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Wolf vs. critics

PASADENA, Calif. — "Law & Order" creator/producer Dick Wolf has always had sort of an interesting relationship with television critics. We love interviewing him because he's always so outspoken and quotable — there's always a column to be had.

And he, rather obviously, enjoys jousting with us — and manipulating us as much as possible.

(It didn't escape our notice this past June that when NBC sent critics the pilots of its fall series, the one that was missing was "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" — despite the fact that that show had been in production for several months and had a number of episodes in the can. Oh, we got "Criminal Intent" tapes, but in a separate mailing accompanied by copies of a letter from Wolf — so much the better to make sure his show stood out.)

Unlike most TV producers, who are loath to incur the wrath of the people who write about them, Wolf tells us exactly what he thinks of us.

"This is now my (complaint) to you collected scribes out there — I don't know why ('Law & Order: Special Victims Unit') and 'Criminal Intent' are not getting written about more, because all three shows in the last two weeks have been in the top 20," Wolf said. " 'SVU' was number four last week.

"I don't know how many of you watch the show, but it has become truly extraordinary."

If, perchance, we want to write a rave review of one of his shows, all we have to do is quote Wolf.

"This show is dealing with very serious issues in a non-exploitative way," he said of "SVU," which follows a team of police detectives who investigate sex crimes. "The number of cops and law enforcement officials . . . who have thanked me over the last year has been extraordinary because reporting of sexual crimes and crimes against women is up significantly in a lot of major cities, and they have been very clear about giving credit to 'SVU' to having an effect on those reporting numbers."

He also pointed to an effort to change the statute of limitations on rape in New York (it stands at five years now) after a show in which that fact was a pivotal plot point. "I think the show is vastly underappreciated by many of you and your colleagues in this room," Wolf said. "We're not curing cancer, but in many weeks we are kind of doing God's work on that show. . . . This show has matured into something truly fantastic."

And Wolf has a bit of the soul of a TV critic himself.

"I don't snipe at other shows," he said, just before doing so, "but the fact that everybody has been raving about 'Alias,' and it's on against 'Criminal Intent,' and you look at these two shows — one is a cartoon and one is really, really good television." (I'm sure the producers of "Alias" appreciated that — although Wolf's assessment of that show is fundamentally correct.)

"Not only that, the ('Law & Order') shows win their time periods in all three time periods, which is kind of unheard of," Wolf said. "And the last two weeks, all three shows have been in the top 20. That's 15 percent of the top 20.

"So it's kind of like — what's going on here?"

So, Dick, what do you really think?

SUCCINCT: Wolf isn't always expansive when he answers questions, however. Like when he was asked if he has any more "Law & Order" projects in development.

"Yeah," he said.

So . . . can you tell us a little more about them?

"No," he said.

MULTIPLE APPEARANCES: If you watch more than a few episodes of the three "Law & Order" series, chances are you may see actors in guest roles show up playing different parts on different shows — or, over the course of several years, the same show. Well, there's a relatively simple reason for that.

"On 'Law & Order,' I think, there have been over 7,000 speaking parts," Wolf said. "If you go to the theater in New York and (the actors) haven't done 'Law & Order,' it's, like, 'Boy, they must be really bad.' "

E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com