About Last Night: Two Separate But Equally Important Law & Order Episodes

Five of the late night television shows returned last night with unusual fanfare. As a longtime beard-wearer, I enjoyed seeing David Letterman and Conan O'Brien joining our ranks, though O'Brien's made him look like he was in a high school play. Letterman's whiskers prompted Robin Williams to say that he looked like he deserved his own cough drop.

What many observers were looking to see was exactly how far the hosts, especially Letterman (who has always lampooned TV executives), would go in referencing the strike and expressing support for the writers. None of them avoided the subject, not that they really could. Jay Leno was whimsical, but stressed that he continued to support the writers' cause, and that he wrote his own monologue -- whether he can write a new one every night, or if doing a monologue is even totally within WGA guidelines, is an open question. O'Brien likewise said he fully supported the WGA cause, though I'm not sure he was happy about one of his writers going on Letterman's show to help do the "Top 10" list.

Jimmy Kimmel ran a segment of previously written work so that those who wrote it would receive a residual. Craig Ferguson dispensed with guests completely in order to present an entire show of union-written material. As for Dave, it was like a Clifford Odets drama on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater, complete with a chorus line of picketers. Tonight when Bill Maher guests, the sparks figure to fly for real...though, hopefully they won't singe that distinguished gray beard.

Law & Order:

The show made its long-awaited return to the NBC lineup last night, and it was mildly disorienting even when you consider its history of numerous cast changes. Jeremy Sisto arrived as Cyrus Lupo, the new detective partnering up with Ed Green. Linus Roache is now the rule-bending Assistant District Attorney, Mike Cutter. And Jack McCoy has been kicked upstairs to the office held most recently by Fred Thompson -- there will be no more hammy courtroom scenes for Sam Waterston.

Two episodes ran back-to-back last night. In the first, we were introduced to Cyrus Lupo at the wake of the death of his brother Thomas, who was found in a hotel room. A bystander said a woman who may have been a prostitute was seen leaving the room around the time of his death. Lupo's wife suggested the police get in touch with Cyrus, a detective who was overseas on an intelligence mission. Cyrus said his brother wouldn't have been involved with hookers or drugs. Cyrus had mentioned his brother had beaten cancer previously, but the autopsy showed the cancer was back and that Thomas had died of a likely overdose. Cyrus wanted to know who gave him the drugs, although Green suggested the police now had higher priorities than looking into an apparent suicide. Cyrus asked for permission to investigate on his own, which Lt. Van Buren didn't seem thrilled about.

A call came in reporting a similar death, of another man, Driscoll, with infirmities that may have led him to seek out assisted suicide. Green recalled that Lindgard, a doctor who was notorious for assisted suicide, had recently gotten out of prison. Van Buren suggested to Green that he bring Cyrus along to investigate the new suicide. Lindgard insisted he had refused to give any suicide advice as was required by his parole, though he still thought the law was immoral. The detectives tracked down a Hospice nurse who had given advice to Driscoll, and discovered she was Lindgard's daughter Mila, living under an assumed name. She had made a videotape of the Driscoll suicide with the cooperation of Bill Nolan, a TV reporter who had interviewed Lindgard in the past.

The videotape showed the man saying he had terminal ALS and that he had hooked up the suicide machine himself. Green noticed the autopsy had not mentioned ALS; he had actually had something that was painful but not fatal. Nolan, apparently desperate to relive his big story by seeing a suicide in person, had given the man the report that he had ALS. The Hospice nurse said that it was only the apparent hopelessness of the situation that had led the man to commit suicide, leading Cutter to charge Nolan with manslaughter.

McCoy criticized Cutter for creating a firestorm early in his days on the new job, and for not caring about the First Amendment. Nolan told the prosecutors he had gotten the erroneous report from a source at the hospital, but the source said he had tried to tell Nolan he had made a mistake. The police found that source had a prior relationship with Lindgard's daughter, putting Lindgard under suspicion again. Lindgard's daughter had met Driscoll several years earlier, and investigation of Mila's old letters to her father in prison revealed she hated Nolan for profiting off the Lindgard case, suggesting she was setting him up now. Mila was arrested for murder, and her previous immunity deal was deemed moot.

On the witness stand, Mila spoke up for the humane method of assisted suicide, but Cutter had discovered Mila was an anti-death penalty activist on the grounds that capital punishment by lethal injection is cruel. Cutter pressed Mila on the inconsistency and she came apart completely. The defense put Lindgard on the stand, and daddy took responsibility for setting up the suicide machines. Lindgard had drugged himself before taking the stand and collapsed, a suicide. A mistrial was declared. Cyrus watched the videotape his brother made before taking his life.

In the second hour, Lupo was welcomed to the squad by Lt. Van Buren, who was amused at the prospect of two loners working together. The city was hit by a blackout, throwing the city into chaos. The detectives found a housekeeper with her throat cut in the garage of the home where she worked. The man of the house, Conlan, wondered where his wife and daughter were, as he had talked to them at home after the power went out. The security system showed a kidnapping had occurred. A ransom call came in, with the caller demanding $15 million by midnight.

