Chris Noth, <EM>Law & Order: Criminal Intent</EM> Chris Noth, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Inhabitants of Gotham City can breathe a sigh of relief. Their crooked corners have been wiped clean thanks to the efforts of one of their favorite crime fighters. No, not the dude who sports the bat suit. And definitely not the guy with that flapping red cape, either. It is, in fact, the man who dons the plaid ties. That's right, Detective Mike Logan, now working as a player in the Major Case Squad, is back, as NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent returns for a sixth season (tonight at 9 pm/ET).

Chris Noth, who brought Logan to life at the onset of Law & Order in 1990, broke case after case until his departure from the franchise-starter in '95. During his time away from the station, Noth worked alongside Sarah Jessica Parker to create this millennium's most beloved star-crossed couple, Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big. In 2005, Noth reported back to L&O scion Dick Wolf's universe after NBC announced a rather unusual arrangement where CI's current on-screen team  Vincent D'Onofrio (Detective Robert Goren) and Kathryn Erbe (Detective Alexandra Eames)  would split airtime with Noth and his respective partner.  

A constant target of the paparazzi and gossip slingers, Noth was unfazed by "inside" reports alleging friction between him and D'Onofrio during their first season together. "I don't  and never did  view [the series' setup] as a competition. I'm not counting rating points on my side," says the actor who has starred in over 20 movies, in addition to enjoying a Broadway run in Gore Vidal's revival of The Best Man.

As is always the case in Hollywood, once one headline cools, another heats up. When CI premieres its sixth season, Logan will have a new partner: Detective Megan Wheeler (played by Julianne Nicholson, of Wolf's short-lived "charactercedural," Conviction). The replacement effectively kills the repertee between Logan and Detective Carolyn Barek (The Sopranos' Annabella Sciorra), a union hailed by both critics and viewers as an instant click. When the subject of the swap is broached, Noth leans back in his chair as he sizes up this reporter and ultimately decides to talk: "I think Annabella's work comes from very character-based movies and television, so it becomes particularly hard if you don't know what you're going into [on L&O]," he offers. "I think she felt suffocated by the lack of character exploration."

Even Noth himself admits to "struggling" somewhat during his first season on CI. "I couldn't relate to the jumps in the story lines. It was hard for me to make it real," he shares with a sigh. However he did manage to make it work, and possesses even higher hopes for Logan and Wheeler's forthcoming dance. "I'm very happy that we are going to get to more of their relationship as partners."

Noth may not be a native New Yorker, but thanks to starring in projects like L&O and Sex and the City, where the city shares top billing, many can't help but consider him a permanent fixture in it. In fact, the 6-foot-2 leading man contributes to Manhattan's economy in every way, whether it be assuming the role of resident or businessman, as co-owner of the popular lounge the Cutting Room. Such a venture affords him a certain element of cool, but Noth downplays the benefit. "I love music, so we have live acts and a great jukebox  that was my contribution," he says. "It's sort of just for fun."

What made Noth's playlist? "There's a bunch of eclectic stuff. A bit of Tupac." What is the prince of "thug life" doing on the jukebox of a self-proclaimed "rock 'n' roll" lover? "Tupac is the only rapper on my jukebox," Noth laughs. "To me, he was a special person. A poet. Dear Mama' is one of my favorites."

Noth's praise of Tupac isn't the only discovery of the day. Often labeled as mercurial, the actor doesn't appear to pose much of a threat in the flesh.  When asked about the allegations, Noth mockingly asks: "Me? Cranky?"

The sly grin is the actor's own way of acknowledging said flaw. Throughout our talk, Noth doesn't leap for the throat or gauge out eyes. He is, in fact, quite pleasant. His home is filled with books ranging in subject matter from philosophy to politics, and Noth, too, is well versed in both. He is tight-lipped when it comes to his personal life, but one can't blame him, given the price he's been made to pay for choosing to live the life of your not-so-average New Yorker.

"The gossip doesn't really bother me if I read blatant bulls---. Like when some paper says I was somewhere when I wasn't." In other words, whereas Noth is often pegged as a regular of the New York nightlife, "I don't go to nightclubs," he counters. "I can't stand the music, and I can't have a conversation."

Titillating headlines aside, he refuses to stop living, especially in a city he is doing everything in his power to preserve. "New York [these days] looks like a suburb. It has lost a lot of its character, to my great regret," he observes. "If you really open your eyes, beautiful gems are getting torn down. Greedy owners build up these condos and they all look like boxes."

Who does he consider the city's worst offender? "[Drugstore chain] Duane Reade," he responds, before adding with a laugh, "It's the most inhuman place on earth."

Beware: The man with the plaid tie is on the prowl.

For the scoop on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and 98 other returning shows, pick up the Sept. 18 issue of TV Guide.

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