Upon the debut of Law and Order in 1990, a team of fresh, inspired writers and a truly gifted ensemble of stunning actors brought one of the most uniquely superb dramas to television. The writing was some of the finest that would ever grace the screens in America's homes and the performances would be among the most incredibly memorable ever given before any audience anywhere. The original cast included young actors at the peak of their form and older actors such as Steven Hill who anchored the proceedings with arguably the most consistent brilliance in series history. Law and Order was blessed with an outstanding pool of artists from the New York theater community, actors who would not only contribute a uniquely talented list of guest actors, but guest stars who would give the performances of a lifetime on a regular basis. Week to week, home audiences would be overwhelmed with greatness as one episode after another crashed though formulaic barriers and offered controversial, explosive presentations of shocking power and dramatic excellence. The first half of each show was hardly the usual police procedural as breathtaking crimes challenged detectives to demonstrate the full spectrum of genius offered by the New York Police Department. With no clear-cut border with the second half, the police and District Attorney would work together to bring the criminal to justice in court room scenes more dramatic, suspenseful, and brilliant than any others ever filmed in any medium. In a nod to the realism of this unique series, the District Attorney would not always be triumphant and a guilty, monstrous murderer would escape justice. The public, political, and personal tensions involved in such a high-pressure job were routinely explored with incisive writing and the personal lives of those involved, while rarely touched upon, exploded on the screen when they were sometimes revealed in unbelievable acting and the finest writing television has ever known. Several episodes that offered insights into the characters involve performances never to be forgotten and writing so electric that it seared the emotions of the audience and brought tears to the eyes of millions of viewers. Law and Order is one of those rare accomplishments in televisions that was not only long lasting but consistent in its excellence throughout its entire run. It was appointment television to the very end and the source of several successful offspring, most notably Law and Order: Criminal Intent, that introduced audiences to the acting powerhouse of Vincent D'noffrio as well as one of the most gifted actors in television and theater history, Kathryn Erbe. The often repetitive and tasteless Law and Order: SVU, lacked the inspiration and acting talent of the original but offered many recognizable actors the chance to play against type. However, it is the original Law and Order that made television history in longevity, creativity, performances, writing, and iconic presence. After similar efforts have passed into the cloud of mediocrity, Law and Order will remain the award winning series that lives on as an acclaimed example of the very finest dramas television has ever offered.
This was an incredibly resilient show. It survived the departure of a multitude of actors and lasted 20 years. That's on account of its reliant not on the characters, but on the stories. It proved to be a winning formula.The show follows a rip-from-the-headlines crime story. The first half of the show concentrates on the investigation of the crime by the police, and the second half follows the prosecution of the crime in court.They reinvented the crime procedural. Scripted show just don't last this long. That's thanks to the structure of the show. If not for the proliferation of all the TV channels and the need for ever more cheaper production, this could have lasted another 20 years.
Until Anderson was added, this show was awesome.The best detectives were Lenny Briscoe, Ed Green, and Nina Cassady. Briscoe was caring, compassionate, and some comic relief. Ed was also caring and compassionate, but was more businesslike. He did have 2 complaints of excessive force, but he was never suspended. Nina was the newbie, shoved into the detective job after obtaining local celebrity status as a hero. Though she started off on the wrong foot (mainly with her mouth and impulsive behavior), she was gradually improving and gaining better control of herself. I felt that Lenny was a great addition to the show. However, I don't see why so many cop shows have these cops with adult kids who hate them. Why does every cop show do that? Come on, that's getting old. Lenny retired and later died (Jerry Orbach died shortly after leaving the show). Ed was not married and had no kids. He was able to devote his every waking hour to his work. Ed decided to leave after he was investigated for the death of a suspect, which was later deemed justified. Nina was a beautiful woman and she knew it. She hated when suspects or witnesses would hit on her. Her nickname of Detective Beauty Queen was not something she wanted and she loathed when people brought that up to her. She wanted to be the best detective she could possibly be. No reason was ever given for her departure (as opposed to reasons given to ALL the others). The best DA's were Jack McCoy, Abbie Carmichael, and Alexandra Borgia. Jack was always determined to get the suspect and sometimes even crossed the line. Nothing angered him more than seeing a guilty person walk out of a courtroom free and clear. I was pleased when McCoy became the District Attorney, now the boss. He still remained fair and stuck to the law. Abbie had the same determination as her boss. She took it personally when the victim of a crime was a woman, especially if that woman had been raped. Abbie later left when she was offered a better job with the US attorney's office. Abbie was a great DA and she could have taken Jack's place when he became the lead DA. Alexandra could have been Abbie's twin sister with that same attitude. Her anger is especially visible when she is investigating the cover-up of a rape of a twelve-year-old girl. She would do anything to see this person pay. Alexandra was later killed while investigating fake DEA badges. I personally wish she had stayed another season or even until the show ended.The final season was not very good at all. Anderson is a lousy actor who couldn't act to save his own life. What was Dick Wolf thinking? Did he get kicked in the head by my horse? The others were all superb actors and did a marvelous job. Even if I did not like the actors or characters of the others, they still did a great job.My favorite actors on Law and Order were Sam Waterston, S Epatha Merkerson, Jesse Martin, Milena Govich, Angie Harmon, Jerry Orbach (RIP), Annie Parisse, and Diane Weist. My favorite guest star was Jennifer Beals. She is also a fabulous actress.
I served on a jury once, even before Law & Order came on the air. I voted for conviction because no juror will ever disbelieve a prosecutor. Not even people like the ones on the show, who are human only because only a human is capable of such cruelty and viciousness. I am talking mostly about the prosecutors, but also the police who went through the crimes. The names and faces changed, but the stories never did. The cops were always noble and always had a really good reason to break every law known to man that was designed to protect a suspect -- forcing (or just asking) witnesses to perjure themselves was always a good method. I remember one show where a cop coldbloodedly framed a man for a murder the man didn't commit (to get revenge on him for a murder he had committed). All the cop got was a slap on the wrist and an invitation to quit the force, rather than 50 years in a Federal penitentiary for the frame-up. In other shows, the prosecutors, the cops, or sometimes both at once, viciously threatened the suspects (often without their lawyers present, but who cared) and did everything short of a rubber-hose beating to coerce a confession. These people had no ethics of any kind, no belief whatsoever that the suspect was innocent until Proved guilty (and by that standard means beyond any doubt whatsoever), and often forced plea bargains by innocent suspects whom they couldn't convict. NBC should have been on the phone forcing Dick Wolf to make sure at least a third and probably more of the cases ended in acquittals, and it would have made the cast turnover a lot easier just to have another prosecutor caught in another sadistic sociopathic act and sent up the river. The other L&O shows were slightly more balanced except for the bomb Trial By Jury, which would have been a hit ONLY IF the innocent people were given a full chance and almost every case had resulted in an acquittal. As for me, I voted to convict a man I KNEW was not guilty and to destroy his life. I was pressured by the other jurors, and I didn't have enough to persuade all of them or do anything more than meekly cave in to them. No more. If I am called into a voir dire, I will talk to the judge and the entire prosecution team and explain to them that I am a fierce supporter of The Innocence Project and that I favor extremely harsh penalties for prosecutors, judges and even jurors who find an innocent person guilty, and warn them that I would devote my entire fortune to clearing as many convicts as possible if I had a fortune. That might be considered threatening the court, but it is simple honesty -- something no prosecutor has or will ever have.