Law and Order
Law and Order
Law & Order


Alternate Title(s) L&O,
Law & Order: Mothership
Format Crime Drama
Police procedural
Picture Format 480i (SDTV),
1080i (HDTV)
Running Time 40–45 minutes
Created by Dick Wolf
Starring See below
Narrated By Steven Zirnkilton
Opening Theme by Mike Post
Country of origin United States
Language English
Original channel NBC
Original run 13 September 1990
Finale 24 May 2010 (to be revived for at least a 21st season)
No. of seasons 20
No. of episodes 456
(As of present)
List of episodes Law & Order episodes
IMDB profile Law & Order summary Law & Order
related shows Law & Order franchise
"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."

Law & Order is a television series that originally aired on NBC, premiering on 13 September 1990. Filmed on location in New York, the drama showcases the sometimes-complex process of determining guilt or innocence, while lives hang in the balance.

The show follows a crime, often loosely based on real crimes that have received media attention or as the series calls it Ripped from the headlines, the plots highlight legal, ethical or personal dilemmas to which people can relate. Shown from two separate vantage points, thus usually splitting episodes into two halves. The first half ("Law"), followed two New York City Police Department Homicide Unit detectives investigating a crime. This crime was not always a homicide or attempted homicide, especially in the first nine seasons of the show, and before Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premiered sometimes the crime would involved a Rape or kidnapping. The second half of the show ("Order") focused on the Manhattan District Attorney's Office trying to convict the suspect in court.

On May 14, 2010, NBC announced that it cancelled Law & Order and would finish airing after Season 20, which finished on 24 May 2010. As of February 2015, rumors have started stating NBC has talked about bringing back Law & Order for ten episodes. (citation needededit) On September 28, 2021, NBC officially agreed to revive the show for at least Season 21.[1]


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, he 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 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.

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. However, by 1990, NBC executives had enough confidence that the innovative show could appeal to a wide audience so they ordered the series for a full season.


The series was shot on location in New York City and is known for its extensive use of local color. 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.

Main Cast[]

Police Characters[]

The following characters are the police who investigate crime:

Image Actor Character In Show/
Number of episodes
Dzundza icon.jpg George Dzundza New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Senior Police Detective Sergeant Maxwell "Max" Greevey Season 1
Noth icon L&O.jpg Chris Noth New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Junior Police Detective Michael "Mike" Logan Seasons 1-5
Florek icon L&O.jpg Dann Florek New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Captain Donald "Don" Cragen Seasons 1-3
(Guest 5, 10
and 15)
Sorvino icon.jpg Paul Sorvino New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Senior Police Detective Sergeant Philip "Phil" Cerreta Seasons 2-3
(30+1 Guest)
Orbach icon.jpg Jerry Orbach New York City Police Department
(NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Senior Police Detective Leonard W. "Lennie" Briscoe
Seasons 3-14
Merkerson icon.jpg S. Epatha Merkerson New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Lieutenant Anita Van Buren Seasons 4-20
Bratt icon.jpg Benjamin Bratt New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Junior Police Detective Reynaldo "Rey" Curtis Seasons 6-9
Guest 20
Martin icon.jpg Jesse L. Martin New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Junior / Senior Police Detective Edward "Ed" Green Seasons 10-18
Farina icon.jpg Dennis Farina New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Senior Police Detective Joseph "Joe" Fontana Seasons 15-16
Imperioli icon.jpg Michael Imperioli New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad (Temporarily Reassigned Replacement) Junior Police Detective Nicholas "Nick" Falco Seasons 15
(Guest Season 16)
Govich icon.jpg Milena Govich New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Junior Police Detective Nina Cassady Season 17
Sisto icon.jpg Jeremy Sisto New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Senior / Junior Police Detective Cyrus Lupo Seasons 18-20
Anderson icon.jpg Anthony Anderson New York City Police Department (NYPD) 27th Precinct Manhattan North Homicide Squad Junior Police Detective Kevin Bernard Seasons 18-20

District Attorney Characters[]

The following characters are the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders:

