S. Epatha Merkerson is 70

Isaac Hawkins Hall

Epatha MerkersonThe actor S. Epatha Merkerson played Lieutenant Anita Van Buren in 390 episodes of the long-running procedural Law and Order, from 1993 to 2010. I thought she was very credible in playing someone who had to deal with some added burdens in the workplace. She talked about the wigs she wore for the show.

I got the sense that Alex Trebek was a big fan of hers when she appeared on Celebrity JEOPARDY in 1999.

But she’s done a lot more. Epatha was nominated for two Tony Awards. She was up for Best Actress In A Play in 2008 for Come Back, Little Sheba, and Best Featured Actress In A Play in 1990 for The Piano Lesson.

I did not know that she was Reba in 16 episodes of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, primarily because I never watched the show. Currently, she plays Sharon Goodwin on Chicago Med, a program I’ve watched exactly once.


What I did see her in was the Freedom Tales episode of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., which first aired on February 5, 2019. It reran early in 2022.

One of the most significant findings was that an ancestor of Epatha, Patrick Hawkins, was one of 272 people enslaved by the Jesuit priests of what is now Georgetown University who were sold to two planters in Louisiana in 1838. Money was tight for the educational institution. There’s a pretty good Wikipedia page on the subject.

WETA, the PBS station in DC hosted a screening and discussion of the episode. here’s a five-minute clip. Also, read Sister Melannie Svoboda’s blog.

“Despite her success, Merkerson recounted how she had ‘always wanted to know’ where her family came from. When she asked her grandmother to tell her about their ancestors, her grandmother responded, ‘It’s painful. You don’t need to hear any of this.'” This is not an unusual response.

“The ‘inventory’ compiled by the Jesuits for the sale listed the name of every slave. On the list were five of Patrick Hawkins’ relatives, his wife Letty, his son Peter, and his father Isaac. Georgetown recently renamed the Former Jesuit Residence after Isaac Hawkins following student protests over its original name that honored one of the Jesuits involved in the sale.

“Brought to tears, Merkerson responded, ‘They have names…they have names. They’re not just faceless people.'”


At the end of the episode, S. Epatha Merkerson attended a reunion of the GU272 Descendants Association. “GU272 is dedicated to preserving the memory, commemorating the lives, and restoring the honor of the GU272 enslaved people sold by the Maryland Province Jesuits in 1838 and those who were enslaved before, during, and after the sale by the Society of Jesus. As Descendants, we commit to reconciling our ancestors’ enslavement, reconnecting families, and renewing ties lost.”

Epatha said on the Finding Your Roots episode that maybe she’ll be able to take courses at Georgetown. Implicit was that she should be able to take them for free.

Is network television dead?

Rhimes, Bellasario, and Wolf

law and orderWith all of the streaming, cable, and other options of TV viewing, I’ve wondered if network television is dead. 2021 has brought three MORE hour-long spinoffs of established shows. And the majority of all of these programs are from the same production house.

At least, Young Sheldon (CBS, Fri, 8 pm ET) is a 30-minute comedy replacing Big Bang Theory on the schedule. I’ve never seen it, BTW.


Two or three years ago, I came across a survey of shows that started since 2015 that teens were watching. Much to my surprise, one of the popular selections was Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, Th 9 pm ET), a medical soap opera that started in 2005 by Shonda Rhimes. She’s had some other successful such as Scandal (2012-018), and How to Get Away with Murder (2014-2020), as well as the often terrible Grey’s spinoff. Private Practice (2007-2013).

For the next spinoff, she set Station 19 (ABC, Th 8 pm), a piece about firefighters, in Seattle, just like Grey’s. This allowed more opportunities for crossovers. For instance, Chandra Wilson as Dr. Miranda Bailey has appeared on Station 19 at least a dozen times. Dr. Bailey is married to Dr. Ben Warren, now a firefighter on Station 19, who’s appeared on Grey’s at least 30 times since his character moved from the hospital program.

My daughter began watching Station 19 on her own. Later she learned that Okieriete Onaodowan (Dean Miller) played Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in the original production of the Broadway musical Hamilton, which made her quite excited.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service

She discovered reruns of NCIS (CBS, M, 9 pm, 2003-). It is actually a spinoff of JAG (1995-2005). As the parent, I had to check out what the daughter was watching. It wouldn’t have been my first pick.

It was the vision of Donald P. Bellisario, who often has his protagonists as current or former members of the United States armed forces. Tom Selleck’s character in Magnum, P.I., Jan-Michael Vincent’s character in Airwolf; and Albert “Al” Calavicci in Quantum Leap are some examples.

