Law & Order

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"Law and order" redirects here. For the political term, see law and order (politics).

Template:Infobox television

Law & Order is the longest-running primetime drama currently on American television. A police procedural and courtroom drama series, it first screened on the NBC network in 1990 and its success has resulted in the creation additional shows under the Law & Order franchise.

Created by Dick Wolf, award-winning Law & Order is syndicated on other US networks and worldwide.

Law & Order can be seen in the United States on Wednesdays at 10 pm on the NBC network.



The show follows a small team of New York City detectives who investigate a serious crime, usually murder. Generally, about halfway through the hour-long program the focus shifts from the investigation of the crime to the prosecution of the offender, which is always handed over to the same small team of lawyers from the Manhattan District Attorney's office. The two-tiered format of the program is almost identical to a 1960s series entitled Arrest and Trial, although the similarities are considered to be coincidental. Template:Law-and-order The series has a number of distinctive stylistic touches. The show is shot on location in New York, New York and is known for its extensive use of local color - NYC Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg have appeared on the show in recent seasons. The cold open usually shows a slice of New York life unrelated to the main story until the characters in the scene suddenly discover, witness, or become victims of a crime. The scene immediately cuts to the police making a prelimary examination of the crime scene in which the featured detectives make their first observations and theories then make a witty comment before the title sequence begins. Many scenes are preceded with a card indicating the location and date of the events portrayed. Perhaps best known is the musical sting which accompanies scene changes. It has been described as a "dun DUN" sound.

The show's cast of police and lawyers are portrayed as basically honest professionals, very rarely straying from the boundaries of accepted procedure and usually solving crimes by hard slog and attention to detail rather than hunches and personal whimsy. Their private lives are rarely mentioned, and usually only in passing or if they intrude on their work. Perhaps the scenes involving lawyers stray from reality a little more, with a far higher proportion of cases going to trial than in real life (although plea bargaining plays a far greater role than in other series), trial lawyers acting as pseudo-detectives. In contrast to detective shows of the 1950s such as Perry Mason, the protagonists of the program do not always win their cases, and many programs have resolutions in which the case against the offender is won, but justice is still not fully served.

Most Law & Order episodes are self-contained, with only a few exceptions over the many years of production.

Many of the storylines on the show have been widely regarded as thinly-disguised fictionalizations of recent real criminal cases that have been reported in the news media. Some of these episodes are promoted as being “ripped from the headlines.”

Law & Order is noted for its revolving cast: none of the original actors still appear in the series, and many have stayed for a few seasons before moving on. This continual replacing of actors has not appeared to harm the program's popularity. In fact, it has been speculated that this is one of the reasons which contributed to the series' long run. Also, the regular appearance of new faces in the cast has continually changed the show's dynamic, allowing it to effectively reinvent itself repeatedly. The four long-serving exceptions are Steven Hill (19902000) as District Attorney Adam Schiff, S. Epatha Merkerson (1993–present) as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, Sam Waterston (1994–present) as Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy, and Jerry Orbach (19922004) as Detective Lennie Briscoe, the show's longest-serving actor to date.

It is widely believed that the Adam Schiff character was based on real life New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau who still serves in the post, aged 85.

The show's most recent cast changes were announced in 2004 when longtime performer Orbach left the series at the end of Season 14 to star in the spinoff, Law & Order: Trial by Jury. Orbach died shortly after producing the first two episodes after a long battle with prostate cancer. Dennis Farina joined the cast as Detective Joe Fontana in L&O. In addition, Elisabeth Röhm, who played Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn for three and a half years, left the series midway through the 2004-2005 season; her successor is Annie Parisse, who plays ADA Alexandra Borgia. In May 2005, Jesse L. Martin, who plays Detective Ed Green, took time off from the show to film the theatrical version of Rent (reprising his role from the Broadway musical of the same name). Michael Imperioli, playing Detective Nick Falco, came in to finish the last four episodes of the season, although Martin is still part of the cast and will return for the 16th season.

As of 2005, the show runs little to no risk of cancellation in the near future, barring a drop in ratings, leading to speculation that it may reach the record for longest-running American prime time drama, currently held by Gunsmoke (1955-1975).

Related series

The show's popularity has resulted in a Law & Order franchise with the creation of three other television dramas under the same brand: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999), and Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001). These two shows focus more on the police side of a case. A short-lived Law & Order: Trial by Jury (2005), which lasted only 12 episodes, focused almost entirely on courtroom drama, but was pulled off due to low ratings, becoming the first series of the franchise to be cancelled.

The pilot episode "Everybody's Favorite Bagman" was produced for CBS in 1988.

Law & Order crossed over three times with another NBC show, Homicide: Life on the Street (1993):

  • Charm City (L&O ep 6-13)/For God and Country (H:LotS ep 4-12)
  • Baby, it's You Part I (L&O ep 8-6)/Baby, it's You Part II (H:LotS ep 6-5)
  • Sideshow Part I (L&O ep 9-14)/Sideshow Part II (H:LotS ep 7-15)

There was also a TV movie called Exiled: A Law & Order Movie (1998), which featured the fate of Mike Logan (played by Chris Noth), one of the popular characters who departed the series. On 9 February 2005, NBC announced ( that Noth would return in the role of Detective Mike Logan for the 2005-2006 season of Criminal Intent.

