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 Syndication 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 (renewed for a 26th season in September 2014).
Set and filmed in New York City, "Law & Order" follows a two-part approach: the first half of each episode is the investigation of a crime (usually murder) and apprehension of a suspect by New York City Police Department detectives.
The second half of the episode is the prosecution of the defendant by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
The plots are often based on real cases that recently made headlines, although the motivation for the crime and the perpetrator may be different.
Main (First Batch) Edit
Senior Detective Edit
- George Dzundza as Max Greevey (season 1)
- Paul Sorvino as Phil Cerreta (season 2-3.9, guest season 3.10)
- Jerry Orbach as Lennie Briscoe (season 3.10-14)
- Dennis Farina as Joe Fontana (season 15-16)
- Jesse L. Martin as Ed Green (season 17-18.14)
- Jeremy Sisto as Cyrus Lipo (season 18.15-20)
Junior Detective Edit
- Chris Noth as Mike Logan (season 1-5)
- Benjamin Bratt as Reynaldo "Rey" Curtis (season 6-9, guest season 20)
- Jesse L. Martin as Ed Green (season 9-15.20, 16)
- Michael Imperioli as Nick Falco (season 15.21-15.24, guest season 16)
- Milena Govich as Nina Cassidy (season 17)
- Jeremy Sisto as Cyrus Lipo (18.1-18.14)
- Anthony Anderson as Kevin Bernard (season 18.15-20)
- Dann Florek as Donald "Don" Cragen (season 1-3, guest season 5, 10 and 15)
- S. Epatha Merkerson as Anita Van Buren (season 3-20)
Main (Second Batch) Edit
Executive ADA Edit
- Michael Moriarty as Benjamin "Ben" Stone (season 1-4)
- Sam Waterston as John James "Jack" McCoy (season 5-17)
- Linus Roache as Michael "Mike" Cutter (season 18-20)
Assistant ADA Edit
- Richard Brooks as Paul Robinette (season 1-3)
- Jill Hennessy as Claire Kincaid (season 4-6)
- Carey Lowell as Jamie Ross (season 7-8, guest season 9 and 10)
- Angie Harmon as Abbie Carmichael (season 9-11)
- Elisabeth Röhm as Serena Southerlyn (season 12-15.13)
- Annie Parisse as Alexandra Borgia (season 15.14-16)
- Alana De La Garza as Connie Rubirosa (season 17-20)
District Attorney Edit
- Steven Hill as Adam Schiff (season 1-10)
- Dianne Wiest as Nora Lewin (season 11-12)
- Fred Thompson as Arthur Branch (season 13-17)
- Sam Waterston as John James "Jack" McCoy (season 18-20)
Extended cast Edit
- Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Olivet
- Leslie Hendrix as Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers
Seasons overview Edit
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.
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 for one season.
The two watched the pilot of that series, in which a police officer (portrayed by 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.
Initially, Fox ordered 13 episodes based on the concept alone, without a pilot. Then-network head Barry Diller reversed the decision. Although he loved the idea, he didn't believe that it was a "Fox show".
Wolf then went to Syndication, 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, Syndication'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.
However, by 1990, Syndication executives had enough confidence that the innovative show could appeal to a wide audience that they ordered the series for a full season.
For the 1988 pilot, George Dzundza and Chris Noth were cast as the original detectives, Sergeant Max Greevey and Detective Mike Logan.
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.
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. Rounding out the police cast, Dann Florek was cast as Captain Donald Cragen.
On the prosecutor's side, Michael Moriarty was Dick Wolf's choice to play Executive Assistant District Attorney Benjamin "Ben" Stone. The network, however, preferred James Naughton, but, in the end, Wolf's choice would prevail, and Moriarty received the role.
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 instead. As their boss, Roy Thinnes was cast as District Attorney Alfred Wentworth.
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. However, Thinnes was starring in the series "Dark Shadows" and declined to return.
In Thinnes' place, the producers tapped Steven Hill to play District Attorney Adam Schiff, a character that was 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 him to give insight on the direction he thought the character should go.
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, California.
Dzundza quit after just one season on the show and the character of Sergeant Greevey was written off as being killed in the line of duty.
Dzundza 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 he left midway 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. Sergeant Cerreta was written off as having been shot in the line of duty and transferring to a desk job at another precinct.
To replace Sorvino on the series, Wolf cast Jerry Orbach (who had previously guest starred as a defense attorney in the Season 2 episode "The Wages of Love") in the role of Detective Leonard W. "Lennie" Briscoe.
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 had personally requested Orbach to replicate for the show).
Introduced on a recurring basis during the second second was Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet, a police psychologist brought in on a case-by-case basis. Syndication had been pushing for the producers to add female characters to the all-male cast.
McCormick was added to the opening credits as "also starring" in Season 3 and 4, 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. She was removed from the show's credits in Season 5.
McCormick stayed with the show on a recurring basis, but she believed that the character had become less profound & complex, and that her role had been reduced mostly to "psychobabble". She left to star on Syndication's "Cracker" after Season 7. After the cancellation of "Cracker", she returned beginning in Season 13 and appeared occasionally until Season 20.
