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Byline: David Kronke

``Law & Order: Trial by Jury''

(NBC Channel 4; 10 tonight and Friday; thereafter, 10 p.m. Fridays)

Logline: Bebe Neuwirth and Amy Carlson star as district attorneys in the fourth incarnation of NBC's venerable war-horse, this one focusing solely on preparing and executing criminal trials. Tonight, a celebrated Broadway producer and disbarred former attorney is accused of murdering a mistress. The late Jerry Orbach's final two performances as Lennie Briscoe are featured tonight and Friday. Candice Bergen, who bolted for a more colorful role on ``Boston Legal,'' plays the judge in those episodes.

Pros: Like so many legal dramas, it compellingly demonstrates that trials are as much about performances and spectacle as they are about justice. Veteran character actors playing defense attorneys - including Annabella Sciorra (tonight), Peter Coyote (Friday night) and Lorraine Bracco (next week) - keep the level of performance high, and Scott Cohen, who was great on Showtime's cop show ``Street Time,'' replaces Orbach in the third episode. Fred Thompson from the central series is also a regular.

Cons: Could franchise fatigue hurt ``Trial by Jury''? The original series and ``Criminal Intent'' have slipped in the ratings this season, albeit against new hit shows ``CSI: New York'' and ``Desperate Housewives,'' respectively. Will this simply feel too familiar to longtime fans, or can they ever be sated?

In a nutshell: Friday's episode concerns a cop killer who may benefit from potentially mitigating circumstances. Next week's show concerns the murder of a child molester. In the first two episodes, however, writers resort to putting the defendant on the stand, which every defense attorney knows is a terrible idea and serves the melodrama more than reality. Nonetheless, viewers tired of Friday night's wan offerings will be most grateful for the show. Three stars

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 3, 2005
Words:300
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