The producers have also crafted a reality television series, Crime and Punishment (also sometimes called Law & Order: Crime & Punishment) (2002), which focuses on actual trials. The producers of Law & Order also produced an updated version of the series Dragnet (2003), which was not successful.

In addition, there are series of Law & Order computer games in which the player investigates crimes and then prosecutes the resulting cases.

The format of the series (half investigation/half trial) is nearly identical to an earlier short-lived American series, Arrest and Trial that aired in 1963. Law & Order creator Dick Wolf was reportedly unaware of this when he created his series. Arrest & Trial (2000) is also a series produced by Dick Wolf.

The shows are also noteworthy in that every spinoff uses the same theme music as the original series, albeit with differing arrangements (harder guitars for the Criminal Intent theme, for instance).

Regular cast

Missing image
Law & Order's early season 15 cast, from left, Jesse L. Martin, S. Epatha Merkerson, Dennis Farina, Sam Waterston, Fred Thompson and Elisabeth Rohm.

In keeping with the word "Order" in the show's title and the typical plot sequence of each episode, the show's opening credits identify the police characters with "Law" and the attorneys with "Order". The regular characters have been:

Missing image
Dennis Farina as Det. Joe Fontana and Jesse L. Martin as Det.Ed Green


Missing image
EADA Jack McCoy and ADA Alexandra Borgia



  • ¹ In December 2004, Michael Imperioli was announced as a temporary replacement for Jesse L. Martin for the last four episodes of the 15th season. This is in order to allow Martin to fulfill a movie contract (the film version of Rent); Martin is scheduled to return for the beginning of the 16th season. In the show, Det. Ed Green is wounded in a shootout and takes medical leave in order to recuperate.
  • ² In the pilot episode, the role of DA Alfred Wentworth was played by Roy Thinnes. This is the only time this character has appeared, although Thinnes has returned to the series several times since then, in other roles.

Recurring supporting cast

For a brief period, Carolyn McCormick also had star billing as a psychologist, Elizabeth Olivet, Ph.D. J.K. Simmons's character Emil Skoda later became the staff psychiatrist. There are several other recurring characters, among them John Fiore as Det. Tony Profaci, Lorraine Toussaint as Defense Attorney Shambala Green, Tovah Feldshuh as Defense Attorney Danielle Melnick, Leslie Hendrix as Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers M.D., and Josh Pais as Assistant Medical Examiner Borak.


  • Throughout this series, there are only six known scenes in which the District Attorney shares a scene with a cop:
    • Adam Schiff with Max Greevey and Mike Logan in "The Troubles".
    • Adam Schiff and Anita Van Buren "Sweeps" and "Pride."
    • Adam Schiff and Rey Curtis in "Savages."
    • Adam Schiff and Lennie Briscoe in "Corruption."
    • Arthur Branch and Anita Van Buren in "Gaijin."
    • There are also scenes in which the District Attorney shares scenes with a cop from the Law & Order spinoffs. This has happened at least three times:
      • Adam Schiff and Don Cragen in part 1 of the SVU crossover "Entitled."
      • Nora Lewin and Robert Goren in the Criminal Intent episode "One."
      • Arthur Branch briefly with Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler in the SVU episode "Goliath."
  • Because the show is filmed in New York City and requires a large number of guest stars for each episode, many actors - often from the Broadway stage - return in different roles, often becoming regular cast members:
  • In addition, several actors appeared in episodes before they were well known; Cynthia Nixon, Dylan Baker, Kelli Williams, Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Maura Tierney and Edie Falco are among them.
  • Each spinoff has at least one character from the original show: Dann Florek reprises his role as Capt. Don Cragen on SVU since 1999, Fred Thompson plays DA Arthur Branch on L&O and, for a short time, Trial by Jury, and Chris Noth will reprise his role as Mike Logan on Criminal Intent. In addition, when Jerry Orbach died, he was playing Det. Lennie Briscoe, his signature role from the original, in Trial by Jury.
  • The show's format generally never changes, and part of that format forbids delving too much into the private lives of the recurring characters. A notable exception was the 1996 episode "Aftershock" which abandoned the usual formula in favor of a story focusing on a day in the life of Jack McCoy, Claire Kincaid, Lennie Briscoe, Rey Curtis, and Anita Van Buren that begins with them witnessing an execution and follows them as they question the decisions they have made both professionally and personally. Spoiler warning. The episode includes strong indications suggesting that Jack and Claire are having an affair (subtle signs of which were present in previous episodes; the affair was confirmed in a later episode). It ends with Claire's vehicle being hit by a drunk driver and the ADA being fatally injured (though her death would not be confirmed until the next season).

See also

External links

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