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Law & Order

This article is about the original television series. For its spin-offs, see Law & Order (franchise). For other uses, see Law and Order (disambiguation).

Law & Order
Created by Dick Wolf
Theme music composer Mike Post
Opening theme Theme of Law & Order
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 20
No. of episodes 456 (list of episodes)
Location(s) New York City, New York
Running time 40–48 minutes
Production company(s)
Distributor NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original channel NBC
Picture format
Original release September 13, 1990 (1990-09-13) – May 24, 2010 (2010-05-24)
Related shows Law & Order franchise

Law & Order is an American police procedural and legal drama television series, created by Dick Wolf and part of the Law & Order franchise. It originally aired on NBC and, in syndication, on various cable networks. Law & Order premiered on September 13, 1990, and completed its 20th and final season on May 24, 2010. At the time of its cancellation, Law & Order was the longest-running crime drama on American primetime television. Its record of 20 seasons is a tie with Gunsmoke for the longest-running live-action scripted American prime-time series with ongoing characters, although it had fewer episodes than Gunsmoke, and both series are surpassed by the animated series The Simpsons.

Set and filmed in New York City, the series follows a two-part approach: the first half-hour is the investigation of a crime (usually murder) and apprehension of a suspect by New York City Police Department homicide detectives; the second half is the prosecution of the defendant by the New York County Manhattan District Attorney's Office. Plots are often based on real cases that recently made headlines, although the motivation for the crime and the perpetrator may be different.

The show has been noted for its revolving cast over the years. Among the longest-running main cast members were Steven Hill as District Attorney Adam Schiff, Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe, S. Epatha Merkerson as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren and Sam Waterston as Executive Assistant District Attorney (later District Attorney) Jack McCoy.

The success of the series has led to the creation of additional shows, making Law & Order a franchise, with also a television film, several video games, and international adaptations of the series. It has won and has been nominated for numerous awards over the years, including a number of Emmy Awards. On May 14, 2010, NBC announced that it had canceled Law & Order and would air the final episode on May 24, 2010.[1][2][3][4] Immediately following the show's cancellation, Wolf stated that he was attempting to find a new home for the series and would also consider a "last resort" plan to conclude the show with a two-hour TV film to air on NBC.[5] In July 2010, however, he indicated that those attempts had failed and declared that the series had now "moved to the history books".[6]

However, in February 2015 rumors started that NBC was planning to bring the series back for 10 episodes.[7] In May 2015, former star Sam Waterston (EADA/DA Jack McCoy) announced to The Hollywood Reporter that he supports and would join a revival of Law & Order, saying quote; "You're darn right. Sure, I'd love it. Got to break the record."[8] Creator Dick Wolf has expressed wanting to use a L&O revival to do a 'ripped from the headlines' story-line surrounding the murder trial of Robert Durst, Wolf said "[Of all my past projects] I'd bring back Law & Order. Everybody who knows me knows it's something I want to do," he continued, "my only regret looking backward is all the great stories that we haven't been able to do for the past five years."[9]


History and development

In 1988, Dick Wolf developed a concept for a new television series that would depict a relatively optimistic picture of the American criminal justice system. He initially toyed with the idea of calling it Night & Day but then hit upon the title Law & Order. The first half of each episode would follow two detectives (a senior and a junior detective) and their commanding officer as they investigate a violent crime. The second half of the episode would follow the District Attorney's Office and the courts as two prosecutors, with advice from the District Attorney himself, attempt to convict the accused. Through this, Law & Order would be able to investigate some of the larger issues of the day by focusing on stories that were based on real cases making headlines.[10]

Wolf took the idea to then-president of Universal Television Kerry McCluggage, who pointed out the similarity to a 1963 series titled Arrest and Trial, which lasted one season. The two watched the pilot of that series, in which a police officer (Ben Gazzara) arrested a man for armed robbery in the first half, and the defense attorney, played by Chuck Connors gets the perpetrator off as the wrong guy in the second half; this was the formula of the show every week. Wolf decided that, while his detectives would occasionally also be fallible, he wanted a fresh approach to the genre, to go from police procedural to prosecution with a greater degree of realism. In addition, the prosecution would be the hero, a reversal of the usual formula in lawyer dramas.[11]

