CLIFFHANGER, SCHMIFFHANGER. EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT will come of the car crash that brought Law & Order to its season finale in May. Jill Hennessy—i.e., assistant D.A. Claire Kincaid—is not going to make it. The reason: Her contract ended. The real question is: How long can her cohort, Jerry Orbach's detective Lennie Briscoe, survive? In the six years since the gritty cops-and-prosecutors drama first aired on NBC, job security for castmembers has been virtually nonexistent. "Turnover," says executive producer Dick Wolf, whose roster of illustrious ex-employees includes Courage Under Fire's Michael Moriarty (1990-1994) and Paul Sorvino (1991-1992), "is a wonderful thing."
So it seems. George Dzunda, who along with Chris Noth made up the show's first detective team, chose to leave in 1991. "One day we worked 24 hours in a 17-below wind-chill," Dzunda says. "I said to the policeman doing security on the set, 'Do you realize that if we were dogs, you'd shut this company down?' " He has been far happier—and warmer—in big-screen roles in Basic Instinct and Dangerous Minds. Noth too has been steadily employed since exiting the show last year. "I left my job, my agent and a bad relationship," he says. "I needed a difference in my life."
Meanwhile, NBC chief Warren Littlefield was already cleaning house. Out went original cast members Richard Brooks and Dan Florek in 1993—and in sashayed Hennessy, who is now making films. While Wolf says, "Dan and Richard got totally screwed," both Florek, whose film directorial debut, Standing In Between, will be released next month, and Brooks, who has appeared on ER and Chicago Hope, still enjoy fan recognition thanks to Law & Order's afterlife in reruns. Says Brooks: "It's like I never left."