Problems related to the blackout were raising havoc with normal police work. Conlan waited to get instructions on what to do with the ransom money, and a man on a bicycle grabbed Conlan's bag. With the police in pursuit, the cyclist crashed into a generator on the street and electrocuted himself. The cyclist was tied to a nursing home, where his father was living and where a casual girlfriend had lent him her bike. The cyclist's father had once had a store that was now shuttered, the likely site where the victims were being held, but a judge refused to sign a warrant. Cutter told the detectives to go in the store anyway. The mother was found dead inside, and the police apprehended a man running from the scene. The daughter was finally found alive in another part of the store: she identified the arrested man by voice, and reported the presence of another person she never saw.

The kidnappers had a tool used to crank open garage doors when the power goes out, leading to the suspicion that they had somehow known there would be a blackout. Cutter admitted to a furious McCoy there was no warrant, but he said it would be OK since they would find the accomplice in time to make it moot. Cutter and Rubirosa grilled a worker at the power station, who admitted someone from the company had ordered them to go offline at a time of peak use. Cutter threatened to have the corporate guy arrested as an accomplice to the kidnapping. Cutter wondered if the various power outages of the company were associated with were the result of collusion with another company that then sold New York electricity at a huge markup, and both companies were owned by the hedge fund run by Conlan.

Marty, an employee at the power company, was tied to the cyclist, but Marty (played by, of all people, Fall Out Boy lead singer Patrick Stump) seemed cocky with the knowledge the cyclist was no longer around to contradict him. Cutter believed Conlan's emails had been intercepted by Marty and he had then used that knowledge to plan the kidnapping. Cutter tried to get Conlan to admit to sending the emails, but he was worried about being accused of fraud, and had no interest in letting Cutter off the hook for his faking of the warrant.

McCoy was unsuccessful in getting the feds to give Conlan immunity, and was ready to give up on the kidnapping and murder due to the warrant issue. Cutter dismissed charges with the understanding he could re-file, worrying Conlan because the kidnappers would be back on the streets. Cutter told the girl what he had done and that her father wasn't helping, and the daughter insisted Conlan tell the truth for her mother's sake, even if he ended up going to jail himself. Conlan relented and admitted in court that his greed was behind the blackout. [Daemon's TV]

Crowned:

Linnea called the eight remaining teams together for a dance rehearsal. Hollis said that this pageant gave her the opportunity to do something with her mom, as they live in different states now. The coach told them that all pageants have an opening dance routine, and this would be their chance to learn one with the help of choreographer Scott Grossman. Gina had trouble picking up the moves. Grossman said they had to stop being control freaks.

A woman named Amy, a so-called "trust coach," taught the teams a trust exercise that involved sitting back to back, locking elbows, and standing in unison. Patty and Laura had more problems than any team: their struggles brought stone-faced Patty to tears. The next exercise involved making deep eye contact with each other, a surprisingly emotional experience. Amy picked Brenda and Heather as being the pair with the best teamwork, and chose cosmetics as their prize (no one has yet won the "crown jewels" that Linnea keeps insisting are in some of the boxes).

The elimination competition was a one-minute talent show. Christan was worried because she and Ada had no talent. Linnea said they would be judged on teamwork, and how well both displayed their ability. Jenileigh wanted to perform the aerial routine she did in her own pageant, but she needed to find a way to work Moya into it. Nicole and Jill practiced on the hula-hoop. Laura was singing again, something we thankfully had not heard since the premiere. Brenda and Heather thought about doing comedy. Christan and Ada decided to try to dance. Rachelle tried to teach mom, Melinda, a swing dance routine. Tenia and Angela practiced "I'm Every Woman," but drama intervened. Hollis and Gina had a song in mind also, "Come Rain and Come Shine." Hollis worked with the teams she had befriended to that point. Moya worried she was going to drag Jenileigh down, while Nicole and Jill began arguing over their clothing and hair choices, the first time we had seen them fight.

For the performance, Gina and Hollis harmonized on their song shakily, though Hollis alone was quite good. Melinda and Rachelle won praise for their coordinated dance routine. Jill and Nicole did not impress with their hula hooping, with Carson Kressley flatly saying it was exercise, not talent. Shanna was disappointed they didn't go with singing or dancing, which are their respective specialties. Angela and Tenia were pleasingly sassy. Ada and Christan did what looked like a burlesque routine while still in their gowns, provoking some salaciousness from Carson. Laura sang "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" to Patty's piano accompaniment, and it was...very loud. Brenda and Heather told some corny jokes; Carson liked it but Shanna Moakler questioned how funny it really was. Moya twirled a ribbon and mostly let her daughter shine in her aerial routine; Shanna noticed the imbalance. At the de-sashing ceremony, Patty and Laura were judged to be the most talented. Two of the heavy favorites, Jill/Nicole and Gina/Hollis, were up for elimination, and "Goal Getters" Jill and Nicole were de-sashed, only after Gina and Hollis tried to give them their sashes without cutting them off as a sign of respect. [Just a Simple Girl With a Dream]

Gossip Girl:

Those crazy kids were having themselves a pool party behind school walls, after breaking in and having with them the usual supply of alcohol. Dan arrived with Vanessa just as a drunk kid fell down and cracked his head open. A cell phone was left at the scene with lots of pictures of the event, giving the school's new headmistress the list she needed to do interviews to find out who was responsible, but everyone knew to keep quiet.