Image Actor Character In Show/
Number of episodes
Moriarty icon.jpg Michael Moriarty New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Executive Assistant District Attorney (E.A.D.A.) Benjamin "Ben" Stone Seasons 1-4
Brooks icon.jpg Richard Brooks New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A.)
Paul Robinette
Seasons 1-3, (Guest 6, 16 & 17)
Hill icon.jpg Steven Hill New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)
Adam Schiff
Seasons 1-10
Hennessy icon.jpg Jill Hennessy New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A.)
Claire Kincaid
Seasons 4-6
Waterston icon.jpg Sam Waterston New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Executive Assistant District Attorney (E.A.D.A.) / Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)
John James "Jack" McCoy
Seasons 5-20
Gen-ordre0.jpg Carey Lowell New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A.)
Jamie Ross
Seasons 7-8<>(Guest 10 & 11)
Harmon icon.jpg Angie Harmon New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A.)
Abigail "Abbie" Carmichael
Seasons 9-11
Wiest icon.jpg Dianne Wiest New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Interim Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)
Nora Lewin
Seasons 11-12
Rohm icon.jpg Elisabeth Röhm New York City Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A.)
Serena Southerlyn
Seasons 12-15
Thompson icon L&O.jpg Fred Dalton Thompson New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)
Arthur Branch
Seasons 13-17
Parisse icon.jpg Annie Parisse New York City Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A.)
Alexandra Borgia
Seasons 15-16
De La Garza icon.jpg Alana De La Garza New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A.)
Consuela "Connie" Rubirosa
Seasons 17-20
Roache icon.jpg Linus Roache New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Executive Assistant District Attorney (E.A.D.A.) Michael "Mike" Cutter Seasons 18-20

Other Main Characters[]

Image Actor Character In show
Alfred Wentworth order.jpg Roy Thinnes New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)
Alfred Wentworth
Season 1
McCormickSeason4.jpg Carolyn McCormick New York City Police Department (N.Y.P.D.) / New York City, Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.)'s Office, Psychologist / Psychiatrist Doctor
Elizabeth "Liz" Olivet
Seasons 3 & 4
(Recurring throughout the rest of the series)

Note: DA Wentworth appeared only in the original pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman".

Recurring Guest Stars[]

For a list of recurring characters, see L&O recurring characters.


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 legal and courtroom proceedings of the case. The show dwells little on the characters' back-stories or social lives, and focuses instead mainly on their involvement in the cases presented in each episode.

The Police Portion (Law)[]

For most of Law & Order's run, the cold open or lead-in of the show began with the discovery of a crime, usually a murder. The scene typically began with a slice of everyday life in New York City. Some civilians would then discover the crime victim, or sometimes the crime would occur in a public place and they would be witnesses or a victim of a crime. The only exception to this is in the early seasons, mostly Seasons 1 & 2, the crime would usually be discovered by a pair of uniformed officers on patrol or in later seasons when the cold open was replaced with rapid cuts of the victim's final moments, similar to Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

The police are represented in the show by the New York City Police Department 27th Precinct Homicide Department. In the show, it is common that the detectives also investigate other cases other than homicide or attempted homicides like kidnappings and rape, the latter especially in the first nine seasons of the show before Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premiered. However, in the real world, these cases are handled by other units and divisions.

The viewers are introduced to two homicide detectives, a senior detective (usually a veteran cop) and a junior detective (usually a young but capable detective), who report directly to their boss at their precinct (either a Lieutenant or a Captain). When they first arrive at the crime scene they are met by the first responding officer or a Crime Scene Unit (CSU) forensic technician, who will inform the two lead detectives on everything known at that point. It's during they're preliminary crime scene examination, that the featured detectives will make their first observations and will come up with some theories followed by a witticism or two before the title sequence begins.

The detectives often have few or no good clues—they might not even know the victim's identity—and must usually chase several dead ends before finding a likely suspect(s). They start their investigations at the crime scene by talking to any witnesses at the scene while the CSU technicians assist them in the processing of the crime scene as well as determining the proper routing of evidence between the Medical Examiner's office, the Crime Lab and the NYPD Property Clerks office. The CSU has many tools at there disposal to process a crime scene including the materials needed to develop fingerprints, cast footwear and tire impressions, follow the trajectory of bullets fired through windows and the chemicals necessary to observe blood under special lighting conditions that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. The unit is also trained to process a crime scene in a hazardous environment, for example following a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

The medical examiner (M.E.)'s office will also be shown to collect the body from the crime scene. As well as appear to do an on-site investigation into manner and cause of death; or identification of remains. Later the medical examiner will perform an autopsy on the victim(s), offering more clues to the victim's cause and time of death (sometimes obtaining the victim's identity from dental records or fingerprints and other forensic evidence collected for DNA extraction and typing;) which the detectives will read about in the M.E.'s autopsy report and by talking to the M.E. who performed it.

