More than witnesses to an execution: Viewers decide

Voters will choose fate of TV character on `Law & Order'



The fate of a recurring character on NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent will be placed firmly in the hands of the show's viewers. In what may be a first for TV, producers and cast have shot two endings for the episode airing tonight, which revolves around the character Nicole Wallace, played by Olivia D'Abo.

Wallace will die on one coast and live on the other. Viewers then will have a chance to vote online on whether she comes back.

"Cool counts, and that's all we thought, that this would be pretty cool," said series star Vincent D'Onofrio.

After tonight's telecast (NBC, 9 p.m.), viewers nationwide can go to to see the ending they didn't get and vote on the outcome. The decision will be revealed before next Sunday's episode.

It's a one-time experiment, D'Onofrio and show executive producer Rene Balcer told reporters. The original episode was shot last spring in preparation for the start of this season. Then last month, Balcer, D'Onofrio and others on the show started noticing a lively discussion on the Internet over the fate of D'Abo's character.

Seeing that the character had struck a chord, Balcer & Co. went back and shot another ending - roughly two minutes of material.

The series, the third in the Law & Order franchise, stars D'Onofrio as Detective Robert Goren and Kathryn Erbe as his partner, Detective Alexandra Eames. Compared to its sister shows, Criminal Intent focuses more on the psychological aspects of criminal investigations.

"If it was up to me, and I know Rene feels the same way, we're never going to do this again," D'Onofrio said.

"We've never gone back and changed endings or major parts of the show," Balcer said. "This is really a testament to our love/hate relationship with the character."

Giving viewers on the East and West Coasts slightly different shows is not a new twist, but changing the endings altogether is. In the past decade, NBC's ER did a live episode, which meant offering two different feeds for the coasts, each a tad off from the other. ABC did the same with a live edition of The Drew Carey Show. And there was a live performance of Fail Safe, on CBS.

In each of those cases, any variations were due to the live nature of the production, rather than story-line changes.

With Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the show was specifically altered for viewers.

"We kind of backed into it," Balcer said. "It was kind of a happy accident."

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