In only the second gimmick in its seven seasons of excellent dramas, multiple casts and singular story structure, the "Law & Order" team heads to Hollywood to investigate the death of a studio president in a three-parter airing in "ER's" Thursday slot. Writers and actors are shaded expertly to capture the two locales; the clever little touches --- a "for your consideration" videotape in the studio trash, the New York Daily News front page splash of HEADLESS HONCHO --- are used judiciously to solid effect.

In only the second gimmick in its seven seasons of excellent dramas, multiple casts and singular story structure, the “Law & Order” team heads to Hollywood to investigate the death of a studio president in a three-parter airing in “ER’s” Thursday slot. Writers and actors are shaded expertly to capture the two locales; the clever little touches — a “for your consideration” videotape in the studio trash, the New York Daily News front page splash of HEADLESS HONCHO — are used judiciously to solid effect.

First of three parts sheds some light on the heretofore cloudy private lives of the two newest characters, detective Ray Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) and assistant district attorney Jamie Ross (Carey Lowell). Both are separated from their children, but their anguish and remorse are at ends of the spectrum: Ross has maintained a stiff-upper-lip sternness since her arrival, her motivations clarified some by the confrontation with ex-hubby attorney played by Keith Szarabajka.

Bratt has traveled from nice-guy family man — a key ingredient in the two softer, post-Chris Noth seasons of “Law & Order” — to one-time adulterer in turmoil. He has been an easy read — too pat at times — and he handles the new depths of his character with a welcome specificity.

Episode “D Girl” starts at the East River with one body being dumped and a headless woman being found. Probe leads to the office of Mattawin Studios prexy Heidi Ellison and assistant Greta (Janeane Garofalo), who gets the grisly task of identifying the head as Ellison’s. Further investigation targets personal trainer Evan Grant (Jeffrey D. Sands) as prime suspect.

Grant heads to L.A., where Mattawin is shooting “The Tale of Two Yogis,” a $ 60 million family pic being directed by Ellison’s ex, Eddie Newman (Scott Cohen).

Acting and script fit the regular high standards of “Law & Order”; there’s not a weak moment in “D Girl.” Jerry Orbach is his stellar self as detective Lenny Briscoe, and the explication of Bratt’s Curtis gets us closer to understanding how these two manage to be teamed together. Series has aged remarkably well as characters have been replaced seemingly with mainstream palatability in mind, and it is certainly up to challenge of being placed in the ultimate prime slot. Once again, “Law & Order” proves it’s the most consistent, highest-quality drama on TV. — Phil Gallo

Law & Order

(Thurs. (13), 10-11 p.m., NBC)

Production

Filmed in New York and Los Angeles by Wolf Films in association with Universal Television. Executive producers, Dick Wolf, Ed Sherin, Rene Balcer; co-executive producer, Ed Zuckerman; producers, Jeffrey Hayes, Lewis H. Gould; co-producer, Billy Fox; director of photography, Constantine Makris.

With

Cast: Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt, S. Epatha Merkerson, Sam Waterston, Carey Lowell, Steven Hill.
With: Janeane Garofalo, Keith Szarabajka, Robert Culp, Scott Cohen, Michael Harney.
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