When the detectives know the victim's identity they will inform their relatives or loved ones of their death and attempt to get more information on the victim's life and possible suspects. The detectives continue their investigation by interviewing witnesses and possible suspects, all the while tracing the victim's last known movements and victim's state of mind (by talking to the victim's family, friends and co-workers). Sometimes they will have someone they suspect of the crime and in checking their alibi they will trace the last known movements and the state of mind of the current suspect by talking to the people in the person(s) life until they are either ruled out or dead certain of the guilt of the person they suspect. In later seasons CCTV, GPS and Cell phone tracking might be used to track suspect(s) and victim(s) movements. They may even ask victims and witnesses to look through photographs in mug books or to view police lineups where they will try and identify the suspect(s). If gang or drug connections are suspected the police might talk to other Police units/squad specializing in those types of crimes. They may even approach Criminal Informants to see if they have heard anything on the street about the crime itself.

They also visit the crime lab to submit and view evidence (e.g. fingerprints, DNA and ballistics, etc.), they may also look into any background information such as financial details and criminal history on both the victim and lead suspect. In some instances, psychologists and/or psychiatrists are called in for insight into the criminal's behavior or modus operandi. All the while, the detectives report to their commanding officer, keeping them informed and being advised on how best to proceed next.

When the detectives are certain they have the right suspect(s), the police will take the case to their boss, who decides if there is enough for a search and/or arrest warrant (though sometimes the commanding officer will consult with the New York City District Attorney's office to see if the case is strong enough) and whether or not any backup (such as uniformed officers or an armed tactical team) is needed. The detectives will then arrest the suspects(s) and read them their Miranda rights, though sometimes the police might have to chase the accused through the streets of New York.

The scene might shift to the interrogation room where the detectives interrogate the suspect(s) until they either confess, ask for a lawyer, their defense attorney shows up and asks the suspect not to talk anymore, or the Assistant District Attorney from the D.A.'s office decides they have enough to press charges.

The Trial Portion (Order)[]

The matter is then taken over by a pair of prosecutors who represent the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, an Executive Assistant District Attorney (E.A.D.A) and an Assistant District Attorney (A.D.A). Unlike many other legal dramas, the court proceedings are shown from the prosecution's point-of-view, with the regular characters trying to prove the defendant's guilt, not innocence. The two lead prosecutors will also consult at various stages of the trial with their boss, the Manhattan/New York County District Attorney (D.A.), for advice on the case, as the District Attorney, being an elected official, sometimes brings political considerations to bear concerning decisions to prosecute the various alleged offenders.

The A.D.A. is usually introduced in an arraignment court scene, in which the defendants plead (usually not guilty) and bail conditions are set. However, sometimes they might appear earlier in the episode during the police segment to arrange a plea-for-information deal or to decide if the detectives have enough evidence for search or arrest warrants before arresting the suspects.

After the arraignment of the defendant(s), the E.A.D.A. and A.D.A. will have a meeting with the accused and their defense attorney to discuss a plea bargain. The prosecutors will lay out the evidence against the accused, while the defense attorney will point out any holes in the D.A.'s case and point out alternative theories of the crime, or tell them about their defense strategies for court. The meeting usually ends with the plea bargain being declined and the defendant and their defense attorney deciding to take a chance in court, though these type of meetings might occur again later in the episode if new information is discovered.

The prosecutors then proceed to prepare for the trial of the people's case in the New York Supreme Court. This may include legal research, preparing witnesses' testimonies, and sorting through relevant evidence. To strengthen their case, the team might conduct their own investigations, sometimes with help from the police, even though in real life, this would be done by the District Attorney's own Investigation Unit.

Some episodes include legal proceedings beyond the testimony of witnesses, including motion hearings often concerning the admissibility of evidence; jury selection; and allocations, usually as a result of plea bargains. Many episodes employ motions to suppress evidence as a plot device, and most of these end with evidence or statements being suppressed, often on a technicality. This usually begins with the service of the motion to the D.A. team, usually in the first meeting with defense council, followed by arguments and citations of precedent before a judge in court, and concludes with a visual reaction of the winning or losing attorney. Sometimes, the motions might go before the New York Court of Appeals to get a conclusive judgment.