Initially, Fox ordered thirteen episodes based on the concept alone, with no pilot. Then-network head Barry Diller reversed the decision. Although he loved the idea, he didn't believe it was a "Fox show". Wolf then went to CBS, which ordered a pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman", written by Wolf about corrupt city officials involved with the mob. The network liked the pilot but did not order it because there were no breakout stars. In the summer of 1989, NBC's top executives, Brandon Tartikoff and Warren Littlefield, screened the pilot and liked it; but they were concerned the intensity of the series could not be repeated week after week.[11] However, by 1990, NBC executives had enough confidence that the innovative show could appeal to a wide audience that they ordered the series for a full season.[12]


The series was shot on location in New York City and is known for its extensive use of local color.[13][14] In later seasons, New York City mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, attorney William Kunstler and Bronx Congressman José Serrano all appeared on the show as themselves. Local personalities also had recurring cameos as fictional characters, such as Donna Hanover and Fran Lebowitz as judges. On September 14, 2004, in New York City, a road leading to Pier 62 at Chelsea Piers (where the series was mostly shot) was renamed "Law & Order Way" in tribute to the series.[15]

Music and sound effects

Audio samples of Law & Order  (media help)

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The music for Law & Order was composed by veteran composer Mike Post, and was deliberately designed to be minimalist to match the abbreviated style of the series.[16] Post wrote the theme song using electric piano, guitar, and clarinet.[17] In addition, scene changes were accompanied by a tone generated by Post. He refers to the tone as "The Clang," while Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker has referred to the sound as the "ominous chung CHUNG",[16] actor Dann Florek (in a promo) as the "doink doink",[18] and Richard Belzer as "the Dick Wolf Cash Register Sound."[19] The tone moves the viewer from scene to scene, jumping forward in time with all the importance and immediacy of a judge's gavel – which is exactly what Post was aiming for when he created it. "The Clang" is an amalgamation of nearly a dozen sounds, including an actual gavel, a jail door slamming, and five hundred Japanese monks walking across a hardwood floor.[16][20][21][22] The sound has become so associated with the Law & Order brand that it was also carried over to other series of the franchise.[21]

The UK-aired Channel Five versions of Law & Order[23] and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit[24] feature the song "I'm Not Driving Anymore" by Rob Dougan in the opening credits. Another Rob Dougan track, "There's Only Me", is used as the theme for Law & Order: Criminal Intent.[25]

Casting and characters

Name Portrayed by Occupation Seasons
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Max Greevey George Dzundza Senior Detective (Sergeant) Main
Mike Logan Chris Noth Junior Detective Main
Donald Cragen Dann Florek Captain Main Guest Guest Guest
Ben Stone Michael Moriarty Executive Assistant
District Attorney
Paul Robinette Richard Brooks Assistant District Attorney Main Guest Guest
Adam Schiff Steven Hill District Attorney Main
Phil Cerreta Paul Sorvino Senior Detective (Sergeant) Main
Elizabeth Olivet Carolyn McCormick Psychologist Guest Also Starring Guest Guest Guest
Lennie Briscoe Jerry Orbach Senior Detective Main
Anita Van Buren S. Epatha Merkerson Lieutenant Main
Claire Kincaid Jill Hennessy Assistant District Attorney Main
Jack McCoy Sam Waterston Executive Assistant
District Attorney,
District Attorney
Rey Curtis Benjamin Bratt Junior Detective Main Guest
Jamie Ross Carey Lowell Assistant District Attorney Main Guest
Abbie Carmichael Angie Harmon Assistant District Attorney Main
Ed Green Jesse L. Martin Junior Detective,
Senior Detective
Nora Lewin Dianne Wiest District Attorney Main
Serena Southerlyn Elisabeth Röhm Assistant District Attorney Main
Arthur Branch Fred Thompson District Attorney Main
Joe Fontana Dennis Farina Senior Detective Main
Nick Falco Michael Imperioli Junior Detective Main Guest
Alexandra Borgia Annie Parisse Assistant District Attorney Main
Nina Cassady Milena Govich Junior Detective Main
Connie Rubirosa Alana de la Garza Assistant District Attorney Main
Cyrus Lupo Jeremy Sisto Junior Detective,
Senior Detective
Michael Cutter Linus Roache Executive Assistant
District Attorney
Kevin Bernard Anthony Anderson Junior Detective Main
Cast of Law & Order
Season 1 (1990-91), from left: George Dzundza, Michael Moriarty, Chris Noth and Richard Brooks
Season 2 (1992–93), from left: Paul Sorvino, Moriarty, Noth and Brooks (This was also initially the cast of Season 3, until Sorvino left mid-way through the season and was replaced by Jerry Orbach)
Season 6 (1995-96), from left: Benjamin Bratt, Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach and Jill Hennessy (This was the first cast line-up to not feature any of the originals, aside from Steven Hill)
Seasons 7-8 (1996-98), from left: Bratt, Orbach, Waterston and Carey Lowell (This was the first cast line-up to last more than one full season of the series)
Seasons 19-20 (2008-10), from left: Anthony Anderson, Alana de la Garza, Linus Roache and Jeremy Sisto (This was also the cast at the end of Season 18, after Anderson replaced Jesse L. Martin)

