Law & Order
- "Law and order" redirects here. For the political term, see Law and order (politics).
|Law & Order|
|Run time||1 hour per episode|
|Starring|| (current cast)|
S. Epatha Merkerson
Fred Dalton Thompson
|Original run|| September 13, 1990 –|
|No. of episodes||348, as of May 11, 2005; 349, as of May 18, 2005|
Table of contents
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.
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 both the "Doink, Doink" or "Chink, Chink" 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 (1990–2000) as District Attorney Adam Schiff, Jerry Orbach (1992–2004) as Detective Lennie Briscoe, S. Epatha Merkerson (1993–present) as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, and Sam Waterston (1994–present) as Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy.
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.
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).
The show's popularity has resulted in the creation of three other television dramas under the same brand: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999), Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001), and Law & Order: Trial by Jury (2005). While the former two shows focus more on the police side of a case, the latter focuses almost entirely on courtroom drama.
- 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).
It's also noted that each spinoff has at least one character from the original show: Dann Florek reprises his role as Capt. Donald Cragen on SVU since 1999, Fred Thompson plays DA Arthur Branch on both Trial by Jury and the original, 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.
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 lawyers with "Order". The regular characters have been:
- The older cop
- The younger cop
- The police captain/Lieutenant
- The Executive Assistant District Attorney (formerly Chief Assistant District Attorney)
- The Assistant District Attorney
- Richard Brooks – ADA Paul Robinette (1990–1993, Season 1 – 3)
- Jill Hennessy – ADA Claire Kincaid (1993-1996, Season 4 – 6)
- Carey Lowell – ADA Jamie Ross (1996-1998, Season 7 – 8)
- Angie Harmon – ADA Abbie Carmichael (1998-2001, Season 9 – 11)
- Elisabeth Röhm – ADA Serena Southerlyn (2001-2005, Season 12 – 15)
- Annie Parisse – ADA Alexandra Borgia (2005-present, Season 15 – Present)
- The District Attorney ² ³
- 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.
- ³ Throughout the entire series, there are only 2 known scenes in which the District Attorney shares a scene with a cop. The first time was Adam Schiff and Anita Van Buren in Sweeps and the second one was Adam Schiff and Don Cragen in part 1 of the SVU crossover Entitled. The District Attornies (Schiff, Levin and Branch) have shared scenes with guest stars, though.
Recurring supporting cast
For a brief period, Carolyn McCormick also had star billing as a psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Olivet. 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.
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 .
- Jerry Orbach played a defense lawyer in the second season before returning to the show in his signature role of Detective Lennie Briscoe, who intensely dislikes defense lawyers for protecting the "scum of the earth."
- S. Epatha Merkerson appeared on season 1's "Mushrooms" (1991) as the mother of a young teenager before becoming a regular as Lt. Anita Van Buren.
- Annie Parisse also appeared in the season 12 (2002) episode "Attorney Client" as Jasmine Blake before she assumed the role of Assistant District Attorney Alexandria Borgia in season 15's "Fluency" (2005).
- Michael Imperioli appeared in the season 6 episode "Atonement" as Johnny Stivers before going on to play Det. Nick Falco in season 15.
- Richard Belzer was featured in several Homicide: Life on the Street/Law & Order crossovers before being cast in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
- Ice-T had a small supporting role as Seymour Stockton in Exiled: A Law & Order Movie before joining the cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in season 2.
- Courtney B. Vance appeared in one episode ("Rage") as a stockbroker; currently he plays ADA Ron Carver in the spinoff Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
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.