At the start of the trial, the E.A.D.A. and lead defense attorney make opening statements to the jury, then they will take turns arguing their cases. They both directly examine and cross-examine the witnesses, asking them questions that support the arguments for their case or sowing seeds of doubt in their rival's case. Some of the people interviewed by the police in the first half such as the witnesses, previous suspects, and family members of both criminal defendant(s) and victim(s)) will return to be put on the stand to testify for either side, depending on which party has subpoenaed them. Also, professional testimony is given from the assistant medical examiners, crime lab technicians (including fingerprint analysts, DNA profilers and ballistics analysts), and psychologists or psychiatrists (if the defendant uses an insanity plea). They will also object when each other goes beyond the scope of what the law will allow, e.g. "leading/badgering the witness", "Assuming facts, not in evidence", etc., to which the judge will either sustain (allow) or overrule (deny). The judge might even ask them to approach the bench or ask the two parties to meet in his or her chambers for further arguments away from a jury.

Many episodes use outlandish defense scenarios, such as diminished responsibility (e.g. "Genetics"/"Television"/"God"/"the devil made me do it" and intoxication defense) and temporary insanity (e.g. "Black rage"/"White rage"/"Sports rage"). Some episodes revolve around moral and ethical debates, including the "right to die" (euthanasia), the "right to life" (abortion), capital punishment (the death penalty), and the "right to bear arms" (gun control).

Near the end of the trial, the E.A.D.A. and lead defense counsel will make closing arguments to the jury, who will then break to deliberate their verdict off-screen and, if once agreed upon, the trial will continue, with the jury foreperson reading out the final verdict (either guilty or not guilty) to the court. Either verdict will show the reaction of both parties, with the guilty verdict showing the defendant being handcuffed by the bailiff and led away to await sentencing, usually to a prison term unless they are found insane, which usually means being sent to a secure psychiatric facility. If the defendant is found not guilty, they will be released and will thank their defense attorney before rejoining their family. The audience will also see the prosecutors look at the family of the victim to see their reaction to the verdict, whether it be positive or negative.

The scene may then show the prosecution team leaving the office or court to go home while contemplating either the true guilt of the accused, the defense scenarios that were used, or the moral or ethical issue that was central to the episode. Alternatively, the final few minutes of the episode may be at the DA's office or detention facility whereby the prosecution makes a final plea offer to the defendant or the defense seeks one from the prosecution. In such a case, the defendant may or may not be shown allocating his or her crime to the court. In a few episodes, the final verdict or the outcome of any ensuing plea negotiations may not be known to the audience.


For a list of episodes, see Law & Order episodes.

Broadcast History[]

The show premiered September 13, 1990, and ended its first consecutive run on May 24, 2010. A total of 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 prime-time scripted drama with Gunsmoke. The first two seasons were broadcast Tuesdays at 10 pm. From season 3 through 16 the show aired Wednesday at 10 pm. For season 17, it moved to Fridays at 10 pm. For seasons 18 and 19, the show shifted back to Wednesdays at 10 pm. For season 20 the show was broadcast Fridays at 8 pm, while in the spring it moved to Mondays at 10 pm, where it broadcast what was then its series finale on May 24, 2010. However, Law and Order was later revived for a 21st season in 2021. Like its spinoff Law and Order: SVU, the show will air more seasons than previous live action television record holder Gunsmoke when the 21st season debuts.[2][3]


On May 14, 2010, NBC announced that it will be cancelled the show, opting instead to pick up Law & Order: LA for a first season, and renewed Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for a twelfth. The cancellation was announced after last-minute talks between NBC and Dick Wolf to extend the series failed to lead to an agreement.

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

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. The show also placed No. 27 on Entertainment Weekly's "New TV Classics" list.

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

DVD Releases[]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The 1st Year 22 October 15, 2002 / June 4, 2013
The 2nd Year 22 May 4, 2003 / June 3, 2004
The 3rd Year 22 May 24, 2004 / June 3, 2014
The 4th Year 22 December 5, 2005 / June 3, 2014
The 5th Year 23 April 3, 2007 / June 3, 2014
The 6th Year 23 December 2, 2008 / May 26, 2008
The 7th Year 23 January 19, 2010 / May 26, 2015
The 8th Year 24 December 7, 2010 / May 26, 2015
The 9th Year 24 December 6, 2011
The 10th Year 24 February 28, 2012
The 11th Year 24 November 6, 2012
The 12th Year 24 February 25, 2013
The 13th Year 24 November 5, 2013
The 14th Year 24 September 14, 2004 / February 25, 2014
The 15th Year 24 November 4, 2014
The 16th Year 22
The 17th Year 22
The 18th Year 18 May 5, 2015
The 19th Year 22
The 20th Year 23


  1. Law & Order’ Revived for Season 21
  2. Template:Cite news
  3. Template:Cite news

External Links[]