Trigger And that’s what I’ve done. Maintained it for 20 years. This old brooms had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.
Sid How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?
Trigger There’s the picture. What more proof do you need?
Running for 20 years, 456 episodes (and numerous spin offs), and featuring 27 different main actors (no original cast of whom were there by the second half of its run), legal drama Law and Order does indeed bring to mind Trigger’s memorable line from Only Fools and Horses.
But while it may have seemed that it chopped its star players more often than it needed, there were various lengthy stints within and each character usually added a fresh impetus, being more than just an identikit character or cardboard cut-out personality. Viewers would have their own favourite. Whether that be the wry-writted old hand Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach), the sensitive young heart throb Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt), the impassioned and renegade Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), the no-nonsense and forceful Anita van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson), or even the cynical, world-weary and media-sensitive District Attorney Aaron Schiff (Steven Hill), there was someone for everyone.
This was an intense and provocative drama with strong personalities with even stronger opinions, dealing with controversial issues such as rape, race, abortion, homosexuality, religion and political influence. Starting with that iconic two beat scene sound introduction, played at the start of every scene, the show would usually start with the discovery of the corpse by passers by. The two detectives would then delve into the frequently grim world of sinister motives of the New York inhabitants before wading through the red herrings and lies and using their instincts and intimidating personalities to ensure they found the perpetrator(s). The second half of the show would switch to dealing with the political battle of the courtroom between the defendant’s free counsel or expensive lawyer trying to weasel out by finding all manner of loopholes, and the District Attorney’s side, aiming for the strongest sentences and being prepared to legally use any aspect of the law.
This was a show where the city itself was more than just a background set. Covering all kinds of characters a 24 hour city like New York provides, Law and Order was a tour guide which let you see within the skyscrapers, into the ghettos and diners and back alleys to see the downtrodden, the high fliers, the career criminals, the cads, addicts, activists and social climbers.
And what a superb level of acting. While the main cast will get the main recognition, the standard of actors who would frequently be used for only one episode was all kinds of superlative. Dealing with the guilt, rage, shock, relief, fear, confusion and even indifference in reaction to the crime on someone they knew, actors coming in fully prepared to display any range of emotions. It’s no surprise to find that more than a few ended up starring in leading roles in shows such as The Sopranos, Dexter, The Wire or even end up in Hollywood.
It may have started off slow, limited and raw with its opening episodes, as it struggled to find the necessary slickness fully evident from series 3 onwards, but it never shied away from the ugly part of human nature. While justice normally came through, sometimes the villains won, sometimes the sentence seemed too lenient or too harsh, and sometimes the criminal was a more sympathetic character than the victim. For a show that wanted to reflect city and legal life, it had it just about right.
Narrator: 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.
Logan: How would you like to be in one of these (porn) movies?
Briscoe: You kidding? I don’t even like to look at my own x-rays.
Schiff: Wonderful. We’ve got a truckload of evidence against an innocent man, and for the guilty one we got zip.
Briscoe: He was married wasn’t he?
Det. Lennie Briscoe: I specifically asked for him to be put on suicide watch. Apparently here at Riker’s that mean that they watch you commit suicide.
McCoy: I remember how hard it was when I realized my father was a son of a bitch. I can’t imagine what it must be like when you realize you raised one.
Schiff: I LOVE cases where a homicidal gun dealer is our best witness
Briscoe: Boy, I’d hate for somebody to trace me by what I read.
Curtis: You read, Lennie?
Schiff: Started with a murder, ends with an execution. You got what you wanted. Take the rest of the week off.
McCoy: It’s Friday, Adam.
Schiff: So it is. See you on Monday.
Jack McCoy: Your grief might seem a little more real had you not just admitted you cut off your wife’s head.
Cast and Awards
27 main actors
Years: 1990 – 2010
Created by: Dick Wolf
Number of series 20
Emmys: 6 from 51
Golden Globes: 0 from 6
Years: 1990 – 2010
Created by: Dick Wolf