UNIQUE ~ DIANE NEAL ONLINE
> Diane ~ The Tribute
»» Diane ~ The Tribute
This is a personal tribute to Diane written by the webmaster. It expresses all I want to say on why I created this website for Diane. There’s nothing standoffish here, nothing but my unmitigated praise for Diane’s work and my reasons for spending all this time on slavishly creating what I like to call, a unique website for all Diane’s fans to enjoy. So…. Read on McDuff.
When I think of Diane Neal, the only word that comes to mind is … unique. She’s unabridged. Funny. Beautiful. Intelligent. A bit kooky, and without a doubt someone I’d love to have as a friend. There’s an innate sense of who she is, like she’s lived in her skin before this time and is comfortable with who she is. There’s nothing fake about her. Nothing but truth and a huge heart in the centre of that five foot, ten inch frame. Yeah, she’s an amazon. She comes at you like a mac truck and bowls you over with abandon. And that’s Diane’s style. No compromise. And that’s what makes Diane Neal unique.
My first exposure to Diane’s work came with the third season LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT episode Ridicule as the cold, calculating Amelia Chase, who along with Pamela Adler (Paige Turco) and Sydney Green helped to rape a male stripper (Pete Starrett.) Amelia was not at all like Diane’s counterpart, the ADA to-be-named-later Casey Novak. In fact, she was the exact opposite. Diane playing her to absolute nastiness as she negotiated with then ADA Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) for a plea bargain on the rape and the subsequent murder of Sydney Green. Unfortunately, my attentions were directed to Stephanie’s Alex Cabot at the time to even bother taking notice of the actress playing Amelia. She was just a guest star, that was it.
Somewhere around this same time on a pay television station, I recalled seeing a film called DRACULA II: ASCENSION where Diane played the part of Dr. Elizabeth Blaine, the idee fixe of the venerable count, this time around played by Stephen Billington. Not the star of the film (though she should have been considering the story effectively revolved around her character) but for me, I tuned in due to the talents of Jason Scott Lee (Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) as Father Uffizi, Craig Sheffer (Aaron Boone/Cabal in Clive Barkers Nightbreed) as Elizabeth’s loathesome boyfriend Lowell, and the late Roy Scheider (Martin Brody in Jaws, Joe Gideon in All That Jazz) as Cardinal Siqueros. Again, my attentions were drawn elsewhere and I didn’t put two and two together to know the woman playing Elizabeth, was the very same one who played Amelia Chase. How could I? I wasn’t watching whatshername. I was watching Christopher Meloni, Roy Scheider….
In 2005 at the end of the fouth season, and after four years on SVU, it was announced through that glorious invention called the internet, that Stephanie March would be leaving her role of Alexandra Cabot. When season five began, there was Stephanie March still playing Alex. I’d thought the news announcing her departure were wrong. They didn’t get their facts straight. I was still seeing Stephanie, an actress I’d come to love (we’re both Leos and we share the same July 23rd birthdate) and she was still on the show. Four episodes in, and Alex wasn’t going anywhere…. Loss was episode four. It was about a Columbian drug cartel who’d ordered the murder of an FBI agent and Alex was taking the culprit to trial for his wrongdoing. Lots of drama and action until the last ten nimutes when Alex was ‘killed’. Killed! Then we find out she was very much alive and going off into the Witness Protection Program for an indeterminite period. So it did come true. Alex Cabot was gone.
I tuned into the next episode the week after, hoping that what I’d seen the previous week was a figment of my imagination. But lo and behold, the opening credits showed the addition of someone named Diane Neal. Who this person was, I had no idea. She didn’t look familiar, but I decided to watch Serendipity because it was my show. I loved this show. About twenty minutes in, Detectives Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) where at a doctor’s home, conducting a warranted search of the premises for a drug that had incapacitated a pregnant woman whose baby had been taken from her womb. Benson finds a bottle of something in a pouch along with a syringe and a woman comes in with shoulder-length, curly reddish hair and we find out this IS the new ADA, one Casey Novak. Unimpressed by her I decided at the episode’s end, that would be my final episode of LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT. Nope, can’t get rid of my Alex and stick in this person…whatshername. I wasn’t going to accept her, and I knew that. Better cut my losses while I still could. Click, off went the television and I would find something else to either do or watch on Tuesday nights at ten o’clock. No more SVU.
I should note at this juncture, I’m a creature of extremes. Either I’m too happy, or never happy enough. Crabby kitty and all. I tend to make rash judgements and never follow up on my convictions. Yeah, call me wishy-washy. The dogmatic Leo bends to the Cancarian wisdom in times of great personal failings. So come 2006, I found myself missing my favourite detectives. The uber-sex-on-a-stick Elliot Stabler, and his trusty sidekick Olivia Benson. So bending to the better angels of my tortured soul, I tuned back in to see what was happening on my once favourite show.
The episode was called Poison and one of the guest stars was one of my all-time favourite actors, the incredibly talented Tom Skerritt (Captain Dallas in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi hit Alien.) The story centred around a little adopted girl who’d been abused by her mother, played by Cynthia Gibb (no relation to the Bee Gees.) Skerritt was playing the part of the trial judge, Oliver Taft. I’d seem something on Entertainment Tonight about his guesting on the Monday previous. So I thought this was my reward for tuning back in. Seeing the incomparable talent of Tom Skerritt. Little did I know I’d despise his character with his sexist comment to Ms. Novak about dressing appropirately in his courtroom. The episode featured Casey Novak and her struggle to get Taft recused due to his expartè communication with the defendant. Novak had enlisted the aid of her friend and mentor, Judge Mary Clarke (played by Marlo Thomas) to help her in getting Taft thrown off the bench due to his impartiality as a judge. Throughout their scenes, I thought Marlo was her usual excellent self, but there was something about this Diane Neal that was different from the Diane Neal I’d seen in Serendipity. It was how she was holding her own against Thomas, and doing a reasonably good job at it…. But come the end of the episode, I was totally blown away by this whatshername Diane Neal. Whatshername had earned my respect in the final showdown with Judge Taft who’d been called as a prosecution witness to the murder trial of the mother. And the confrontation was explosive. Not so from Skerritt who was as always excellent, but in the chops of whatshername who was going toe-to-toe with Skerritt, even surpassing him in the sheer drive and conviction she was putting into her scenes. My hasty, first blush reaction to whatshername had been wrong. Whatshername had a name. And that name was Diane Neal.