For the 1988 pilot, George Dzundza and Chris Noth were cast as the original detectives, Sergeant Max Greevey and Mike Logan.[26] The producers felt that Dzundza would be a perfect senior police officer as he was someone the producers felt they could see themselves riding along with in a police cruiser.[27] Noth and Michael Madsen were candidates for the role of Logan. Madsen initially was considered the perfect choice for the role, but, in a final reading, it was felt that Madsen's acting mannerisms were repetitive, and Noth received the role instead.[28] Rounding out the police cast, Dann Florek was cast as Captain Donald Cragen.[26]

On the prosecutor's side, Michael Moriarty was Dick Wolf's choice to play Executive Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone. The network, however, preferred James Naughton, but, in the end, Wolf's choice would prevail, and Moriarty received the role.[26] As his ADA, Richard Brooks and Eriq La Salle were being considered for the role of Paul Robinette. The network favored La Salle but, once again, the producers' choice prevailed, and Brooks received the role.[29] As their boss, Roy Thinnes was cast as District Attorney Alfred Wentworth.[26]

Nearly two years passed between the pilot and production of the series. The producers held options on Dzundza, Noth, Moriarty and Brooks. Each was paid holding money for the additional year and brought back. Florek also returned. Thinnes, however, was starring in Dark Shadows and declined to return. In his place, the producers tapped Steven Hill to play District Attorney Adam Schiff,[29] a character loosely based on real-life New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Hill brought prestige and experience to the show and, as such, the producers allowed Hill to give insight on the direction he thought the character should go.[30]

Dzundza was disappointed when he realized that the show would be more of an ensemble show rather than a show starring him. Though the cast liked his performance, they increasingly felt uncomfortable around Dzundza, who was also under stress due to the constant commute between New York City and his home in Los Angeles. Dzundza quit after only one season on the show, and Sergent Greevey was written off as being killed in the line of duty.[31] He was replaced by Paul Sorvino as Sergeant Phil Cerreta, who was considered more even tempered than either Max Greevey or Mike Logan. Sorvino was initially excited about the role, but would leave mid-way through the next season, citing the exhausting schedule demanded by the filming of the show, a need to broaden his horizons, and the desire to preserve his vocal cords for singing opera as reasons for leaving the show (Sergent Cerreta was written off as being shot in the line of duty and transferring to a desk job at another precinct).[32]

Also introduced on a recurring basis during Season 2 was Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet, a police psychologist brought in on a case-by-case basis. NBC had been pushing for the producers to add female characters to the all male cast.[33] She was added to the opening credits as "also starring" in Season 3 and 4[34] but, despite the attempts of the producers to include her in as many episodes as possible, it was found to be difficult to incorporate her into the show due to the format leaning heavily on the police and prosecutors.[33] She was removed from the credits in Season 5.[34] McCormick stayed with the show on a recurring basis, but believed that the character had become less profound and complex, and that her role had been reduced mostly to "psychobabble." She left to star on Cracker after Season 7.[35] After the cancellation of Cracker, she returned beginning in Season 13 and appeared occasionally until Season 20.[36]

