Ah, Vincent D'Onofrio - you've come a long way since Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket!
I acknowledge there is a lot that can be criticised about the series-begetting-series mentality of television drama, especially in the USA. The lack of imagination that allows Messrs Bruckheimer and Wolf full rein on dominating the US schedules with versions of their hit shows demonstrates a problem at the heart of broadcasting. It doesn't even take a lot of effort to come up with some commentary on the debate about "brands" and "franchises" (see this Scott D. Pierce story from Deseret Morning News, the first functioning link after googling 'opinion CSI franchise'). Nevertheless, I love the original CSI in LV - William Peterson's wonderful characterisation of Gil Grissom is always worth watching. I can also say that CSI: Miami was no where near as bad as Television Without Pity criticised it as being - I actually rather enjoyed David Caruso being put to good use again in American drama (remember his unceremonious dumping from NYPD Blue?) However, Gary Sinese in CSI: New York --- I feel this hits the law of dimishing returns. And it has nothing to do with the quality or reputation of the actors: Sinese has done some fine work, mostly by reputation on the stage.
In terms of Law and Order it does seem there is a difference though. Certainly, I know the show has underdone major shifts since its opening series in 1990 - does anything survive from the early series? The L&O: Special Victims Unit spin-off (started 1999) might not be to everyone's taste: there is something uncomfortable about the focus of all those cases. But it does present a reasonably open moral ambiguity (and anything that rescues the excellently misanthropic paranoia of Det. John Munch from Homocide: Life on the Street has to be a good thing. BTW can I just say, Channel 4: what were you thinking? How could you abandon Homicide: you condemned it to constantly-switching schedule slots at increasingly weird time of the late-night/early morning hours, even on week days?! Shame on you!)
Which brings me to L&O: Criminal Intent. Begun in 2001, I probably like this one the best and that reason is simply down to Vincent: cerebral in the best possible way, Det. Robert Goren, as with Gil Grissom, isn't afraid to wear his brain on his sleeve. I know, I know: its hardly THAT much of a breakthrough, but believe me those of us who treasure reading, intellectual pursuit, and thoughtfulness take our popular culture role models where we can.
And for that, I really enjoy this programme. Cloud noted with glee last night's line about using a library card to analyse a crime: ultimately, for all my love of popular culture, myself and Cloud like people who like books. Not a bad thing?