Law & Order is an American police procedural television drama series that was created by Dick Wolf, an American television producer who specializes in criminal dramas. The series is the first in the Law & Order franchise, serving as the parent series and foundation for all others to follow and expand upon in later series. The first season of the original Law & Order premiered in September 1990, completing its final season in May 2010 after NBC announced its plans to cancel the series. While Dick Wolf valiantly tried to find a new home for the series, his attempts were in vain and the series ended, though it would lead to a series of future spin-offs.
Law and Order
Each episode of the Law & Order series followed a basic formula for the narrative. The first half of the episode would focus on the discovery of a crime somewhere in New York City, the series’ primary setting. In most cases, the crime was murder, and would be discovered by some unfortunate man or woman out for their morning jog. Afterwards, the New York City Police Department would begin a criminal investigation in hopes of determining a party responsible for the crime in question. The usual procedure for this would include police officers questioning witnesses if any are available in addition whoever discovered the crime; gathering up evidence at the scene of the crime and any other location that might shed light on the identity of the culprit; and arresting and charging a suspect with a crime after finding probable cause for assuming he or she responsible for the illegal action. Afterwards, the episode focuses on the prosecution’s efforts to bring justice to the plaintiff.
Following the prosecutors of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, audience members are guided through the inner workings of the American justice system by a myriad of characters. While the characters themselves may be fictional in nature, they perform completely non-fictional duties as they pertain to the American legal system in an attempt to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of the defendant to a jury of his or her peers.
The cases represented in many of the episodes were based on actual on-going criminal investigations and trials. This “ripped from the headlines” approach to producing a television series became a core aspect of the Law & Order television franchise, and a staple component of each episode.
As the series progressed, however, the show drifted (if only slightly) from using ongoing criminal investigations as a template for the episode. Instead, the episode would draw from key aspects and components of these criminal trials, using the real-life instance as a source of inspiration, as opposed to re-telling the story with only minor superficial changes (particularly to the names of the plaintiffs and defendant, as well as anyone involved in the legal proceedings of the case).
This manner of borrowing aspects of real-life events became a popular aspect of the Law & Order franchise, especially in the original series, and allowed for Dick Wolf and the show’s writers to explore variations to the outcome of the case. Oftentimes this meant altering the various parameters involved in the initial case, such as adding murder, varying the perpetrators intent, or creating an entirely different environment than what might have been present in the real-life investigation or case. This, of course, allowed for the writers to bring other aspects of their characters to life and make their ideologies, methods and feelings integral to the story. This method served to endear the plights and struggles of the plaintiffs to the audience members, while creating deeper, more realistically written primary characters.
Pop Culture Influences
The show’s critical success spawned a cult-like following of the series, and a renewed interest in criminal investigation dramas. Moreover, because of the show’s monumental success, the show’s creator Dick Wolf launched other series that followed in line with the original series, including Law & Order SVU and Criminal Intent.
The commercial success of the television series paved the way for other police procedural dramas to take root—such as CSI, Monk and Criminal Minds, to name a few—and flourish where years before there was little to no call for such a genre of television drama. This renewed interest in the American legal system additionally encouraged audience members to pay closer attention to means and methods their law enforcement agencies tended to deal with criminal investigations (very similar to the CSI effect that encouraged jurors to weigh their opinions more heavily on forensic evidence gathered from crime scenes).
The Heart of Justice
Like many police procedural dramas, Law and Order focuses on character development and character interaction to create a compelling narrative and universe that extends beyond the “monster of the week” aspect that is particular to this genre of television series. Of course, each new case would build upon the groundwork laid out by previous interactions and development. The characters were dynamic, ever-changing and ever-responsive to the world around them.
Although fictional, the characters of Law & Order dealt with real-life situations and figured out how to overcome the real-life obstacles presented to them, either in their personal or professional lives. Moreover, the manner in which the character handled these situations was unique and particular to the character, as the writers paid especially close attention to the development and personality of the characters they wrote for, speaking to a high level of respect for the individual characters.
Each episode would thrust these beloved individuals into circumstances that would oftentimes challenge their core belief system, or their perception of reality. While far more rigid characters would be less inclined to learn and adapt, those of Law & Order were able to grow and evolve, as is human nature. This ability to learn and internalize created truly believable characters that audience members were able to relate to on a level that went far beyond simply watching a familiar fictional face on the television screen. For many, these were living, breathing people in New York City who fought against crime through use of the legal system. To watch Law & Order whenever you please, sign up for any current Comcast XFINITY Internet Plans and stream any episode online!