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Prime Suspects, USA

Criminal justice, Janet Reno has said, must “put away…the truly violent, what I call the ‘mean bads.’ ” But she faces administrative problems. (Viewer discretion advised: theatrical blood and some language.)

I dislike being addressed as ‘Ma’am,’ ‘General,’ or ‘Madam Attorney General.’ I should have said so before. What counts is, I’m saying it now. ‘Guv’ is all right. So is ‘Top,’ ‘Honcho,’ or ‘Hitch.’ There’s a violent repeat felon in Dade who says he was put away by ‘Collar and Cuffs,’ and that’s one sobriquet I wouldn’t mind earning a thousand times over. Use the imagination the Lord gave you.”

She looks around the situation room. The boys stare down at their fingerprint kits and civil-rights injunctions. She knows they want to hold her at bay with professionally feigned politesse. But this isn’t the damn State Department. This is public television. A woman AG has to belt her trenchcoat and go to the mat on every tiny little thing, because there’s only one law her character can be 100 percent sure of: If a gun is introduced in the first act, it will go off in the third act.

The variables—misjudge those and the boys won’t let you forget it. She’s still being twitted with some maxim of Robert Towne’s about how a splashy action-packed start causes an almost mathematically inevitable sag or lull twenty minutes into the first reel. And she learned the hard way that a sag or lull should cue the entrance of the Special Prosecutor. (As Kenneth Tynan noted, the Special Prosecutor ranks with the Player King, the Gentleman Caller, the Fugitive, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E. as one of the terrific classic parts just tailor-made to thrill an English-speaking audience.)

Hundreds of supporting players have yet to be cast—the elite Cuban Cigar Naturalization Service Flying Squad, the Hillary Rodham Clinton Pressure Tactics Counter-Tactical Unit, all the way down the line to the White Hat sidekicks, Bad Mommy, Judge Advocate for Casting Against Type, Brechtian ensemble of wiretap electricians, and Woman Gentleman Caller. In an early episode, the AG lost a tough policy fight to political higher-ups who want open casting (a procedural night-mare). What do they think this is, public television? This is the US Department of Justice. Recurring image: the AG in a darkened office, screening videotapes from all over the country. Her top priority is finding the right First Murderer. She murmurs, “Once you have your First Murderer, all else follows.”

Hi, I’ve done some regional, a couple bits on Vice, was a Ski Mask Spree Killer in JFK, and that’s about it. My scene is from Taxi Driver: “Are you talkin’ to me? Are you talkin’ to me? I’m the only one standing here. It’s your move. Are you—“

I studied Judicial Temperament with Sanford Meisner and now take classes in Erratic Breathing and Torts with Michael Moriarty. The Revenger’s Tragedy, by Cyril Tourneur, Act Three, Scene Five, Vendice speaks: “Now with thy dagger / Nail down his tongue, and mine shall keep possession / About his heart; if he but gasp, he dies; / We dread not death to quittance injuries. / Brother, if he but wink, not brooking the foul object, / Let our two other hands tear up his lids, / And make his eyes like comets shine through blood. / When the bad bleeds, then is the tragedy good.”

As a member of Congress, I was in a recent non-Equity photo op at a firing range. Learned how to handle the Tec-9 assault pistol. So now I do all my own stunts: “Bang! Bang! B—“

You wanna know my experience? Zip! And I got no technique—that’s bullshit. Just watch what I do here. You think Polanski was scary? I’m gonna blow your head off with this: “Hold it there, kitty-cat. You’re a very nosy fella, kitty-cat, hah? You know what happens to nosy fellas? You want to guess? They lose their noses. Next time you’ll lose the whole thing. I’ll cut it off and feed it to my goldfish. Understand? Hah? Understand?”

Hello, I am classically trained and played Assistant DA Ben Stone on the dramatic series Law and Order. From Measure for Measure: “Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it? / Why,—“

No First Murderer in this batch. The AG is after a hard-core, third-strike type—a Baby-Faced Beastly or School of Dramatic Arts Stalker, not these Method Monsters and Moment Junkies. Their tapes will be remanded to rehab centers, inner-city sports leagues, or the police corps.

This season’s scenario has the AG finally winning the boys’ respect. Late one night, after a taut scene about technical violations in a warrant to search for the MacGuffin, she comes home, gets into the shower—and the phone rings. It’s the situation room: The most dangerous and powerful tool in the law-enforcement arsenal—the confession—has fallen into the wrong hands. Society confronts an onslaught of paid squealing, celebrity gargling, showboat plea-copping, and groveling for the marital-contrition vote. Will these decadent canaries be our children’s role models in the eternal drama of good and evil?

The AG zeroes in on a gang of thugs called Me, Myself, and I, who have occupied a major metropolitan newspaper. Perhaps they could be controlled by some form of bounty provision in hunting licenses. At the cliffhanger climax, she stands accused of favoring censorship. No way, she says. If there’s a smoking gun in the back story, of course it must be revealed—in exposition, in dialogue crafted or improvised, in a flashback with slowmotion carnage, reaction close-ups, and iambic pentameter. Just stop the promiscuous spilling of guts.

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