Vincent D'Onofrio and Rita Moreno, <EM>Law & Order: Criminal Intent</EM> Vincent D'Onofrio and Rita Moreno, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

It started with a drive around Lower Manhattan last June. On the eve of the sixth season of NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Tuesdays at 9 pm/ET), star Vincent D'Onofrio told the executive producer he wanted the drama to be "more than just a straight procedural." After 100 episodes spent profiling coldhearted killers, "Vince said, 'Give me something personal to chew on. I want Detective Goren to face deep human emotions,'" says Warren Leight, the producer in the passenger seat that day.

This season, D'Onofrio got his wish. Oscar winner Rita Moreno was cast as Frances Goren, the detective's strong-willed, mentally ill mother who had been a crucial but unseen presence in Robert Goren's life. Her second of three episodes airs this week, when we'll also meet Goren's long-lost brother, Michael, played by Tony Goldwyn. As Leight puts it, "For years we've fleshed out Goren's personal backstory with tincture drops of information. Now it's all coming out." Adds D'Onofrio, "The audience has been waiting for us to explore this material since the beginning."

In the Thanksgiving episode last fall, Goren was called to his mother's hospital bed in a story line that had him juggling a job crisis with one that was far more personal. Frances was battling lymphoma, complicated by a long history of schizophrenia. This week, things get stickier as Goren pushes for her to enter experimental treatment. Meanwhile, brother Michael turns out to be the ne'er-do-well sibling Mom loves more.

"Michael's a screwup, and Frances is at rock bottom, so it's a bit of a misery-loves-company situation," Leight says.

But family drama isn't the only thing wearing Goren down. After the wife of a Ted Haggard-esque televangelist (played by Tom Arnold) is killed, the CI squad suspects the murder may be connected to the preacher's dark secret — an affair with a gay, meth-dealing hustler.

As for how things will turn out with Goren's ailing mom, viewers will simply have to wait. All Moreno will say is, "She's no wallflower, so if she's going, she's not going quietly." Either way, exploring all those dark emotional issues is bound to take the show in a bold new direction. "If it turns out Goren loses his mother, it could liberate him to try new things," Leight says. "He hasn't started a family of his own, and this could spark that. This experience might take him down for a while, but it definitely won't take him under."

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