1988: The pilot has a grainy look to it. The offices of the lawyers are more proletarian that the wood-paneled hives they now work in. The big thing is that the DA, (as opposed to the Executive Assistant DA- let's call him the EADA, or the assistant DA- let's call her the ADA), is played for the one and only time by Roy Thinnes, who must have finally escaped from 'The Invaders'. It's about the Masucci Crime Family, (who will be back), corrupting public officials and ends will a lengthy scroll about the ongoing fight against corruption, etc.
1990-91: Short, heavy-set, balding George Dzundza is the cynical older cop. Dzundza left because he preferred to live and work where it was warmer and his character, (played by his stand-in), gets bumped off in the first episode of the second season.
1991-92: Paul Sorvino plays his replacement, nice-guy Phil Cerretta. The show actually began the next year with the same cast but Sorvino wanted to leave to become an opera singer so poor Phil got shot by a black-market arms dealer in November, 1992 and was replaced by the classic dog-faced flatfoot, Jerry Orbach as Lenny Briscoe.
1993-94: It had been an all-male cast so they brought in Jill Hennessy to replace Richard Brooks as the ADA. But Brooks was black so they had to bring in another black character, (my interpretation) so out went the excellent Dann Florek as Lt. Cragan, to be replaced by S. Epatha Merkerson, (I can always remember her name but not the characters).
1994-5: Michael Moriarity had come apart due to, (from what I've read), alcohol and chronic mental problems that resurfaced. He was replaced this season by Sam Waterson, who came over from 'I'll Fly Away' as the EADA. Meanwhile perennial malcontent, (again from what I've read), Chris Noth either wanted out or was wanted out and his character, Mike Logan, slugs another corrupt public official on the steps of the courthouse, (after the smug perp gets off), and is banished to Staten Island, later to return in a TV movie.
1995-96: The year of the first true 'Homicide' cross-over, (Noth as Logan had done a cameo the previous year), and the rare L&O episode that was about the regulars, who witnesses an execution and then spend the day and night drinking it off. It all ends with Hennessy's character, Clare Kincaid, dying in an auto accident. RIP.
1996-98 Carey Lowell replaced Hennessy. Dick Wolf had apparently decided to get ready for the next abrupt departure by creating a sub-plot for each character to explain why they might leave: Adam Schiff was facing a tough election, (and his wife was dying), McCoy was up on ethics charges, (finally). Jaime Ross's sleazy ex-husband was trying to win custody of their child by claiming she was working too hard. Van Buren was suing the city for discrimination in promotions. Lenny Briscoe's daughter gets rubbed out by a dope ring. Rey Curtis' wife has MS. So what happened? Nothing. Everyone stayed.
1998-99: Lowell DID leave, for a similar reason as her character's- she had a baby with Richard Gere and wanted to spend time with her child. Angie Harmon, a real firecracker, came in to replace her.
1999-00: Bratt left to spend more time with HIS movie star other half, Julia Roberts, (it didn't last). Jesse Martin replaced him.
2000-01: Hill finally left to be replaced with Diane Wiest.
2001-02: Harmon left to be with her new hubby, football star Jason Sehorn, to be replaced by the much maligned, (and under-rated), Elizabeth Rohm. 9/11 made it an interesting season to come in.
2002-04: Senator Fred Thompson replaces Wiest.
2004-05: By bye Lennie Briscoe. Hello Dennis Farnia. Does it even matter that his character's named Fontana?
Sooo Thinnes= '88 pilot. Dzundza = 1st season (90-91). Sorvino = 2nd season or early third, (91-92). Orbach reporting to Florek = 3rd season, (92-93). Moriarity working with Hennessy = 4th season, (93-94). Waterson and we still have Noth= 5th season, (94-95). Bratt and we still have Hennessy = 6th season, (95-96). Carey Lowell is either the 7th season, (96-97) or 8th season, (97-98). Harmon and we still have Bratt = 9th season (98-99). Martin and we still have Hill = 10th season, (99-00). Wiest working with Harmon = 11th season, (00-01). Wiest working with Rohm = 12th season, (01-02). Thompson and we still have Orbach = 13th, (02-03) or 14th, (03-04) season. Farina, so far = 15th season, (04-05).
My dream cast? I'll take the crusty but forceful Thompson over the merely crusty Hill as the DA. I like Moriarity's Stone somewhat more than Waterson's McCoy. They are two of the finest actors of their generation but I prefer Stone's idealism to McCoy's 'winning is everything' attitude. Actually, I wish the series had both of them and had them alternated, with their different approaches. Hennessy's intelligent sensitivity and expressive face made her the best ADA. Florek is the classic middle manager who gets it from both sides. Orbach fits like an old glove. Noth's emotionalism made him more exciting that the other young cops. There was never a season when they were all together but the fourth season, 1993-94 was about the best.