When “Law & Order” debuted in 1990, everyday New Yorkers were thrilled to often see their local grocery store, favorite restaurant or neighborhood block featured in an episode. Filmed on the streets of the city, “Law & Order” location watching became as much a local pastime as celebrity sightings.
Portraying many “ripped from the headlines,” real-life stories jam-packed with action and emotion, the iconic crime drama has been responsible for more television spin-offs than Coney Island’s Electro Spin ride. It also broke television ground by successfully focusing the first half of each show on the detectives assigned to a case, typically a homicide, and the second half on the prosecutors trying to get a conviction. The show highlighted the intricate technicalities of the legal process and relationships between various arms of the law, as well as those intimately involved in the process. Starting each episode with the tag line, “These are their stories,” the show portrayed very human, very New York dramas.
Not Just Another Pretty Face
With an emphasis on gritty realism instead of celebrities, “Law & Order” ran for an astonishing 20 seasons and went through many cast changes during that time. Comprised of consummate professionals incredibly suited to their roles, some of the longest-standing cast members included Steven Hill in the role of surly District Attorney Adam Schiff and Jerry Orbach as the quintessential cop’s cop, Detective Lennie Briscoe. Ruggedly handsome Chris Noth, who would achieve notoriety in later years on “Sex and the City,” played moody, womanizing Detective Mike Logan. Other regulars included S. Epatha Merkerson as cool-headed Lieutenant Anita Van Buren and beloved character actor, Paul Sorvino, as Logan’s partner in the squad. Several years into the series, it was determined that more women were needed in the ensemble cast. Some of the regulars included Carolyn McCormick as police psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Olivet and Jill Hennessy as Assistant District Attorney Claire Kincaid.
The Emmy Award winning NBC series was wildly popular with viewers, spawning cross-over episodes from other shows and multiple spin-off shows including cerebral “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and visceral “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” A television movie, “Exiled: A Law & Order Movie,” revived Chris Noth’s character and was well received by critics and fans. Several video games featured many of the most popular stars of the show and followed the format and plot lines of the series. The “Law & Order” franchise managed by creator and television producer Dick Wolf represents over 1,000 hours of programming content.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.