Guest actor Tom Titone squeezed in an appearance on the second-to-last episode of NBC's Law & Order before it got canceled in its 20th season. "I've never known a show where you get a thank-you letter from the producers," he said.
Day players like Titone will continue to offer their thanks every time a residual check arrives. One of the relatively few major network programs to be shot in New York City, the crime drama that insiders called "the mother ship" nurtured legions of actors.The pay began at $800 a day for modest speaking roles -- a godsend for those accustomed to meager stage wages.
Its afterlife on cable and elsewhere will keep the L&O dividends coming. "It's the gift that keeps on giving," Titone said. "I still get checks for the first one. Over time, if you had a lean year, it adds up."
Titone said the show's executives made him feel like a star and always paid him above the Screen Actors Guild minimum. He played a lawyer four times. But his favorite was playing a jeweler opposite the late show veteran Jerry Orbach in 2002. "For me that was a real treat," he recalled. "It was the first 9/11 show, having a story line that had to do with the tragedy."
Titone, who freelances in real estate, said Law & Order jobs have helped him meet SAG and Actors Equity income minimums to keep his health insurance. "I'll miss work from them, that's for sure," said Titone, also an occasional guest on one of the show's still-kicking spinoffs, Law & Order: Criminal Intent (the other is Law & Order: Special Victims Unit).
When Ilana Levine first began her stints on Law & Order, she said the only other TV acting options in the city were daytime soap operas. L&O kept her busy, casting her as an ACLU lawyer, an abortion clinic worker and a welfare counselor. She still receives a payment every now and then from her first episode in the early 1990s.
"Granted, there are times where the postage is larger than the residual check as years go by from the original air date," she said. "But the truth is, the show was fun to act on. The guest stars always get to do interesting things."
Levine also profited from the sense of community -- even before she got the job. "At every Law & Order audition, you knew you would see your friends also auditioning, which lessened the sting of the very long wait," she said.
Dominic Fumusa, who plays Edie Falco's husband on Showtime's Nurse Jackie and is married to Levine in real life, logged a couple of L&O episodes as well. Summing up the show's demise, he replied, "Big loss."
In economic terms, it will be devastating. Gone are 3,000 acting gigs and $79 million a year in commerce for New York City, according to USA Today.
For New York actors, the numbers boil down to one less option in a hyper-competitive business. Said Titone about the makers of Law & Order: "They treated you so well over there."
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