When "Law & Order: LA" returns from a four-month break tonight, it will be a very different show than the one viewers might remember. After the series was pulled from the air following eight low-rated episodes, three cast leads were dropped and Alfred Molina was shifted from a district attorney who appeared every other week to a lead detective in every episode. If that's not enough of a lurch, the show is bringing in one of the DAs from the original "Law & Order," played by Alana de la Garza, to join the cast.
It's just one of the ways that the show is now strenuously embracing its "L&O" heritage after initially attempting to differentiate itself. They're even restoring the classic sounds (da-dung!) and visuals that fans have come to expect from the franchise.
And so goes another example of one of the TV industry's most cherished procedures: the "retool." That's when a show gets some significant creative tweaks in hopes of reviving its ratings fortunes or to head off signs of sagging audience levels before they occur.
But "LOLA" needn't look far to get a sense of how easily retooling can go awry. Just have a gander at another NBC Monday night entry, "The Event."
NBC had high hopes for this heavily serialized action drama in the fall, but those hopes were for naught. Ratings troubles led to "Event" being benched in November, which gave the network ample time to tinker with this promising series before bringing it back in February.
After a few months of episodes that have given "Event" enough time to demonstrate its remodeled self, it's plain to see that this series just wasn't able to right itself creatively--and the increasingly woeful ratings are proof enough of that.
What "LOLA" could learn from "Event" is that it takes a lot more than just adding some interesting actors to fix a show.
"Event" hoped to pique new interest by drafting Rogert Bart from "Desperate Housewives'" and Virginia Madsen of "Sideways" fame. But here's the thing about luring in interesting names like theirs; if they're not given something to actually do on the show, there's no point.
Both Bart and Madsen are curiously adrift on "Event": As chief of staff to president Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood), Bart has barely figured into the show's White House-based intrigue. As the wife of a widowed Senator who takes over his seat, Madsen has been consigned to basically doing a variation on the same scene over and over again: Tense faceoffs with President Martinez inside the Oval Office. Both actors seem to have been awkwardly shoehorned in with little purpose.
The sad thing is "Event" has a pretty impressive cast to begin with, including Clifton Collins, Jr., Zeljko Ivanek and Hal Holbrook. The show killed off Collins a few weeks ago (though on "Event" you can't really presume anyone is truly dead) and Holbrook might as well be six feet under; though his villain character holds the key to the program's entire alien mystery, "Event" frustrates by letting him reveal very little.
The "Event" problem has always been there's too much going on; adding more characters was probably the last thing it should have done. Sometimes more doesn't necessarily equal better.