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‘Law & Order’ Key to Awards Spree

Hard to find an Emmy winner who hasn’t guested with franchise

When the Emmys for supporting actor and actress are named, odds are good Law & Order producer Dick Wolf will have employed one or more winners on his team. Since its 1990 debut, the cop/law procedural and its spinoffs have enjoyed a mind-boggling hold on the character player Emmy kudos.

Almost half the drama supporting trophies in this period have gone to erstwhile L&O regulars and guests: Terry O’Quinn, Zeljko Ivanek, Michaels Imperioli and Badalucco among the men; Julianna Margulies, Margo Martindale, Kim Delaney and Allison Janney on the distaff side.

In comedy, Christine Baranski and Bebe Neuwirth boast credits as a mob wife and an ADA, respectively, alongside sitcom honors. Cynthia Nixon bookended her 2004 Sex and the City trophy with a first-season L&O turn as a subway shooter, followed by a guest actress Emmy for playing a psychopathic murderer on Special Victims Unit .

Last year, the franchise hit the comedy Daily Double with Modern Family honorees Julie Bowen ( SVU abused wife, 2008) and Ty Burrell (an former Marine-turned-killer sniper on L&O circa 2003).

With an estimated 26,000 speaking roles to fill over the years, Law & Order has offered thesps opportunity and occasion, especially in Gotham where, as Wolf Films prexy Peter Jankowski recalls, “for a long time, we were the only game in town.”

Manhattan’s casting pool, he says, is “very stage-savvy, which means they’ve studied the craft. … They don’t take as much time on the set as people who are green or just there for looks. Not that our casts were unappealing, looks-wise. But they’re actors first.”

Adds longtime casting director Lynn Kressel: “As the show grew in popularity, it was widely watched by casting directors, agents and producers in L.A. as well as in New York. We would get calls from other casting directors after a show aired, asking for the name and contact information of particular actors.”

Thus, a series of three franchise roles for Camryn Manheim between 1991 and 1994 could lay groundwork for a triumphant Emmy via The Practice in 1998. The same year, young Katherine Heigl appeared in an episode entitled “Castoff,” after which she cast off toward a trophy as Izzie Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy a decade later.

“Television has a strange way,” Wolf has said, “of assuring that quality prevails.” If quality is a hallmark of the thesping Emmy has honored over the years, plenty of it was born at Law & Order .

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