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Law & Order: Jerry Orbach Appeared On The Series Before Being Cast As Lennie Briscoe

The late Jerry Orbach is very much the face of OG "Law & Order." Before "Criminal Intent," before "Organized Crime," and right before "Special Victims Unit" became a procedural juggernaut in its own right, Orbach spent 12 years playing NYPD Detective Lennie Briscoe on the program that started it all. His grounded, wisecracking, old-school demeanor, in some ways reminiscent of the televised police stories of the previous generation, made him so popular among viewers that he was named a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. 

But for as legenday as his portrayal of Detective Briscoe was, it wasn't his first role on "Law & Order." In 1991, about a year before starting his storied tenure as Briscoe, Orbach appeared as a defense attorney named Frank Lehrmann in the Season 2 episode "The Wages of Love." Given the show's primary focus on the prosecutorial side of the judicial system, he isn't on screen all that long, only appearing in the courtroom scenes defending an accused who will, most likely, be found guilty by the episode's end. 

In other words, while Orbach appeared in 274 episodes of the original "Law & Order," only 273 of them were as Detective Lennie Briscoe. This little statistic is further complicated by the fact that Briscoe also appeared in a few episodes of "SVU," an episode of "Criminal Intent," and three episodes of "Homicide: Life on the Street."

Orbach auditioned twice before for Law & Order

Judging from the undoubtedly huge lineup of actors who have auditioned for main roles on "Law & Order," including its earlier seasons, Jerry Orbach's presence on the show was pretty much bound to happen. Prior even to appearing in the role of Frank Lehrmann, Orbach had already auditioned not once but twice for a primary role in "Law & Order," and in a role quite similar to that of Detective Lennie Briscoe.

Before the series even premiered, Orbach auditioned for the role of Sergeant Max Greevey, which ended up going to George Dzundza. He then auditioned for the role of Sergeant Phil Cerreta, who was ultimately played by the late Paul Sorvino. Both roles were, as one would expect, on the police side of the series' format, which typically showed their investigations in each episode's first half. 

Dunzdza would leave "Law & Order" after the 1st season, with his character being shot and killed in the Season 2 premiere. Sorvino, whose Sergeant Cerreta succeeded Greevey, stuck around for two seasons before his own character was shot, though not killed, and written off. "They'll really have to shoot me to get me out of here," said Orbach in a 1992 interview, later quoted in Playbill

As it happened, Orbach continued to play Briscoe right up until his death, even after the character retired from the NYPD in 2004. Briscoe is part of the main cast in the first two episodes of "Law & Order: Trial By Jury," with the character having taken a job as an investigator for the District Attorney's office. Orbach died of cancer in 2004 before the rest of the season could be filmed. Briscoe's death was later acknowledged in subsequent episodes of the original "Law & Order."