‘Law & Order’: Why the Original DA Appeared in Just One Episode

by Suzanne Halliburton

Law & Order super fans might be familiar with every morsel of the show’s 20 seasons. But here’s an oddity that could impress in trivia contests.

Did you know that the original Law & Order district attorney was in only one episode. And here’s where it gets confusing. Roy Thinnes as Alfred Wentworth appeared in the pilot for the series way back in 1990. But the pilot actually was the sixth episode in season one, not the first.

By the time NBC made a decision on the Law & Order pilot, Thinnes already had another acting gig. The pilot was shot in 1988. By the time the show got rolling, Thinnes had signed on for the remake of Dark Shadows. He portrayed Roger Collins, the brother of Elizabeth. They both lived at Collinwood Mansion.

While Thinnes joined a primetime soap opera, Law & Order added Steven Hill as district attorney Adam Schiff. Hill remained on the series for 228 episodes, leaving Law & Order in 2000.

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Remember This: There Were Five Law & Order DAs

The series featured more district attorneys than just Schiff. Dianne Wiest joined the cast as interim DA Nora Lewin. Then in 2002, U.S. Sen Fred Thompson became DA Arthur Branch as the real-life politician from Tennessee tested out his acting chops. He first started filming in August 2002, as he finished his six-year term.

And Sam Waterston, as Jack McCoy, received the promotion to DA in season 16. Dick Wolf and NBC revived Law & Order this year. It’ll premiere in February 2022. Waterston was the last major addition to the cast.

The original executive assistant district attorney in Law & Order land also had a bizarre story with the series. Remember Michael Moriarty as Ben Stone? Moriarty was in 88 episodes. And then he quit the show. Get this, it was via the fax machine.

Wolf, who created Law & Order, recalled some of his memories of Moriarty’s abrupt departure in a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

“The fax came in the middle of the night to California, which means that he had been up all night [in New York],” Wolf told the outlet. “It was like, ‘I can’t continue.’ It was things like the ‘Nazification of television’ and everything else with Janet Reno.”

Reno was the U.S. Attorney General under then President Bill Clinton. Moriarty insisted that Reno wanted to censor the violence from shows like Law & Order. He even thought she wanted to get rid of so-called violence in Murder She Wrote, which was a favorite show of many grandmothers.

But let’s circle back to the Law & Order lore of Roy Thinnes as Alfred Wentworth. He was in the episode “Everybody’s Favorite Bagman,” which ran Oct. 30, 1990. Here’s the plot summary to refresh your memory: “The assault of a city councilman uncovers a scandal involving organized crime, elected city officials, and a deputy police commissioner.”

In the very first episode, which premiered Sept. 13, Hill was listed as the district attorney, with Moriarty and Richard Brooks as Paul Robinette as his top assistants. See, it’s a fantastic bit of trivia.