By the end of Season 3, Syndication executives still felt that 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 dismissed. He chose to dismiss Dann Florek and Richard Brooks from the regular roster, and later said it was the hardest two phone calls he had ever made.
Though producers initially claimed the firings (especially that of 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.
To replace Florek, S. Epatha Merkerson was cast as new squad leader Lieutenant Anita Van Buren. (Merkerson had previously guest starred in the first season as a mother of a gunshot victim in the 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's or Brooks's characters, they would both later return in guest appearances, with Captain Cragen having been reassigned to the Internal Affairs Bureau and ADA Robinette having become a defense attorney.
Florek also returned to direct a few episodes, and his character was eventually added to the cast of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit".
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 John J. "Jack" McCoy Jr.; Waterston's character was markedly different from Moriarty's in that Jack McCoy was conceived as more emotionally stable and having more sex appeal.
Wolf dismissed Chris Noth when his contract expired at the end of Season 5, because he felt that Lennie Briscoe & Mike Logan had become 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 dismissals of Florek & 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. (The made-for-television film Exiled: A "Law & Order" Movie, in which Noth starred, centered around Logan attempting to get back into the department's good graces.)
Noth was replaced by Benjamin Bratt as Detective Reynaldo "Rey" Curtis, who was hired in an attempt to find an actor even sexier than Noth to join the cast.
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.
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.)
Lowell (who later returned for a couple guest appearances) was replaced by Angie Harmon as Assistant District Attorney Abigail "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 chosen after Wolf heard her Texas accent.
Beginning in the eighth season, J. K. Simmons had the recurring role of Dr. Emil Skoda, a psychiatrist who worked with the NYPD. He appeared in 41 episodes until 2004 and then reappeared for three episodes in the final season.
Bratt left the series at the end of the ninth season, 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.
Bratt 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. (Briscoe was described as being a recovering alcoholic, as Cragen had been; Green was described as being a recovering compulsive gambler.)
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 departing to work with Jewish charities and human-rights organizations in Europe.
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.
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.
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 12 years on Law & Order, Jerry 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.
At the time, Orbach would not state the reason for his departure, 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 this was not revealed on the original series until the Season 18 episode "Burn Card".)
The 15th season would see the departure of Röhm mid-season. Röhm's final scene on the show, in the episode "Ain't No Love", sparked controversy within the fanbase, as ADA Southerlyn asked Arthur Branch if she was being fired because she was a lesbian (a fact the scripts had never even hinted at until then). Wolf said Röhm's departure was unexpected, and she exited the show in January of 2005.
Röhm's replacement was Annie Parisse as Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Borgia. For a few seasons, she had often argued opposing points to McCoy and Branch, and he thought she would be better as a defender rather than a prosecutor.
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 in the 6th season as a murder suspect in the episode "Atonement").
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 the show to pursue other projects. (Detective Fontana was written off as having retired off-screen.)
By this point, Syndication executives believed the series was beginning to show its age, as the ratings had been declining since Orbach's departure. 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.
In an effort to revitalize the show, Wolf replaced Parisse with Alana de la Garza as Assistant District Attorney Consuela "Connie" Rubirosa while Martin's character was promoted to senior detective and partnered with Detective Nina Cassady, played by Milena Govic (who had worked with Wolf on the short-lived series "Conviction") and served as the show's first female detective of the main cast.
However, Govich proved to be even more unpopular with fans than her predecessor was and she left the show after one season, with the explanation being that Detective Cassady's assignment to the precinct had been temporary and had been transferred out.
Govich was replaced by Jeremy Sisto (who had previously guest starred as a defense attorney in the Season 17 episode "The Family Hour") as Detective Cyrus Lupo.
Around the same time, Thompson announced he would leave the show to seek the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. (However, there was 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 in Season 20) and his former position was filled in by Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter, played by Linus Roache.
Martin later announced that he would leave the show for the second and last time near the end of Season 18 to pursue other endeavors, and Detective Green was written off as resigning from the force due to burnout. He was replaced by Anthony Anderson as Detective Kevin Bernard.
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; however, the cancellation of the show rendered this moot.
From season 3 through season 16, "Law & Order" aired Wednesday at 10:00 p.m. For season 17 it moved to Fridays at 10 p.m.
For seasons 18 and 19, it shifted back to Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m.
For season 20, the show was broadcast Fridays at 8:00 p.m., while in the spring it moved to Mondays at 10:00 p.m., where it broadcast its series finale on May 24, 2010.
On May 14, 2010, Syndication officially canceled "Law & Order," opting instead to pick up "Law & Order: L.A." for a first season and renew "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" for a 12th season.
Creator Dick Wolf continued to pressure the series' producer NBC Universal to make a deal with TNT (which held syndication rights to the show) for a 21st season if an acceptable license fee could be bargained. Talks between the two started up after upfronts; however, TNT said in a statement it was not interested in picking the show up for a new season.
After TNT discussions fell through, cable network AMC also considered reviving "Law & Order," but attempts to revive the series failed, and according to creator Dick Wolf, the series "moved into the history books."
In February of 2015, Syndication considered bringing the series back for a 10-episode limited series, but those plans appeared to have never materialized.