Benjamin Bratt Departs 'Law & Order' After Four Seasons With Emmy Award-Winning Series; Jesse L. Martin ('Ally McBeal,' 'The X-Files') Joins Cast

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif., April 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Benjamin Bratt, who has portrayed Detective Reynaldo Curtis on the Emmy Award-winning drama series ``Law & Order'' for the past four seasons, will be departing the series at the conclusion of this season, it was announced today by executive producer/creator Dick Wolf. Bratt will be replaced by Jesse L. Martin (``Ally McBeal,'' ``The X-Files'').

``Ben has been a tremendous asset to Law & Order, and he is the consummate professional as well as a terrific actor. Working with him has truly been a pleasure,'' said creator and executive producer Dick Wolf. ``He is at a point in his career where he could break out as one of the top leading men of his generation. My hope is that he will return as Detective Curtis as our franchise expands to include the new NBC series about the NYPD's sex crimes unit, 'Law & Order: SCU' and in possible new telefilms, like the successful 'Exiled: A Law & Order Movie,' which starred Chris Noth as Mike Logan.''

``After four years I've felt like it was time to get back home to my family,'' said Benjamin Bratt. ``How do you walk away from the best job in the world and a group of people that you've grown to love? It's not easy, and it was an extremely difficult decision that I had to make. But I know I'll be back to visit and hope that I'll have a chance to work with my friends at 'Law & Order' again,'' he added.

In the two-hour ``Law & Order'' season finale, airing May 26 (9:00-11:00 PM ET/PT) on NBC, Detective Curtis (Bratt) is conflicted about the amount of time he spends at his high pressure job, while his wife battles the debilitating effects of Multiple Sclerosis. Curtis makes the painful choice to leave the NYPD to spend more time caring for his wife and three young daughters, as his superior, Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) and partner Detective Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) support his decision. The episodes were written by executive producer Rene Balcer. Bratt joined the series in its sixth season (1995-96), replacing Chris Noth, who portrayed Detective Mike Logan since its premiere in the Fall of 1990.

Jesse L. Martin joins ``Law & Order'' for its tenth season, having received critical acclaim for his recurring role on ``Ally McBeal'' as Ally's boyfriend. He also recently guest-starred as a disenfranchised alien in ``The X-Files,'' in an episode written and directed by series star David Duchovny.

``While we will miss Benjamin Bratt and his enormously compelling contribution to the show, we can't imagine a more dynamic and talented addition to the cast than Jesse Martin. We feel certain that he will be invaluable in helping 'Law & Order' maintain its vitality and distinctiveness over the coming seasons,'' said David Kissinger, President, Programming, Studios USA Television.

Wolf added, ``Jesse Martin has received excellent feedback for several high profile roles in top drama series this season. He has charisma and has also proven his range as an actor, and this new role will bring a whole new dynamic to the 'cops' half of the show.''

``I am extremely excited about joining the show. I am grateful to work on a such a superb show with a stellar cast in the greatest city in the world. Thank you Dick Wolf,'' said Jesse Martin.

Martin was an original cast member of the Broadway musical ``Rent,'' and has extensive New York theatre credits. His additional television credits include a regular role in the Fox series ``413 Hope Street'' and a guest-starring role in the Wolf Films/Studios USA series ``New York Undercover.'' He also starred in the CBS telefilm ``Deep in My Heart.'' He is represented by Endeavor.

Now in its ninth year on NBC, ``Law & Order'' holds the record for consecutive Outstanding Drama Series Emmy nominations (seven) and won the coveted award in 1997. The series will celebrate its 200th episode on May 5, and has received a three-year renewal from NBC, ensuring the drama to air through the 2001-02 television season, which will make it one of the longest-running drama series in the history of television.

``Law & Order'' is a Wolf Films production in association with Studios USA Television, and airs Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on NBC. Dick Wolf, Ed Sherin and Rene Balcer are executive producers.