Anyone who watched the original Law & Order knows the cast’s line-up was shaken up like a snow globe every few years. But early on, the show didn’t have that reputation. That’s why when fans were stunned when they turned on season 4 to find Captain Don Cragen and ADA Paul Robinette were gone.
Despite the show finding its footing in season 5 and later, it was still two unexpected firings.
In 1997, the Orlando Sentinel wanted to know why so many actors left the show seemingly so suddenly.
Dann Florek, who played Captain Donald Cragen, who led the fictitious NYPD’s 27th Precinct, and Richard Brooks played Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette were released so the show could add women into the cast. Up until then, there weren’t very many or really any full-time female actresses in Law & Order.
The 2-7 got its new boss in Lieutenant Anita Van Buren played by S. Epatha Merkerson. Robinette was replaced with Assistant District Attorney Claire Kincaid, played by Jill Hennessy. Merkerson made it through until the show was canceled more than a decade later. Kincaid was killed by a drunk driver in an episode.
She was replaced with Angie Harmon’s tough-talking Texan ADA Abbie Carmichael.
Ben Stone the lead district attorney left the show and was replaced with Sam Waterston.
But don’t fret for Florek and Brooks. Brooks’ Paul Robinette returned to Law & Order several times over the course of the show’s 20 seasons. Dann Florek starred in the first 15 seasons of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as his original character. He left SVU in 2013.
They’ve both remained busy according to their IMDb pages.
Jerry Orbach Joins ‘Law & Order,’ Sets the Bar
In the third season of the show, one of the most important additions to the show made his debut: Detective Lennie Briscoe. Played by Jerry Orbach, Briscoe added levity to the show and at times some serious sadness. Producers switched out his partners several times, as well. Orbach, who tried to put Baby in the corner in Dirty Dancing, once said he’d never leave Law & Order.
Unfortunately, that decision was made for him after 12 seasons of being one of the best police officers on television, Jerry Orbach died of prostate cancer in 2004. Law & Order writer, Walon Green recalled Orbach’s final moments on set in a 2018 interview.
Orbach who was so ill at that point he could barely speak, and producers worried he wouldn’t recover his voice to re-record his lines later. Law & Order’s director and producers went back and forth on what they should do. Risk it and hope he recovers enough, even though they knew Orbach was dying or scrap most of his dialogue.
Green had an ingenious idea.
“So, then I got the scene and I knew what I was going to do at the beginning. But I got the scene. And it was in a hallway outside a courtroom. So I thought, legitimately, everybody could be whispering in that scene,” he said. “So I said, ‘Let’s get everybody back and loop the scene so that everybody whispers.’ And it worked.”