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Sam Waterston credits 'audience's persistent appetite' for 'Law & Order' comeback

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Sam Waterston credits 'audience's persistent appetite' for 'Law & Order' comeback
Sam Waterston can now be see in Season 21 of "Law & Order." Photo courtesy of NBC

NEW YORK, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Law & Order icon Sam Waterston says there are three main reasons his cops and lawyers drama is returning for a 21st season on NBC on Thursday: Creator Dick Wolf never gave up on it, fans never stopped watching reruns and new stories remain to tell.

The New York-set series initially wrapped in 2010 after more than 450 episodes. Rick Eid is the writer-showrunner for the revival, which sees the return of Waterston as District Attorney Jack McCoy and Anthony Anderson as Detective Kevin Bernard.

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Joining the ensemble are Hugh Dancy and Odelya Halevi as assistant DAs Nolan Price and Samantha Maroun, Jeffrey Donovan as Bernard's partner, Frank Cosgrove, and Camryn Manheim as their boss, Lt. Kate Dixon.

"I don't think [Wolf's] ever stopped talking about it. One of the reasons that we're back is because of his persistence and determination and his complete conviction that it was a terrible mistake to stop in the first place," Waterston told reporters in a recent Zoom panel discussion about the show's return.

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"We stopped making the shows, but the audience never stopped watching them," he added. "So, the audience's persistent appetite for Law & Order is a major reason why we're back. So, thanks to them."

Anderson said it was a "no brainer" to return to the role of Bernard, now that his sitcom, Black-ish, is wrapping up after eight seasons.

"It felt like no time had passed at all," Anderson emphasized. "I called Dick once I found out the show was coming back, and he was excited to hear from me, to hear that I would be interested in doing it. And returning to the streets of New York, returning to our sound stages and that squad room and donning that badge, Badge No. 1901, was just like sitting in a well-worn saddle. It gripped you just right and was comfortable."

Eid confirmed viewers will see other familiar faces this season, but he didn't give away any casting details.

"We're going to keep those names quiet right now," Eid said. "There's so many great actors who have been involved in the show, and the opportunity for them to come back in some capacity is really exciting."

Manheim and Waterston said they love the way the Law & Order and its spinoffs Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Organized Crime always provided work as guest stars for theater royalty such as Danny Burstein, Daveed Diggs and Laura Benanti in-between stage shows.

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In fact, Manheim's first professional acting job after she left New York University in 1991 was on Law & Order.

"It's hard to believe," she said. "I came back as three different characters on Law & Order through the years. It was a badge of honor to be able to be in an off-Broadway play or a Broadway play and say that you'd been on Law & Order and then how many times you'd been on Law & Order."

Returning to take on the new, full-time role of Lt. Dixon feels like coming home, she said.

"I have to be with these two guys all day long, and their antics are insane," Manheim joked about Anderson and Donovan.

"The crew loves them. I love them, and I feel like the luckiest person in show business right now, and I just can't wait for the viewers to see it because we really are bringing back the same precinct, the same courts, the same amazing show with contemporary and really fascinating story lines that I'm really proud to be a part of."

The Law & Order newbies are having fun, too.

Hannibal alum Dancy picked up the horseback-riding metaphor, intimating that his "new saddle" took a bit of time to get used to and that there was a "vertical learning curve" for him and his fellow uninitiated.

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"Just figuring out the culture of the show, which is fantastic, figuring out how this amazing engine works and why," he said.

Burn Notice actor Donovan said he came to the Law & Order revival as a huge fan, having watched nearly every episode of the beloved procedural show.

"I was always envious of all of my friends who were getting on, and now I'm walking on the hallowed grounds of the squad room with Camryn and Anthony," Donovan said.

Halevi remembered watching the original show with her family.

"And I said: 'Oh, Mom. I want to be like her. I want to be a lawyer.' And my mom's like, 'No, you just want to be one on TV.' And, so, years later, I find myself [as] the DA - the ADA - on this show that I used to watch every day," Halevi said.

"I'm learning so much from my co-stars, and I'm enjoying every minute, and I just can't wait for a lot more of this dream."

Eid said he and the writers worked hard to make sure Season 21 reflects the world in which we live, including recent changes in policing and prosecution.

"Law & Order's been around for a long time, but 2022 is a unique moment in time and our stories and our characters reflect what's happening in society," Eid explained.

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"The way people police is a lot different now than it was 10 years ago, even two years ago. And I think the same goes with the district attorney's office," Eid said. "I think the way people prosecute cases and try cases is a lot different, and they're aware of certain things they weren't aware of before."

Waterston finds Eid's approach to current events exciting.

"There would be a way to kind of dodge all the conflicts that are going on, and I think he's just walked up, straight up to one after another," Waterston said. "Every show is a shock. It's really cool, very cool."

Dancy added: "Every single episode takes the stories out of the headlines and then uses that as an entryway into the arguments that are being had across the country right now."

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