Jerry Orbach was initially hesitant about starring in an hour-long drama after witnessing the exhausting effect it had on his friend David Janssen on The Fugitive, but changed his mind as he got older. He was first introduced to Law & Order by his wife Elaine, a fan of the show since its first season, which led to him guest starring as a defense attorney in the Season 2 episode "The Wages of Love".[37] Wolf was so impressed with Orbach's performance in the guest role that he subsequently cast Orbach as the new senior detective of the series, following Sorvino's departure during Season 3; giving him the role of Detective Lennie Briscoe.[37] Orbach's characterization of the world-weary, wisecracking Detective Briscoe was based on a similar NYPD character he portrayed in the 1981 film Prince of the City, which Wolf was a fan of and had personally requested Orbach to replicate for the show.[37]

By the end of Season 3, NBC executives still felt the show did not have enough female characters. On the orders of then-network president Warren Littlefield, new female characters had to be added to the cast or the show would face possible cancellation on its relegated Friday night time slot. Wolf realized that, since there were only six characters on the show, someone had to be fired. He chose Florek and Brooks, and later said it was the hardest two phone calls he had ever made. Though producers initially claimed the firings, especially Brooks', who was said not to get along with Moriarty, were for other reasons, Wolf confirmed that the firings were on the orders of Littlefield.[38] To replace Florek, S. Epatha Merkerson was cast as new squad leader Lieutenant Anita Van Buren.[39] Merkerson had previously guest starred as a mother of a gunshot victim in the Season 1 episode "Mushrooms". To replace Brooks, Jill Hennessy was cast as Assistant District Attorney Claire Kincaid. Though no initial explanation was given on the show for the departures of Florek and Brooks' characters, they would both later return in guest appearances (with Captain Cragan now working for the Internal Affairs Bureau and ADA Robinette having become a defense attorney). Florek also returned to direct a few episodes.[40]

Meanwhile, Moriarty's behavior both on and off the set became problematic for Wolf. After a public statement in which Moriarty called Attorney General Janet Reno a "psychopathic Nazi" for her efforts to censor television violence, Moriarty engaged in a verbal confrontation with Reno at a dinner in Washington, D.C. Wolf asked Moriarty to tone down his comments, and Moriarty responded by quitting the show the next week. The final storyline for Ben Stone involved him resigning over guilt after a woman he compelled to testify against a Russian mobster was murdered by his cohorts. To replace Moriarty, Sam Waterston was Wolf's first choice for the role of Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy. Waterston's character was markedly different from Moriarty's in that Jack McCoy was conceived as more emotionally stable and having more sex appeal.[41]

Wolf fired Noth when his contract expired at the end of Season 5, because he felt that Lennie Briscoe and Mike Logan were too similar to each other and the writers were having difficulty in writing their dialogue together. Furthermore, Noth had been disgruntled with the show since the firings of Florek and Brooks, and remained embittered against Wolf, who he felt was not a friend to his actors. The final story line for Detective Logan involved him being banished to work on Staten Island in a domestic violence crimes unit as punishment for punching a city council member who had orchestrated the murder of a gay colleague and had managed to get acquitted of the charges. Noth was replaced by Benjamin Bratt as Detective Rey Curtis, who was hired in an attempt to find an actor even sexier than Noth to join the cast.[42]

Hennessy chose not to renew her three-year contract at the end of Season 6 to pursue other projects, and Claire Kincaid was written off as being killed in a drunk driving accident.[43] She was replaced by Carey Lowell as Assistant District Attorney Jamie Ross. Lowell remained with the show until the end of Season 8, when she left to spend more time with her daughter (Jamie Ross was written off as leaving the D.A.'s office for similar reasons).[44] Lowell (who later returned for a couple guest appearances) was replaced by Angie Harmon as Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael, who was conceived as being much louder and outspoken than any of her predecessors. Harmon auditioned with 85 other women, including Vanessa Williams, for the role, and was picked after Wolf heard her Texas accent.[45]

Bratt left the series at the end of Season 9, stating it was an amicable departure and he expected to eventually return for guest appearances (he ultimately returned for the Season 20 episode "Fed"). Detective Curtis was written off as leaving the force in order to take care of his wife, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, in her final days.[46] He was replaced by Jesse L. Martin as Detective Ed Green, who was conceived of as more of a loose cannon in the mold of Mike Logan than Rey Curtis was.[47] In 2000, Hill announced he was leaving the series after Season 10. Hill, who was the last remaining member of the original cast, said his departure was mutual with the producers. He was replaced by Dianne Wiest as Interim District Attorney Nora Lewin, and Adam Schiff was written out off-screen as depating to work with Jewish charities and human-rights organizations in Europe.[48]