Vanessa believed she had video footage of Chuck with the key to the poolroom, and definitely got Chuck and Blair on tape talking about their fling. Nate, suspecting Blair was going down for the pool incident, confessed to being the responsible party. Chuck was all excited about the possibility of having Serena as his stepsister, but Serena was more worried about her mother getting together with Rufus. Lily decided to go along with Serena's wishes and accept Bart's proposal instead of trying it with Rufus.

Serena admitted to being the person who provided the key to the pool party, as she had a key left over from when she dated a swimmer. She appeared to be facing expulsion, but Bart worked out a deal with the school to save her, under the influence of Chuck, who had the worry of Vanessa's videotape hanging over his head. Blair was touched that Nate was willing to lie for her. Chuck paid Vanessa for the tape, but she gave him a blank one instead. For his part, Dan chewed out Serena again for being the rich girl, although everything was all right with them in the end. [Cultural Learnings]

Newport Harbor:

Still back in Newport, Chrissy admitted that seeing Clay with other girls bothered her and made her realize she still wanted him. Clay told Grant he hadn't talked to Chrissy at the party; Grant said Chrissy had checked out the scene.

Allie showed her friends her parents' new house, which was enormous even by the standards of this demographic. They agreed the house should host a party this weekend. Billy called Chrissy and asked if she was coming to see him, but she said she needed to stay and take care of some things. Sasha wondered how Chrissy would go about winning Clay back at the party, which had a '20s theme for some reason. Clay and Chrissy circled around each other without approaching. Chrissy finally made the move and told Clay things had been, like, weird. She told him she was jealous when she saw him with another girl, and Clay said he felt the same way seeing her with Billy. Chrissy said Billy was just a friend. Clay became even more inarticulate than usual, and nothing was settled.

The next day, Chrissy told Sasha she had obviously not proved herself to Clay. Grant asked Clay about the talk, and Clay admitted he wasn't totally over her. Grant suggested giving Chrissy another chance, since it was Christmas. Allie said she was getting a job, the last thing anyone would have expected of her. Chase and Kylie chatted about his impending move to Santa Barbara. She suggested not having a serious relationship, which puzzled him, until she said a boyfriend might interfere with her social life in school. Chrissy brought a Christmas wreath over to Clay's while he was out, and asked for a real meeting later. At the meeting on Clay's boat, Chrissy said the thing with Billy was a mistake that was now over. She presented him with a gift: a USC sweatshirt to commemorate that she would be going to that school, which was more convenient for them both. Chrissy said she wanted to make this work. She then flipped a switch and showed how she had decked out Clay's boat with Christmas lights. Like, awwwww.

Project Runway:

Back after a three-week break. After the model swap (noteworthy because Sweet P finally didn't have to pick last), Heidi told the designers that they would be going on a field trip early the next morning. Tim Gunn actually knocked on doors to wake people up. The group walked down the street to Times Square, to the Hershey's store. Sure enough, the challenge would involve using the items in the store to construct...something, and everything had to be done that day.

The designers had no budget, but just five minutes to grab whatever they could in the store. Christian grabbed all the peanut butter cups, intending to use their wrappers. Jillian grabbed Twizzlers and waddled out with the largest amount. Kit said she thought the challenge would lighten things up. Jillian was the only designer who chose to actually use edible items, fashioning the Twizzlers into a skirt. Rami used a combination of York peppermint wrappers and pieces of a pillowcase. Christian was so far ahead of the others that he freely wandered about giving advice, which not everyone appreciated, although he did talk Sweet P into starting over. Tim showed up for his usual look at how people were doing, expressing concern at Elisa (what's new) and at how much time Jillian was wasting on the Twizzlers. Tim said Sweet P appeared to be working on "a coffee filter or a Maxi pad," which she wasn't happy to hear. On the morning of the show, Jillian's model offered to hand-stitch to help patch the weak areas. Sweet P's competitors seemed to think she would be in huge trouble. Rami was worried that so much of his outfit was paper, vulnerable to tearing. At the runway show, most of the models looked quirky (understandably) but presentable. Rami, Chris, and (whew) Jillian came in for praise; while perennial strugglers Elisa and Sweet P joined newcomer Victorya on the hit list. Rami solidified his favorite status by winning the challenge, while Elisa finally has the free time now to explore her inner bliss, hopefully in a way that will keep her away from fabric. [Room to Roam]