“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.”
These were the chilling words spoken at the start of every episode by Steven Zirnkilton along with the famous clang which was an institution to one of the longest running television series in history. Those words and sounds belonged to the iconic TV drama Law & Order.
Law & Order was created by legendary producer Dick Wolf and premiered on NBC on September 13, 1990 and lasted for 20 consecutive seasons tying Gunsmoke for the long running television series ending on May 24, 2010. The series was based in New York City consisting of detectives usually investigating murders and the attorneys using the evidence to bring the guilty to justice. Those who give the orders are the captains of the 27th Precient and the District Attorney of New York County.
The original cast in 1990 starred on the Law portion was George Dzundza as Sergeant Max Greevey, Chris Noth as detective Mike Logan for the first five seasons who later on reprised his roll in previous appearance on Law & Order: Criminal Intent in 2005. Captian Donald Cragen was portrayed by Dann Florek for the first three seasons, but made guest appeared before or during his return taking over sexual cases on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 1999, playing the role for 400 episodes overall.
The original Order cast consisted of Michael Moriarty as Executive Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone with Richard Brooks as assistant Paul Robinette for three seasons, but returned on and off as a defendant. Steven Hill played District Attorney Adam Schiff for the first ten seasons until his retirement in 2000. Hill stayed on the program longer than any of the originals while they were notorious for changing cast members more frequently than any other series in history.
However, there would be others who would take over on a more popular basis, after Paul Sorvino played Phil Cerreta in seasons two and three, Jerry Orbach played Lenny Briscoe for 11 seasons until 2004 when he moved his character to the short-lived Law & Order: Trial By Jury to a lighter workload due to his illness from prostate cancer which he kept secret until weeks following his death. Briscoe was known for his wisecracks which at times helped add some humor to a much serious program.
Sam Waterson came on board as ADA Jack McCoy taking over for Moriarty in season five all the way to the series’ end. McCoy had been known to bend rules at times to get justice and almost causing him to get disbarred at times and possibly being held in contempt of court more than any other attorney. McCoy served under three DAs while he had six assistants under his wing throughout the entire show until he was appointed interim DA in season 17. Taking over McCoy’s spot was Mike Cutter played by Linus Roache with almost the same attributes.
S. Epatha Merkerson took over as Liutenant Anita Van Buren in the 27th Precint in season four until the end. Van Buren was the longest running character on the show since its debut and while the show struggled to stay afloat during its later years had already planned to leave after season 20, but the announcement proved to be a waste of time.
Since Orbach’s departure, the show began to slip in the ratings and the continuous shuffling of the cast didn’t help much, not even Orbach’s replacement Dennis Farina as Joe Fontana. L&O had a total of seven assistant DAs, the other six were Jill Hennessy as Claire Kincaid (killed in a car accident in season six), Carey Lowell as Jamie Ross, Angie Harmon (wife of Jason Sehorn) as Abby Carmichael, Elisabeth Rohm as Serena Southerlyn (revealed as a lesbian on her last appearance at the end of season 15), Annie Parisse as Alexandra Borgia (murdered at the end of season 16), and Alana de la Garza as Connie Rubirosa till the end.
Junior detectives were Benjamin Bratt as Rey Curtis, Jesse L. Martin as Ed Green (nine seasons), Michael Imperioli as Nick Falco (temporarily), Milena Govich as Nina Cassady (first female cop), Jeremy Sisto as Cyrus Lupo and Anthony Anderson as Kevin Bernard (both remained till the end). Other District Attorneys were Dianne Wiest as Nora Lewin and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson as Arthur Branch.
Unlike any normal program, it was extremely rare for any storyline to continue consecutively or pick up from another episode until the final revamp in season 17, McCoy was appointed as interim DA and Van Buren was fighting cancer. After the revamp, Green was the only character to leave after being accused of murder and illegal gambling and was around the same time Briscoe’s death was mentioned. McCoy served out Branch’s term and successfully got elected to a full term.
There had been talks of reviving the show on a limited basis, and was reported that Waterston was all in for it. No further talks had been mentioned since but reruns continue on several satellite channels. After Law&Order: CI was cancelled, SVU is the lone show remaining in the franchise and is currently in its 18th season. Even after a seven year hiatus, it wouldn’t hurt to find the right cast and give it another go just like in the Star Trek franchise.