The following year, Harmon left the show after three seasons (with Abbie Carmichael written off as being called on to serve the U.S. Attorney's office) and was replaced by Elisabeth Röhm as Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn.[49] The year after that, Wiest left the show after two seasons and was replaced by retiring U.S. Senator Fred Thompson as District Attorney Arthur Branch, whose character was conceived of as being much more right-leaning than his predecessors in the DA's office, and was a direct reaction to the September 11 attacks.[50] No mention was made on the show of what happened to Nora Lewin, though producers said her character was only supposed to be an interim DA

After twelve years on Law & Order, Orbach announced in March 2004 that he was leaving the show at the end of Season 14 for the spin-off series Law & Order: Trial by Jury. Lennie Briscoe was written off as retiring from the NYPD and later taking a position as an investigator for the DA's office. He was replaced at the 27th Precinct by Detective Joe Fontana, played by Dennis Farina.[51] At the time, Orbach would not state the reason for his departure,[51] but it was eventually revealed that he had been battling prostate cancer (for over 10 years) and that his role on Trial by Jury was designed to be less taxing on him than his role on the original series was. However, Orbach died from his cancer on December 28, 2004 and was featured in only the first two episodes of Trial by Jury (his character was subsequently written off as having also died off-screen, though not revealed on the original series until the Season 18 episode "Burn Card").[52]

Season 15 would see the departure of Röhm mid-season. Röhm's final scene on the show sparked controversy within the fanbase, as ADA Southerlyn asked Arthur Branch if she was being fired because she was gay, a fact never cited until then.[53] Wolf said Röhm's departure was unexpected, and she exited the show in January 2005. Her replacement was Annie Parisse as Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Borgia. Later that season, Martin departed early to film Rent. Ed Green was temporarily written off as being shot in the line of duty and being replaced during his recovery by Detective Nick Falco, played by Michael Imperioli (who had previously guest starred as a murder suspect in the Season 6 episode "Atonement").[54] Parisse left the series at the end of Season 16 (with ADA Borgia written off as being murdered), and Farina announced shortly afterward that he too was leaving Law & Order to pursue other projects (Detective Fontana was written off as having retired off-screen).[55]

By this point, NBC executives believed the series was beginning to show its age, as the ratings had been steadily decreasing since Orbach's departure.[56] Farina had never been popular with fans when he replaced Orbach, and it was felt that the cast just did not seem to mesh well together anymore.[53] In an effort to revitalize the show, Wolf replaced Parisse with Alana de la Garza as Assistant District Attorney Connie Rubirosa, while Martin's character was promoted to senior detective and partnered with Detective Nina Cassady, played by Milena Govich (who had worked with Wolf on the short-lived series Conviction and served as the show's first female detective of the main cast).[56]

However, Govich proved to be even more unpopular with fans than Farina was, and she left the show after one season (with the explanation being that Detective Cassady was only working with the precinct on a temporary basis). She was replaced by Jeremy Sisto as Detective Cyrus Lupo (Sisto had previously guest starred as a defense attorney in the Season 17 episode "The Family Hour").[57] Around the same time, Thompson announced he would leave the show to seek the 2008 Republican presidential nomination (no explanation was given within the show regarding Arthur Branch's off-screen departure). Waterston's character was promoted to Interim District Attorney (later made full District Attorney) and his former position was filled in by Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter, played by Linus Roache.[58][59]

Martin later announced that he would leave the show for good near the end of Season 18 to pursue other endeavors, and Detective Green was written off as resigning from the force due to unscrupulous actions. He was replaced by Anthony Anderson as Detective Kevin Bernard.[53] In 2010, Merkerson announced that she would leave the show at the end of Season 20 (with Lieutenant Van Buren given a season-long story arc involving her battling cervical cancer).[60] However, the cancellation of the show rendered this moot.