This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened to me. The ‘starting out disliking with a passion the newbie and longing for the previous one to come back’ kind of thing. I’d had a similar reaciton to actress Tamara Braun (Carly Corinthos #2 on the soap opera General Hosptial.) Like Diane, I’d made the same rash judgement of Tamara. Determined she wasn’t her predecessor and tuned out in spite of loving the show. My initial dislike of Diane stemmed from my refusal to accept the departure of Stephanie March. I so loved Alex, I couldn’t think of anyone else filling her pumps. During the ensuing weeks, I watched till the end of the season, then watched the reruns during the summer to bone up for season six. By the episode Night I was in full bloom of my Diane love. She’d earned her place in the show and my undying devtion as one of her numerous fans, loving the drive and determination she put into Casey’s dedication in finding justice for the victims of sexual crimes. Even moreso, I’d come to respect Diane, having found out she’d quit smoking. Diane’s work for American Legacy Foundation, a foundation set up to help women stop smoking. Did I happen to mention Diane is my hero? We also share something in common. We’re both named Diane. Though mine has a double ‘n’. Doesn’t matter though, I love her anyway.
Season nine of SVU marked a turning point for the show. It added Canadian actor Adam Beach as Detective Chester Lake, formerly of Brooklyn SVU, Lake had transferred to Manhattan in the aftermath of the Darius Parker trial from Screwed, finale of season eight. Beach had been hired mostly as a love interest for my Casey and I couldn’t have been happier. Their flirtatious glances the previous year in Outsider showed me what to expect from these two solid Scorpios. Lots of heat. Lots of steam, and hopefully, a sex scene or two. Throughout the first half of season nine, I was thoroughly amazed at Diane’s coming of age in the role of Casey Novak. The first few episodes of the season, Alternate, Avatar, Impulsive, Harm, Svengali, and Blinded were some of the most powerful Novak-centred episodes I’d seen. The show having delved a few too many times into Olivia Benson’s background and trials and tribulations and forcing Casey back to the back, it was so heartening to see Diane emerge as a solid character in her own right. Come December and the Writer’s Guild strike, I thought when the show came back, there was nowhere for it to go but up. And I’d hoped we’d finally get to see those sparks between Casey and Lake. Sparks that had so far, not manifested themselves.
Writer’s Strike over, came the news that Jesse L. Martin would be leaving the mothership, LAW & ORDER having played Detective Eddie Green for nine years. Then the devastating news that Diane had been fired from SVU. Then on her heels, Adam Beach. Three strikes and my devotion to the LAW & ORDER franchise was done. Dick Wolf had finally done something I thought impossible after finding Diane Neal, and that was to make me stop watching both shows simultaneously. I was done. Finito. My nine year devotion to SVU was over. It was announced over the summer of 2008 that actress Michaela McManus would be the ‘new’ girl, ADA Kim Grayleck, but for me, I couldn’t have cared less. The same thing that happened with Diane and my fortuitiveness of turning back in to find her, would not be repeated with Ms. McManus. Diane Neal was an established part of the show. The longest running ADA of all the franchises. She’d outlasted Paul Robinette (Richard L. Brooks), Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessey), Jamie Ross (Carey Lowell), Abby Charmichael (Angie Harmon), Serena Sotherlyn (Elisabeth Röhm), Alexandra Borgia (Annie Parisse), Connie Rubirosa (Alana de la Garza), Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) … and dammit, deserved more consideration than she’d been given. Novak’s exit story would be for violating the Brady act. She would be dismissed pending a hearing from The Bar for a possible disbarrment. Her shame being compounded by the news coming from her longtime mentor, Judge Elizabeth Donnelley (Judith Light.) One of the dumbest exits in the franchise this side of Serena’s revelation she was a lesbian. I had to ask myself how many times Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) or Alex Cabot had flouted caselaw and only received a scratch from the bar or from Adam Schiff (Steven Hill), Nora Lewin (Dianne Weist), or Arthur Branch (Fred Dalton Thompson.) Yet this was Casey’s exit story. Lame and unnecessary.
Now going into SVU‘s eleventh season and stars Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay close to signing on the dotted line, comes news from series co-executive producer, Neal Baer that, “Well, she [Casey] was disbarred for a year but as I said, life is unpredictable.” Which could mean Diane may be back as Casey. However, this webmaster is not holding her breath. I’ll wait until I sees them to believes them. Until that time, I’ll enjoy the work Diane has done since her ex from LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT one year ago.
For me, Diane Neal is here to stay. At least I hope she is. She’s a special person inside and out, and that shines through any and everything she does. From her love for her husband, Marcus Fitzgerald, and her two pooches, Father Ted Fitzgerald and Winnie Rosenbaum, Diane continues to prove to me why this website is not a waste of time. In fact, it’s a labour of love. And that is solely because of the exceptional spirit of Diane Neal. You know, whatshername.
DIANNE B. DEE
07 JUNE 2009