Dan Krisch: A Day Of Judgment For 'Law And Order'
BLB: Steven Hill, Michael Moriarty, Benjamin Brooks
DLB: Hill, Dianne Wiest, Fred Thompson, Moriarty (for 1.5 seasons), Brooks (for only half a season, sadly), Sam Waterston, Jill Hennessy, Carey Lowell, Angie Harmon, Elizabeth Rohm
ALB: Thompson, Waterston, Linus Roache, Rohm, Annie Parisse, Alana De La Garza
A tie between the pre-Lenny and Lenny eras. Although most of the BLB courtroom scenes lacked the verisimilitude that marked the show's later years, Moriarty's blisteringly sincere self-righteousness and Brooks' reserved cool made the those seasons crackle. And my occasional distaste for Waterston's holier-than-thou harrumphing aside, the barbed repartee between him and his bevy of beautiful ADA's made for delightful television. (A favorite exchange, between Waterston and Hennessy: "I'm sorry, but I don't put in 15 hours a day just so I can flex my muscles." "Well, you'd better start, Claire, or you'll wind up talking to yourself in elevators.")
But the defining character of the two eras—indeed, along with Orbach, of the whole show—was Hill's crusty and wise D.A. Adam Schiff. Series creator Dick Wolf supposedly based Schiff on long-serving Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau, but Hill imbued him with a wit, power and wisdom that made him one of TV's all-time great characters. Whether telling Waterston that it's not worth it "to drag the law through a sewer to catch a rat," or standing up to New York's rich and powerful elite in the name of justice, Hill was the show's conscience, its power and its heart.