TV GUIDE MAY 9-15 2004
Jill Hennessy returns to her hit series on her own terms
During Crossing Jordan's 10-month disappearance, so many mysteries surrounded the show that even crime-busting coroner Jordan Cavanaugh couldn't solve them all. "People would stop me and say, 'When's the show coming on? so who killed your mother? Are you going to have sex with Jerry O'Connell?' " recalls star Jill Hennessy. "I'd say, 'Well, as soon as I do, I'll let you know.' "
The NBC drama left fans tantalized and titillated about whether Jordan would track down her mom's murderer or hook up with Det. Woody Hoyt (O'Connell) when the show shut down last summer due to the 35-year-old actress' pregnancy. They had to wait even longer for answers after Hennessy and husband Paolo Mastropietro welcomed their first child, Marco, in Septemberand she didn't report for work following her scheduled maternity leave.
Hennessy's lead role was physically demanding, even by the grueling standards of one-hour dramas, and she wasn't ready to return less than three months after giving birth: "You can't have a nursing mother working 16-hour days. To take a parent away from a child at that stage could be detrimental."
The star's extended leave put producers in a bind. NBC had already delayed the series' return until mid-season, but if filming didn't resume before the end of the year, Jordan would lose its 185-person crew, which had been temporarily laid off during the extended hiatus. "It was a juggling act," says creator Tim Kring. "That's when a decision was made that we'd do an episode or two without Jill." According to an insider on the negotiations, "When she learned they were going to shoot episodes around her, she came back to work."
But first, a pair of Jordan-less Crossing Jordans were filmed in December. Supporting players O'Connell, Miguel Ferrer and Ivan Sergei carried the story lines, a workload sharing arrangement Hennessy favored long before she became pregnant. "When I first signed on to the show, it was called The Untitled Tim Kring Project," she says. "I didn't see it as a star vehicle."
Having worked a lighter schedule during her 1993-96 stint as assistant district attorney Claire Kincaid on Law & Order, Hennessy was unpleasantly surprised to find that, on Jordan, "she was in every scene, so she had not time to breathe," says Ken Howard, who plays her father. Exhaling proved even more difficult when she became an expectant mother. "They were working her very hard, and she was struggling with her pregnancy," Howard says. "It made for tension on the set."
When Hennessy finally returned to work in January, she limited her duties. "I wasn't doing any running," she says. "No climbing fences, no beating up perpsalthough I did grab a guy by the collar, and that was fun." Hennessy's only action scenes involved feeding Marco: "Every there hours, I'd run back to the trailer, he'd get his flash of breast, and I'd run back to the set."
Despite Jordan's prolonged absence and the star's reduced presence, the show scored big numbers when it returned in March. Having suffered a sophomore slump against CSI: Miami on Mondays last season, the forensics drama benefited from its move to Sunday after Law & Order: Criminal Intent. "It's a great match," boasts NBC president Jeff Zucker. "Law & Order fans obviously have a very soft spot for Jill Hennessy."
Still, some Jordan fans were less than thrilled by the network's decision to air the new episodes out of sequence, delaying the long-awaited resolution to the cliffhanger." A few people have been upset, which I actually like," says Hennessy. "It's nice to know people care."
Jordan's personal life has been downplayed this season in favor of a more procedural tone (á la CSI). The cast has also been tweaked, with The Bold and the Beautiful's Jennifer Finnigan joining as pathology resident (and rival for O'Connell's affections) and Howard no longer a regular. The White Shadow vet says he was written out after refusing NBC's 23 percent pay cut: "It was a bit like dealing with Tony Soprano without the charm." (NBC had no comment.)
Howard did guest-star in a few episodes, however, including the cliff-hanger wrap-up, which airs May 23. So that leaves only one mystery: Will Hennessy have sex with O'Connell? "I hope so," she says. "Even if there's some weird thing with Jennifer, Jerry and me. That would be good for the numbers."
-By Bruce Fretts
-Additional reporting by Ileane Rudolph