In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

          —Opening narration spoken by Steven Zirnkilton[61][62]

Law & Order episodes are typically segmented into two parts, roughly at the halfway point; the first part follows police and detective work, and the second follows the courtroom proceedings of the case.

"Ripped from the headlines"

Often the plot of an initial portion of an episode resembles a recognizable aspect of an actual case.[63] In early seasons, the details of these cases often closely followed the real stories, such as the season one episode "Subterranean Homeboy Blues", which had a woman shooting two attempted muggers, paralleling the Bernhard Goetz case. Another early episode, "Out of the Half-Light", focused on a racially charged rape case that mimicked the Tawana Brawley case. This "ripped from the headlines" style is reflected in the opening credits sequence that evolves from newspaper halftones to high-resolution photos. Another first season episode, "Poison Ivy", would be based on the Edmund Perry case where an NYPD officer fatally shot a returning black honor student who was committing a crime in front of the officer upon returning to the city after recently graduating from an Ivy League prep school. Later seasons would take real life cases as inspiration but diverge more from the facts. Often this would be done by increasing the severity of the crime in question, usually by adding a murder. As a result, the plot would tend to veer significantly from the actual events that may have inspired the episode.[63] Promotional advertisements of episodes with close real-life case parallels regularly use the "ripped from the headlines" phrase, although a textual disclaimer, within the actual episode, emphasizes that the story and characters are fictional. This format lends itself to exploring different outcomes or motives that similar events could have had under other circumstances.

Some real life crime victims have felt used and exploited,[63] with one lawyer, Ravi Batra, going so far as to sue the show in 2004 for libel.[64]


Law & Order premiered September 13, 1990, and aired on NBC, with 456 episodes having been produced.


  • "Charm City" — In the first crossover with Homicide: Life on the Street, Briscoe and Curtis clash with Pembleton and Bayliss, who have come to New York to investigate a subway gas attack that bears a resemblance to a bombing in Baltimore, which is solved in the Homicide episode "For God and Country".
  • "Baby, It's You" — The second crossover with Homicide follows the investigation of a teen model's murder.
  • "Sideshow" — The third and final crossover with Homicide reveals a connection to the White House in the investigation of a Government worker's murder.
  • "Entitled" — This crossover with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit teams the 27th with SVU as the matriarch of a wealthy family goes on trial for the murder of a salesman.
  • "Tombstone" — Green is shot while escorting a witness to court, so Fontana teams with Salazar to investigate the motive in the Law & Order: Trial by Jury episode "Skeleton".
  • "Flaw" — Benson and Tutuola assist in a murder investigation that leads to the mother-daughter scam team who get away with fraud in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Design".

Broadcast history

The show premiered September 13, 1990, and ended on May 24, 2010. 456 episodes were aired and produced. The show ran for twenty seasons on NBC. It was NBC's longest running crime drama, and tied for longest running primetime scripted drama with Gunsmoke. The first two seasons were broadcast Tuesdays at 10 p.m. From season 3 through 16 the show aired Wednesday at 10 p.m. For season 17 it moved to Fridays at 10 p.m. For seasons 18 and 19 the show shifted back to Wednesdays at 10 p.m. For season 20 the show was broadcast Fridays at 8 p.m., while in the spring it moved to Mondays at 10 p.m., where it broadcast its series finale on May 24, 2010.


As of January 1, 2014, the series is being telecast on SundanceTV, TNT (TV channel), WE tv, and WGN America.


On May 13, 2010, reports surfaced of the possibility that Law & Order could be canceled after 20 seasons on the air, preventing it from unseating Gunsmoke as longest running American primetime drama unless another network picked it up.[65] By May 14, 2010, The New York Times, Daily Variety and the Los Angeles Times reported official cancellation of the series.[66] Continuation of characters on spin-off series—including Law & Order: Los Angeles—has been mentioned as a possible means of providing closure beyond the series finale.[66]

On May 14, 2010, NBC officially canceled the show, opting instead to pick up Law & Order: Los Angeles for a first season, and renewed Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for a twelfth.[1] The cancellation was announced after last-minute talks between NBC and Dick Wolf to extend the series failed to lead to an agreement.

The chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, Jeff Gaspin, stated: "The full measure of the collective contributions made by Dick Wolf and his Law & Order franchise over the last two decades to the success of NBC and Universal Media Studios cannot be overstated. The legacy of his original Law & Order series will continue to make an impact like no other series before."[67]

Angela Bromstad, President, Primetime Entertainment, NBC and Universal Media Studios, said, "Law & Order has been one of the most successful franchises in the history of television, which is why it is so critical that we continue this important brand and our relationship with Dick Wolf and his team with L&O: LA and Law & Order: SVU."[67]

Following the cancellation announcement, Wolf announced that he still hoped to continue the series, and stated that he was seeking "other offers" from potential outlets to air the series. Wolf also discussed the possibility of airing a two-hour TV film on NBC to conclude Law & Order, but said that such a plan had been delayed until he had exhausted every other possibility for continuing the series. Wolf did not specify whether NBC had already offered to air such a movie.[5]

Dick Wolf stated that, "The flagship series is in a medically induced coma, waiting for a life-saving medicine." Wolf was pressuring the series' producer NBC/Universal Media Studios to make a deal with TNT, which holds syndication rights to the show, for originals if an acceptable license fee could be bargained. Talks between the two started up after upfronts.[68] However, TNT said in a statement it was not interested in picking up a 21st season for the series.[69]

Executive producer René Balcer spoke to Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation on May 24, stating that "we're not dead yet" and noting that there were still ongoing negotiations with cable outlets to see if the original series could be refloated. Balcer referenced the "medically induced coma" brought up by Wolf, calling the show's cancellation "corporately-induced".[70]

Although NBC cancelled the series, AMC started talking about reviving Law & Order;[71] however, attempts to revive it failed, and according to creator Dick Wolf, the series "moved into the history books".[6][72]

Almost exactly one year later, on May 13, 2011, NBC canceled Law & Order: LA following a decline in the ratings after the show had been retooled and moved to Monday nights.[73]

In February 2015, rumors started that NBC was planning to bring Law & Order back for 10 episodes, as a limited series.[74]

Spin-offs and adaptations

The longevity and success of Law & Order has spawned four American television series (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, and Law & Order: LA) as well as a television film (Exiled: A Law & Order Movie), all of which use the name Law & Order. Although there were fears initially that the failure of such shows could hurt the original series, it was felt the brand name was needed because of the commercial desirability such a brand name creates.[75] To differentiate it from other series in the franchise, Law & Order is often referred to as "The Mother Ship" by producers and critics.[76]

The original series has also been adapted for British television as Law & Order: UK, with the setting changed to London. Similarly, Law & Order: Criminal Intent has been adapted for French and Russian television under the respective titles Paris enquêtes criminelles and Закон и порядок. Преступный умысел, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has also had a Russian version, Закон и Порядок: Отдел Оперативных Расследований.


Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of Law & Order on NBC.

Note: Each U.S. network television season starts in late September and ends in late May, which coincides with the completion of May sweeps. Season 18 started in January and was held back as a mid-season replacement when NBC announced their 2007–08 schedule in May 2007. The 20th season premiere was on Friday, September 25, 2009 at 8:00 pm (ET) and 7:00 pm (CT) on NBC.

Season Premiere Finale Episodes Timeslot Rank Viewers
(in millions)
1 1990–91 September 13, 1990 June 9, 1991 22 Tuesday 10:00 pm #46 12.0[citation needed]
2 1991–92 September 17, 1991 May 14, 1992 22 #43 12.3[citation needed]
3 1992–93 September 23, 1992 May 19, 1993 22 Wednesday 10:00 pm #49 10.5[citation needed]
4 1993–94 September 15, 1993 May 25, 1994 22 #38[77] 11.9[77]
5 1994–95 September 21, 1994 May 24, 1995 23 #27[78] 11.6[78]
6 1995–96 September 20, 1995 May 22, 1996 23 #24[79] 10.9[79]
7 1996–97 September 18, 1996 May 21, 1997 23 #27[80] 10.5[80]
8 1997–98 September 24, 1997 May 20, 1998 24 #24[81] 14.1[81]
9 1998–99 September 23, 1998 May 26, 1999 24 #20[82] 13.8[82]
10 1999–00 September 22, 1999 May 24, 2000 24 #13[83] 16.3[83]
11 2000–01 October 18, 2000 May 23, 2001 24 #11[84] 17.7[84]
12 2001–02 September 26, 2001 May 22, 2002 24 #7[85] 18.7[85]
13 2002–03 October 2, 2002 May 21, 2003 24 #10[86] 17.3[86]
14 2003–04 September 24, 2003 May 19, 2004 24 #14[87] 15.9[87]
15 2004–05 September 22, 2004 May 18, 2005 24 #25[88] 13.0[88]
16 2005–06 September 21, 2005 May 17, 2006 22 #35[89] 11.2[89]
17 2006–07 September 22, 2006 May 18, 2007 22 Friday 10:00 pm #54[90] 9.4[90]
18 2007–08 January 2, 2008 May 21, 2008 18 Wednesday 10:00 pm #38[91] 10.7[91]
19 2008–09 November 5, 2008 June 3, 2009 22 #62[92] 8.2[92]
20 2009–10 September 25, 2009 May 24, 2010 23 Friday 8:00 pm
Monday 10:00 pm
#60[93] 7.2[93]

