The big bang theory of 'Law & Order: Los Angeles'

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One week to the day after Los Angeles sweltered in record triple-digit heat, it's in the 60s with a light drizzle in a residential cul-de-sac in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Encino.

In production is NBC's new Wednesday crime drama "Law & Order: Los Angeles," the latest incarnation of the venerable cops-and-prosecutors franchise. The script for the scene being filmed says a character looks "up and down the sun-blasted street" -- which probably seemed a reasonable assumption when it was written.

Despite the damp, the crew readies for the big shot of the day -- a fireball from an exploding meth lab that will engulf a vehicle in a driveway.

"We're in a residential neighborhood," says veteran producer Christopher Misiano ("Eli Stone," "The West Wing," "ER"), "so that brings with it parameters in terms of permitting. We had to figure out how we could do most of the explosion in this location but generate the first beat of it elsewhere."

Basically, that means the actual explosion -- which would be quite loud and dangerous -- is not being done on the street, but the resulting fireball is. On hand are real Los Angeles firefighters and EMTs, who not only oversee the safety of the stunt but also will play themselves in the scene depicting the fireball's aftermath.

Much of the conversation when the show premiered in late September was about whether it could live up to the original, which was set in New York -- Manhattan, in particular.

Today's scene could probably not have been done on the original "Law & Order."

"That would be kind of hard to hide," says Corey Stoll, a native New Yorker who plays Detective Tomas "TJ" Jarusalski, "a meth lab in Manhattan."

Skeet Ulrich, who plays Jarusalski's partner, Detective Rex Winters, arrives on set, and Stoll -- who is bald -- admires the wave in the front of his hair.

"Doesn't it look great?" Stoll says. "It looks like one of those Japanese woodblock prints of the ocean."Ulrich bursts out laughing.

"Awesome, awesome," he says. "I'm not sure what that rivals or beats, but I'll take it."

"It beats me," says Stoll, briefly doffing his plaid cap. "I get to show up 15 minutes later than him."

"It's going to be the hot Halloween costume," Ulrich says, "the bald cap and the mustache."

On this particular day, only the first episode of the series has aired. So while Ulrich has gotten to meet several members of local law enforcement on set -- the uniformed officers seen in the episodes are often the real thing -- they haven't had a chance to see much of the show.

Ulrich already got pulled over by the LAPD before the show aired, while he was shooting scenes for a crossover episode with "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Executive producer Dick Wolf oversees the whole franchise, and Ulrich was holding his cell phone and talking to him while driving -- a no-no in Los Angeles.

"I didn't tell (the officer) who I was," recalls Ulrich, "but I told him we were doing 'Law & Order: Los Angeles,' and that I was talking to Dick. He was, like, 'Where's your license?' To get to my license, I had to remove five or six detectives' cards that I've met -- and he didn't care. Did not care."

After much preparation and a lengthy safety briefing, it's now time for the fireball. It goes off spectacularly without a hitch, turning the unfortunate vehicle into a smoking, charred husk. Unlike the crew and cast's friends and family -- who will get to see one of the many cell phone videos shot -- you'll have to wait to see it on television.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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