Joe Fontana (Law & Order)

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Det. Joe Fontana
Law & Order character
Dennis Farina.jpg
First appearance "Paradigm"
Last appearance "Invaders"
Portrayed by Dennis Farina
Time on show 2004–2006
Seasons 15, 16
Credited appearances 46 episodes (L&O)
1 episode (TBJ)
47 episodes (total)
Preceded by Lennie Briscoe
Succeeded by Ed Green
Partner Ed Green
Nick Falco

Detective Joe Fontana is a fictional character portrayed by actor Dennis Farina on NBC's long-running drama series Law & Order.

Character overiew[edit]

The character of Joe Fontana is a homicide detective in the show's 27th Detective Squad of the New York City Police Department. Fontana is portrayed partnered with Det. Ed Green and, for a brief time, with Det. Nick Falco while Green recovers from a gunshot wound. He is commanded by Lt. Anita Van Buren.

The name "Fontana" comes from Homicide: Life on the Street producer Tom Fontana, a close friend of Law & Order producer Dick Wolf.


Detective Fontana's character brings considerable experience from a city other than New York to the world of the show. Hailing from the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago, he was an officer of the Chicago Police Department (as was Farina himself) before coming to New York. He left his posting in Chicago because of conflict with a superior officer, although he refuses to elaborate further. He has never been married. Prior to partnering with Green, Fontana also worked with a homicide squad in The Bronx.

Beside his Chicago experience and background, Fontana's character also lends a noteworthy economic attitude to the depiction of police officers in Law & Order. He is known on the show for his flashy lifestyle — he drives a silver Mercedes-Benz SL500, is fond of impeccably tailored suits, and often carries a 'walking-around' money roll of several thousand dollars. That is initially cause for suspicion with his new coworkers, who wonder how he can afford those expensive things on his salary; however, apparently they are later satisfied of his honesty, though its never explained exactly how he gets such large amounts of money. Fontana's penchant for fancy things even escalates to a character shtick throughout several episodes. On multiple occasions he bemoans job-related damage to expensive articles of clothing. In the episode "License to Kill", he says, "Ugh, there goes a perfectly good pair of Gucci loafers" as he tramples through the snow to investigate for evidence. Although Fontana is shown paying a great deal of attention to his appearance, he does have his limits; in one episode, for example, when he sees a woman who died after having liposuction, he says he would rather go on the South Beach Diet.

Fontana was originally portrayed as having a very dry sense of humor but this made him unpopular with fans, so he was given a more lively one.

Character highlights[edit]

The show's detectives do not get to choose their own partners, and Fontana's working relationships become part of the show's drama. Fontana initially has a rocky start with Green, who is still upset about the retirement of his old partner, Lennie Briscoe. Owing to Fontana's manner and apparent wealth, Green wonders if Fontana is a "wiseguy" (mobster) or a cop. Given time, however, Green warms up to Fontana, and the two establish a strong partnership. Fontana compliments Green on his appearance, and alludes to former partners not being "smooth". Green finds himself caught in the middle of a fight between Fontana and Van Buren more than once. On several occasions, his unabashed style also creates conflicts with Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy.[1] Prior to partnering with Green, Fontana worked with a homicide squad in The Bronx, although the episode "Ghosts" suggests that the Bronx may not have been Fontana's first stop in New York. He never married, claiming that he was too old in 2004.[2]

In 1995, he started a two-year investigation into the murder of 12-year-old Sara Dolan. Convinced that her father was involved, Fontana does not let go of the case until another murderer confesses to the crime. Fontana questioned his original judgment after extensive investigation, leading to the actual killer being convicted after Mr. Dolan testifies in court. Publicly, Fontana claimed to have no regrets about his original belief in Mr. Dolan's guilt because it was reasonable in light of the facts he had during the original investigation. He later visited Mr. Dolan and tries to apologize only to be turned away. At the time, his partner was Detective Sallone, who had died by 2005.[3]

In 2006, he became entangled with his department when he repeatedly dunked a suspect's head into the toilet to force him to tell him where his kidnapped victim was. The evidence thus recovered was nearly thrown out, but thanks to ADA Alexandra Borgia's efforts, Fontana was exonerated and the suspect was found guilty.[4]

Fontana is in touch with his Italian background, keeping a small Italian flag on his desk, next to the flag of Chicago. He mentions traveling to Italy, and is fluent in the Italian language.[5] To gain a witness's trust, he falsely claims to have served in the Vietnam War on several occasions.[6][7]

Fontana from time to time uses the phrase "We're authorized" or "I'm authorized" when dealing with people from whom he needs something (such as medical records or access into a room) and who are hesitant to give him what he wants. It is usually successful and the term became a popular catchphrase associated with the character.

He strongly supported the Iraq War and believed that the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal was blown out of proportion.[8] He enjoyed hunting. During his childhood, he often hunted deer with his uncle.[9]

Fontana carries a Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver as his service weapon. He was the last detective on the show to carry a revolver rather than a semi-automatic pistol (Though Lt. Van Buren carried a revolver from season 3 until series' conclusion). He also one of the few detectives to fire his weapon in the line of duty during an episode.

When questioning witnesses, Fontana insists on respect for his partner and himself. His response to disrespect is an intimidating change of manner, speaking to the person at extremely close range with insults or veiled threats. He considers it insulting to be called a "cop".[10]

Fontana's departure from the show comes when he retires and is replaced by Green as senior detective.


  1. ^ Law & Order episode "Ghosts", originally aired October 5, 2005.
  2. ^ Law & Order episode "The Dead Wives Club", originally aired September 22, 2004.
  3. ^ Law & Order episode "Ghosts", originally aired October 5, 2005.
  4. ^ Law & Order episode "Thinking Makes It So", originally aired March 26, 2006.
  5. ^ Law & Order episode "Cry Wolf", originally aired November 17, 2004.
  6. ^ Law & Order episode "Paradigm", originally aired September 22, 2004.
  7. ^ Law & Order episode "America, Inc.", originally aired March 22, 2006.
  8. ^ Law & Order episode "Paradigm", originally aired September 22, 2004.
  9. ^ Law & Order episode "License to Kill", originally aired February 23, 2005.
  10. ^ Law & Order episode "Locomotion", originally aired May 18, 2005.