Awards and honors

Law & Order has been nominated for numerous awards in the television industry over the span of its run. Among its wins are the 1997 Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Male Actor in a Drama Series for Sam Waterston in 1999 and Jerry Orbach in 2005 (awarded after his death), and numerous Edgar Awards for Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay.

In 2002, Law & Order was ranked No. 24 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[94] The show also placed No. 27 on Entertainment Weekly‍‍ '​‍s "New TV Classics" list.[95]

In 2013, TV Guide ranked Law & Order #14 on their list of the 60 Greatest Shows of All Time.[96]

DVD releases

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released fourteen seasons on DVD in Region 1, along with the complete series. Law & Order: The Complete Series boxed set features all 20 seasons. Each season is individually packaged (in tray-stack style), with all new cover-art (including new cover art for the seasons that have been released). The set also includes a 50-page full-color book titled "The Episode Guide". Along with episode names and synopsis, there is trivia, facts about the making of the show, liner notes, and over 80 full-color photos. In Region 2, Universal Playback has released the first seven seasons on DVD in the UK. In Region 4, Universal Pictures has released the first eight seasons on DVD in Australia and New Zealand.

Title Ep# Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The 1st Year 22 October 15, 2002/June 4, 2013 (slimline set) June 16, 2003 April 2, 2003/August 31, 2011 (slimline set)
The 2nd Year 22 May 4, 2004/June 3, 2014 (slimline set) February 28, 2005 August 31, 2011
The 3rd Year 22 May 24, 2005/June 3, 2014 (slimline set) November 21, 2005 August 31, 2011
The 4th Year 22 December 6, 2005/June 3, 2014 (slimline set) July 17, 2006 August 31, 2011
The 5th Year 23 April 3, 2007/June 3, 2014 (slimline set) July 23, 2007 August 31, 2011
The 6th Year 23 December 2, 2008/May 26, 2015 (slimline set) February 16, 2009 August 31, 2011
The 7th Year 23 January 19, 2010/May 26, 2015 (slimline set) April 12, 2010 August 31, 2011
The 8th Year 24 December 7, 2010/May 26, 2015 (slimline set) August 31, 2011
The 9th Year 24 December 6, 2011 (slimline set)
The 10th Year 24 February 28, 2012 (slimline set)
The 11th Year 24 November 6, 2012 (slimline set)
The 12th Year 24 February 26, 2013 (slimline set)
The 13th Year 24 November 5, 2013 (slimline set)
The 14th Year 24 September 14, 2004/February 25, 2014 (slimline set)
The 15th Year 24 November 4, 2014 (slimline set)
The 16th Year 22 November 4, 2014 (slimline set)
The 17th Year 22 November 4, 2014 (slimline set)
The 18th Year 18 May 5, 2015 (slimline set)
The 19th Year 22 May 5, 2015 (slimline set)
The 20th Year 23 May 5, 2015 (slimline set)
The Complete Series 456 November 8, 2011 (box set)

See also



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  • Courrier, Kevin; Green, Susan (November 20, 1999). Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Renaissance Books. ISBN 1-58063-108-8. 
  • Green, Susan; Dawn, Randee (September 1, 2009). Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Unofficial Companion. Dallas: BenBella Books. ISBN 1-933771-88-7. 

External links

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