Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Law & Order gets UK makeover

Law & Order: UK cast

By Clare Walmsley
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

It is the longest running prime-time drama on American TV, earning billions of dollars for the NBC network, and can boast guest appearances from Julia Roberts and Samuel L Jackson.

Now, however, police drama series Law & Order is being remade in London's King's Cross area, with British one-time light entertainment star Bradley Walsh as one of the leads.

Freema Agyeman, known for Doctor Who and Little Dorrit, plays crown prosecutor Alesha Philips in the UK version and says she is a "massive, massive fan" of the original show.

"I wanted it to be the same because I wanted it to contain all of those things I love about the show - but I didn't want it to be a direct copy

"You've got the streets of London in every other shot so it's got a different flavour but it's retained all the things I think are really great about the show - it's got a real pace to it."

Each episode takes a different crime and follows it from the streets to the courts. The first half of the programme focuses on the police investigation and the second half follows the legal team.

It's not angst policing like you see so often on British TV

Jamie Bamber, DI Matt Devlin

Walsh, working the Columbo look in a mac and reading glasses, plays Detective Ronnie Brooks.

The actor says it is a complete break for him to play "someone calm instead of Jack-the-lads, or gangsters or boxers".

He has put on nearly two stone to play the character who has overcome alcoholism and broken marriages.

"What's great about this show is that you never actually go back home with the characters so it doesn't become soapy," says Walsh, who played Danny Baldwin in Coronation Street for two years.

Heightened emotion

Walsh - who was best known for entertainment shows such as Wheel of Fortune before his role in the Street - says it was actor friend Ray Winstone who convinced him to move from light entertainment to drama.

Winstone persuaded him that his sense of timing could take him a long way, adds Walsh.

Jamie Bamber, who plays his younger, more impulsive partner Matt Devlin, agrees.

Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber
The first episode sees the team investigating the death of a baby

Bamber, fresh from finishing hit sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica in the US, says he is not familiar with Walsh's previous TV work.

But he credits Walsh with bringing some "wry humour" to Law & Order UK.

"It's not angst policing like you see so often on British TV," he says.

"These two are quite capable, they do the job well and they never socialise together outside work."

The UK version will look familiar to fans of the US show. It has the doom-laden opening music, the black and white title slates and the shaky camera work.

It even has the little "dum dum" noise separating out each scene, nicknamed the Dick Wolf Cash Register Sound after the franchise owner.

All the scripts are taken from the original Law & Order show but adapted to fit with the British legal system.

Wolf says that legally "the biggest difference here was the wigs. The law is not really that dissimilar".

Ben Daniels plays the main prosecutor, James Steel. Daniels says he grew quite attached to his wig, insisting on wearing a sweaty hand-me-down because it had previously been worn by Alan Davies on UK legal drama series The Brief.

Unlike the US Law & Order's prosecutors, who march around the court room, Daniels has to stay behind a bench to make his arguments.

"It is quite restricting and I think the emotion within the court room scenes has been heightened from the American version to accommodate that," he says.

Grand plans

Wolf has already overseen remakes in France and Russia and his plans for the show do not end there.

Ben Daniels, Bill Paterson, Freema Agyeman
Dark suits and dark lighting set the tone for the series

"I'd love to see a Middle Eastern version - I'd love to do it in Cairo," he says.

"I think this kind of show done in a major Muslim city would be eye-opening because it's an exploration of human frailty and human weakness that is universal."

He hopes ITV will go on to make more than the 13 completed episodes.

He also has ambitions to sell the British version back to America for the Saturday night network slot and to have the UK and New York casts team up for a crossover episode.

Dedicated fans of US police dramas will want to know if Sergeant John Munch makes an appearance.

The now almost mythical character - played by Richard Belzer - started on Homicide: Life on the Street and ended as a regular in Law & Order: SVU, appearing along the way in many episodes of The Wire, Arrested Development, The X Files and Law & Order.

Chris Chibnall, writer and executive producer of Law & Order UK, jokes: "I think we're contractually obliged to use him."

Law & Order: UK airs on ITV1 at 2100 GMT on Mondays.

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