful shows ever, the Golden Girls leaned on a future detective as a love interest for one of the ladies.

Jerry Orbach didn’t join Law & Order as Detective Lennie Briscoe until 1992. But he had quite a career leading up to the series. You probably remember him as Dr. Houseman, Baby’s dad, on Dirty Dancing. He also played a recurring character on Murder, She Wrote and made two appearances on Empty Nest.

But you can make the case that the future Law & Order icon enjoyed his first significant career success on TV when he played Glen O’Brien on Golden Girls in March, 1990. He proposed to Dorothy (Bea Arthur) in an episode called Cheaters. And he played Glen so well that he earned his first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.

Here’s what unfolded. Orbach actually was a substitute for Alex Rocco, who played the original Glen in an earlier episode. That Glen was married and Dorothy still had an affair with him. Although Dorothy was in love with Glen, she broke off the relationship. Ex-husband Stan cheated on her, so she couldn’t be responsible for that searing pain felt by another woman.

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

But in Cheaters, Glen calls Dorothy to tell her that he and his wife are divorced. That means they’re free to date with absolutely no guilt. Like his character in Law & Order, Orbach’s Glen was kind of rumpled, kind of beat down by the world. He needed some companionship in his middle-age years. So he even agrees to meet Dorothy’s acid-tongued mother, Sophia.

Glen decides to get Sophia on his side by bringing her some cannoli. He’s a good Irish boy from Brooklyn who tells Sophia he used to live next to an Italian neighborhood. Color Sophia impressed. “To be honest, I still can’t believe how much my mother liked you,” Dorothy tells Glen.

Later in the episode, Glen proposes to Dorothy. But she asks him to wait. Orbach tells her: “Dorothy, if we were both 25, I could wait but I need someone in my life now.” Then Dorothy poses the key question: “Are you sure that you wanna marry me or are you just afraid to be alone?”

Bingo. The two tell each other “I love you” then go on about their lives. Two years later, Dorothy marries Blanche’s Uncle Lucas (Leslie Nielsen) in the Golden Girls series finale.

And about that time, Orbach was taking over for Paul Sorvino on Law & Order. He partnered with  Chris Noth (Det. Mike Logan) then Benjamin Bratt (Det. Rey Curtis) and Jesse L. Martin (Det. Ed Green). Orbach stuck with Law & Order through 2002. He’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer early in his series run. He died at 69 in 2004.

Because of constant reruns on cable and streaming services, we can see Orbach in so many of his roles. NBC revived Law & Order and it’ll premiere Feb. 24. Hopefully, the show will give a nod to Lennie Briscoe.