Last night's second half to the season nine two-part opener of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" had longtime fans say a final goodbye to three characters on the show. Following the loss of original "Law and Order" franchise player Chris Noth (Mike Logan) two seasons ago, producer Dick Wolf and others decided last year to bring on board Jeff Goldblum as zen detective Zach Nichols, the former partner of Major Case Squad Captain Danny Ross, played by actor and playwright Eric Bogosian. Oddly enough, all three of those actors are Jewish. For the past eight seasons, though, the major "Criminal Intent" players were Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe, who portrayed Detectives Robert "Bobby" Goren and Alexandra Eames respectively. The two of them were the glue that held the series together, so it's a pretty big gamble to bet the future of the entire series on the possible charisma of Goldblum or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who will be taking over next week as the third captain of the Major Case squad since the series debuted in 2001. In last week's part one opener Bogosian's character was assassinated, while D'onofrio and Erbe's characters were both forced into uncomfortable situations as they followed up the investigation into their captain's killer. It was a shame to see Bogosian dispatched in such a final way. Fans may recall him as the ruthless mastermind in "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" against Stephen Seagal or as the Pulitzer Prize nominated author of "Talk Radio." Bogosian is also a published novelist three times over, so the calibre of his play was always top notch. I felt he added an edgier dimension to the show after the departure of Jamey Sheridan as original Major Case Squad Captain James Deakins in 2006. The central play of quirky D'Onofrio and hard-nosed Erbe as his senior partner will be sorely missed. D'Onofrio, whose steel trap mind was the downfall of many a "perp" who mistook him for a bumbling, oversized buffoon. Detective Robert Goren could understand American sign language and was able to detect Asian dialects like an expert. He did research like no other detective on an investigation. He actually went to the library to check out leads and was at his best in the interrogation room when he would cock his head to the left to unsettle suspects or deliberately push their buttons in other ways in order to trip them up or elicit a confession. My favorite such tête-à-têtes occurred during several different episodes between Goren and fictional serial killer Nicole Wallace played superbly by actress and singer Olivia D'Abo. Aside from the two of the actors having apostrophes in their names, there was a chemistry between the two fictional adversaries, both of whom had troubling childhoods that led to one turning to a life of dedicated service and another to a life of crime and killing. I figured that D'Onofrio would have to go soon. His character had learned his biological father was a demented serial killer. He had watched his schizophrenic mother die from cancer on the same day as his serial killer father was executed. His brother was the final victim of his nemesis and she, likewise, was dispatched by his former mentor who admitted killing her and poisoning himself in order to throw the investigation off. That meant that all of those figures close to Goren's character outside of his work were either dead or incarcerated. It seemed it would only be a matter of time before something would set him off. Last year's arrival of Goldblum on the set as part of the USA Network's schedule also signaled the departure for Juliane Nicholson. Her character of Detective Megan Wheeler, Chris Noth's former partner and Goldblum's first on the series never even made it to this year's season opener. As of last night she was replaced by sultry Saffron Burrows, the leggy British actress who some may recall from season four of "Boston Legal" or the short-lived Christian Slater NBC series "My Own Worst Enemy." And for those who are not fans of the "Special Victims Unit" or "Criminal Intent" franchises, there was news on Friday that yet another long-time player will be leaving that series at the end of the current season. S. Epatha Merkerson, a 17-year long veteran of the original "Law and Order" series, who has played Lt. Anita Van Buren through the years, has announced she is leaving the show and moving on. If the original series makes it onto the TV schedule next year, it will take over "Gunsmoke" as the longest running TV series. The legacy of the Dick Wolf series and its spinoffs is impressive.