After nine years (really, is that all?), Jesse L. Martin has announced he will be leaving Law & Order this season, filming only one more post-strike episode before his character is written out. There is no word yet from Dick Wolf or NBC about just how (or why!!!) Martin will leave us, but I know one thing: in the past couple of seasons since Jerry Orbach passed away, I have not watched one episode of the original L&O-- though I am a religious viewer of the SVU part of the franchise and just recently have started getting into Criminal Intent, as well (or at least the Vincent D'Onofrio eps, anyway). Though my love for Martin knows no bounds, there is a very specific formula to L&O, and unfortunately it is one in which Martin has been a smaller part than I would have hoped.
Perhaps that is why he is stepping down now. When he went to film RENT, for example, the writers graciously had him get shot on the job so that his character could take a leave of absence to recouperate while the actor took a leave of absence to film his passion project. But perhaps taking some time off is not enough for Martin, who deserves to be a bigger star than he has been allowed to be on a procedural that focuses its attention (and rightfully so, according to those parameters) on dead bodies and their doers rather than the personal lives of their weekly players. Martin has breathed as much life into his Detective Ed Green as he can, but the twinkle in his eye which has become his staple has faded recently, and his gaze has shifted around like a kid nervous he'll be caught shop-lifting. In other words, Martin has his eye on other things, and though he'll be surely missed on Wednesdays at 10 (personally I don't think the show will be able to recover without him; it was bad enough when Dennis Farina stepped in for Orbach), there is no doubt we'll be seeing a lot of him in the near future.
Martin will be replaced by Anthony Anderson, who got his feet wet with Fox' short-lived mess of a cop drama K-Ville earlier this season. And while Martin does have a couple of upcoming projects already lined up (he'll play Marvin Gaye in a biopic, for perhaps the most notable one), I'd personally love to see him reprise his role as Tom Collins on Broadway for the last few shows of RENT before it closes. Law & Order has always been a staple for New York: just about everyday when you're walking down the street, you're bound to run into a crew from the franchise, and natives always yell "Hey, Jesse!" with love when they spot Martin prepping a scene (and on a few occasions, while the cameras were actually rolling, too, I'm sure). When Martin steps down in the next few months-- just like when the lights go out on that infamous Broadway play that brought him onto my radar all those years ago-- New York will be losing another one of its icons.