Los Angeles -- In what is supposed to be an increasingly tough world for one hour dramas to survive, "L.A. Law" continues to thrive.
And, unlike the other top-rated hour programs, such as "Murder, She Wrote" and "In the Heat of the Night," it is able to attract the younger audience desired by advertisers.
But, after absorbing three new cast members last season, the 5-year-old show has to do the same this fall because Harry Hamlin, Jimmy Smits and Michelle Greene have left the cast.
"The opportunities of that situation are that it makes for stories and when you do series television, you're always looking for stories," Patricia Green, the series' co-executive producer, told a press conference here.
"On the other hand, you worry about losing the continuity of the show. We had one of the most wonderful original ensemble casts in the history of television, and we're going to miss the people who are leaving.
"But, by the same token, it enables the show to grow and change, and sort of to transcend what happens to most television series which is that they get dull and boring. I don't think we will."
Last season was a turbulent one for "L.A. Law," on screen as well as behind the scenes. Toward the end of the season, the law firm that has been the program's home came to the brink of breaking up, split by internal dissension and rivalries.
Green said the show received a lot of letters and feedback about those plots.
"I think people felt that what we were doing was interesting and certainly unexpected, which is, we hope, our trademark," she said. "While they didn't want to see the firm fall apart, on the other hand, they don't want the characters to be pompous and full of themselves and self-satisfied.
"We have gotten some letters from people who wish that the members of the irm would be nicer to each other. I think we can accommodate that. I think that things will run a little more smoothly at the firm this year."
Among the more shocking developments was the demise of Diana Muldaur's character who had come in the year before, almost taken over the firm in a cold power play, and then reappeared having an affair with firm elder stateseman Leland McKenzie before disappearing down an elevator shaft.
"We had two choices," Green said. "She could continue to be a bitch and get boring, sort of like 'Dynasty,' or she would bland out if she married McKenzie. So rather than do either of those, it seemed the best choice to drop her down the shaft."
Then there was the possibility of a lesbian relationship between the new attorney C.J., played by Amanda Donohoe, and Greene's Abby. The two exchanged an on-camera kiss.
"You can't expect to explore that kind of storyline without some adverse reaction," Donohoe said. "But I'm very proud to be doing it, very proud to be involved in it. I think it's a landmark. If prime-time television can deal with these issues, then it's a very healthy thing."
Donohoe indicated, that though Abby had departed, C.J. will still be open to all options.
"It hasn't been dropped, it's an ongoing situation," Donohoe said. "But there are other things to explore about C.J. apart from her flexible sexuality.
"She's a young person who stil hasn't decided about her sexuality. She's still looking, still trying. It's not a confused state, more a question of why she should limit her choices, as it were.
"I think it's an issue that's terribly unresolved with people. The more accessible and less threatening we can make the idea of gay and lesbian people in society, the better it will be for all of us," Donohoe said.
The new cast members are veteran character actress Conchata Ferrell as Susan Bloom, Billy Castroverti playing Tommy Verica, a young, eager attorney who was seen on the opposing side in a couple of cases last season, and Michael Cumpsty as Frank Kittredge, described by Green as "a killer litagator, a real sharp guy."
Green indicated that the firm will continue to lose some of its upper-class patina, something that started last season when John Spencer joined the cast as Tommy Mullaney.
"The firm has been very beautiful and very slick and very upscale," she said. "I think we may be playing with that just a little bit to get more of a mix of characters in."
For Jill Eikenberry, who has played Ann Kelsey since the show's beginning, it's just not the new cast members that have attracted her interest, it's the new writers.
"I'm really excited about this year," Eikenberry, who will be playing Kelsey as a redhead this fall, said. "We have two new women writers and Pat in charge. I think it does make a difference to have women on the staff. I think they bring in a difference sensibility with more emotional options."
Eikenberry, whose character got a bit heavy last season, is also looking forward to a more comic bent come the fall, something that she thinks has been lacking since creator Stephen Bochco gave up hands-on control.