There is also an NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS, F, 9 pm, 2009-) that my daughter has no interest in. Ditto with NCIS: New Orleans (2014-2021), which just left the CBS schedule. But now there’s an NCIS: Hawai’i (CBS, M, 10 pm, 2021-).

Dick Wolf

The rest of the shows are the aegis of Wolf Films. That is to say, Dick Wolf, the executive producer. The two FBI shows Tuesday nights on CBS, FBI (8 pm, 2018-) and FBI: Most Wanted (10 pm, 2020-) are joined in 2021 by FBI: International (9 pm, ET). “Elite agents of the FBI’s International division as they travel the world with the mission of protecting Americans wherever they may be.” I saw one episode of the eldest show.

Chicago owns NBC Wednesdays. Chicago Med (8 pm, 2015– ), Chicago Fire (9 pm, 2012- NBC), and Chicago P.D. (10 pm, 2014– ). At least once, the stories leaped from one show to the next.

But Wolf is best known for being the executive producer of the Law and Order franchise. The original ran from 1990-2010. I used to watch the Lenny Briscoe (the late Jerry Orbach) seasons. The quirky Criminal Intent (2001-2011) I’ve actually just discovered. There are a few more series.

Special Victims Unit (NBC, Th 9 pm, 1999-) is the longest-running scripted drama on television, surpassing Gunsmoke (1955-1975). The show became a personal issue a couple of summers ago, before COVID when my daughter was watching it at the family timeshare. Her parents had watched it with her at home, but others were less comfortable about her viewing it.

The sound effect

The newest entry in the brand is Organized Crime (NBC, Th 10 pm, 2021-). Despite starring a character who started on SVU, Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, it has a very different feel. It does the famous Chung Chung sound effect exactly once per episode. Having watched it a few times because it crossed over with SVU, I now know that it is a vile program.

Characters are crossing over all of the time in the Wolf universe. And actors on one Wolf show will end up as a different character in another Wolf program. A discussion of those phenomena would be lengthy.

A Dick Wolf quote: “TV is not about ideas. It’s about execution. And writing and casting. That’s why most of TV drama’s biggest stars have been character actors, not romantic leads.” His shows, as well as some of the NCIS line, and Grey’s Anatomy, are constantly available in syndicated reruns, likely more profitable than the latest offering from Netflix.

Performer Lynda Carter turns 70

back to singing

Lynda Carter
Breakfast – from lyndacarter.com

If I ever watched the TV show Wonder Woman, it was by chance. Yet, it was nigh unto impossible for me to have not seen Lynda Carter in that spangled costume in ads, on notebooks, in magazines, usually in her superhero pose.

So I recognized her instantly when I recently saw her in episodes from 2005 of Law and Order, and its spinoff, Special Victims Unit. Her character was NOT heroic. She’s been a working performer for a lot of years.

From Biography: “The youngest of four siblings raised in Arizona, Carter studied performing and by her mid-teens was fronting bands as lead vocalist. Although she qualified for an academic scholarship to attend Arizona State University, Carter opted for a life on the road, touring and performing in venues from the Catskills to Las Vegas.”

She segued into modeling. “Participating in beauty pageants brought the titles of Miss Arizona and then Miss World U.S.A… The pageant titles helped land acting auditions and in 1975 she burst onto television screens as Wonder Woman, and with the role came fame on a global level.”

She married “Hollywood producer and manager Ron Samuels in 1977,” which she describes as “an unfortunate chapter.” They divorced in 1982.

True love

She met attorney Robert Altman – not to be confused with the film director – and married him in 1984. They built a house in Potomac, MD, just outside D.C. They raised their children James (b. 1988) and daughter Jessica (b. 1990) there. Lynda was also “a fundraiser and advocate for causes important to her such as Pro-Choice rights for women, equality for the LGBTQ population and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”

Unfortunately, Robert Altman died in February 2021 at the age of 73 from complications from a medical procedure.

She wrote on her website: “Robert is the love of my life and he always will be. Our 37 years of marriage were an extraordinary gift. We shared the passion I hope everyone is lucky enough to experience in their lifetime. We protected each other and were each other’s champions always.”

She had battled alcoholism in her past. But she’s been sober since 1998.

Like a good mom, she’s using her site to plug her daughter’s 2020 EP No Rules. It includes at least two covers, Spooky (Classics IV) and Sunny Afternoon (The Kinks). Lynda has rekindled her own love of music, and the two women have performed together.

In June 2021, Lynda bought a Florida condo for $15 million

A few months ago, Chuck Miller went gaga over an encounter with the performer.

Here’s to a Wonderful day for Lynda Carter as she turns 70 today.

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