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BUFFALO ACTOR ADDS EXTRA HEAT TO 'LAW & ORDER'

The strong season premiere of "Law & Order" (10 tonight, Channel 2) is explosive and hot -- and not just because Buffalo's Jesse L. Martin is introduced as the new detective on the block.

As Benjamim Bratt's replacement, Martin appears instantly at home. His character, Detective Edward Green, is a multifaceted man who tenderly holds a survivor in the opening scene and later becomes dangerously close to losing control when arresting a suspect.

But the issues -- and not the stars -- are really the most vital part of this series. And tonight's subject is a hot one -- guns.

Detective Green (Martin) and his acerbic partner, Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach), get to know each other during an investigation of a mass murder in Central Park by a deranged and frustrated male health care worker. He blames women for his failure to succeed.

The first half-hour ignores Bratt's departure and focuses on Martin's character. Green is a bit of a hothead and glory seeker with connections to the media and other information specialists. The partners don't immediately bond, with Lenny not thrilled by the nickname "Old Spice."

The episode is spiced up in the second half, as District Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) passionately takes on a gun manufacturer more interested in profit than safety.

Though it ends with an unrealistic and frustrating compromise, this involving "Law & Order" aims high and hits its twin targets. It makes a strong case for Martin, as well as for gun control.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

Channel 7's Linda Pellegrino says she still has a year left on her contract to co-host "AM/Buffalo" and isn't sure what she'll do after it expires. She hasn't ruled out returning, if asked. But after 15 years at Channel 7, she is considering other things.

Pellegrino's duties have diminished. She was replaced as the noon weather person by Andy Parker.

"I was disappointed," said Pellegrino. "I had been doing it for years and I continue to fill in."

She said she was told that station research indicated viewers want a meteorologist to deliver weather reports. Channel 7 is giving its audience what it wants -- unless it's short of meteorologists. Then Pellegrino is fine.

Pellegrino said that a foul-up cost her the chance to take meteorology courses this semester at the same Mississippi school that Mike Randall and others attended. She might try next semester. But her plans are obviously up in the air and could be as changeable as the weather. If Channel 7 were to offer a decent contract, her sunny disposition might remain at the station.

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