Going into Law & Order Season 23, the long-running procedural had a big task.
It had to write out Jeffrey Donovan’s Frank Cosgrove in a way that honored the character and resonated with the show’s fans.
News of the actor’s departure broke late last year, with reports claiming it came down to creative reasons.
But with One Chicago, the FBI trifecta, and other Law & Order universe series going through casting shake-ups of their own – there was a great deal of skepticism about the decision.
With broadcast TV ratings contracting, the production companies behind the most-watched shows on the small screen have to tighten their belts, and that’s resulted in guaranteed episodes for series regulars dropping across Dick Wolf’s three popular franchises.
The result will be fewer series regulars in each episode, and sadly, some actors will not be asked back if the creatives can’t find a way to nestle them into the story at an attractive price point.
Jeffrey Donovan has been with the show since NBC revived it
Donovan, best known for his work on Burn Notice, was considered a big get by producers when NBC resurrected Law & Order in 2022 after being canceled 13 years earlier.
When the series returned, it struggled to find the right dynamic between returning stars Anthony Anderson and Sam Waterston and fellow new additions Camryn Manheim and Hugh Dancy.
Even in its third season back, the show is still trying to make the magic happen because it still fails to live up to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Organized Crime.
But it will continue to forge a path forward without Donovan.
Jeffrey Donovan was written out off-screen
Sadly, Donovan didn’t get to film any scenes for Law & Order Season 23, so Detective Cosgrove’s exit was explained on-screen.
Vincent Riley (played by new cast member Reid Scott) had questions about Detective Shaw’s (Mehcad Brooks) last partner.
Shaw was open and honest about how he felt Cosgrove was a “great cop” but “jammed up [about] being too honest about things people aren’t too honest about these days.”
Indeed, Cosgrove did have that inner struggle throughout his two-season run on the show, so it was a decent enough way to explain his off-screen exit in a way that helped usher in his replacement.
Frank Cosgrove’s exit was satisfying
Far too often, off-screen goodbyes feel forced because the talent isn’t available to film more scenes to close a storyline satisfactorily.
But Jeffrey Donovan’s departure was one of the better goodbyes because Cosgrove gets to move on with his life.
The Dick Wolf shows don’t have the best track record of writing out departing stars, with deaths purely for shock value being criticized by fans, so this is the best the show could have done to honor the character.
Riley is the polar opposite of Cosgrove, which made for some exciting moments on the season premiere, especially when he went up against his new partner for threatening to shoot a man for not dropping a weapon.
“Don’t ever do that again,” he told a stunned Shaw, setting up what’s sure to be a strained working relationship.
Law & Order airs on Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC.