Law and Order is good television drama.

Technically, it moves very quickly, from action to action to action. Dick Wolf, the creator and executive producer, has explained that he used a peculiarity of televion; he allowed for the series to be divided into the two parts: LAW and ORDER, to permit more stations to broadcast his production. Each half hour is self-contained, but does relate to the other half: Check out the separate writing, directing, and even producing credits.

More creatively, the writing approach follows David Mamet's theory: Arrive late; leave early!

And it uses that cool synthesizer sound to connect sequences.

In Howard Zinn’s book “Declarations of Independence,” he cites a speech by a student at the Harvard Law School in the early 1960’s given to a large group of parents and alumni. The student was speaking about current events, and said,

“The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might. And the republic is in danger. Yes! Danger from within and without. We need law and order! Without law and order our nation cannot survive.”

The crowd applauded the words of the young speaker, and when the crowd hushed, he continued.

“These words were spoken in 1932 by Adolf Hitler.”
"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 TV show on NBC (with reruns on TNT more than twice daily), finishing its 13th season in 2003 and showing no signs of stopping. Every episode has a title, but I won't list them here as there are about 300 of them.

One unusual thing about this show is the camera work. It is always a little shaky; I think a real person holds the camera instead of setting it on a tripod. This makes it feel more real, more intimate (as if we are watching home videos instead of a carefully created TV show), and a little unsettling.

As to why it is so popular, there are several likely reasons. One is that people like cop shows (ex. Cops, NYPD Blue) and lawyer shows (ex. Ally McBeal, The Practice), and since this one is both, it has survived as the pendulum of interest swings from one to the other. People also like doctor shows (ex. ER), and while doctors are not a large part of this show, it does have the court psychiatrist, the medical examiners, and the occasional expert witness or even defendant who's a doctor.

Unlike many of these other shows, it tries to be realistic. The "good guys" don't always win, and for that matter, we don't always think they're good guys. Sometimes the only trouble comes from defendants and witnesses not wanting to help, but sometimes the police or the DA's screw up. Sometimes the "bad guy" goes to jail, and sometimes he (or she!) gets away scot-free.

Another reason people like this show so much could be the way characters are portrayed. For the most part, we see them only at work. We get to know their personalities, but not much about their personal lives. I love to speculate about characters' relationships and histories, and I doubt I'm the only one; this show leaves a lot of room for that. Plus, with a new character every two years or so (without making the cast huge), we get to see new interaction, like cops learning to work with new partners. (Not to mention the constant question of whether McCoy is sleeping with his assistant or not.) The first new character was very early in the show, only second season, replacing Max Greevey. The last original character to leave was Adam Schiff, at the end of season ten.

Regular cast:

Law (the police):
Chris Noth as Det. Mike Logan (1-5)
George Dzundza as Det. Sgt. Max Greevey (1)
Paul Sorvino as Det. Phil Cerreta (2-3)
Jerry Orbach as Det. Lennie Briscoe (3-current)
Benjamin Bratt as Det. Reynaldo Curtis (6-9)
Jesse L. Martin as Det. Ed Green (10-current)
Dann Florek as Capt. Donald Cragen (1-3)
S. Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Anita Van Buren (4-current)

Order (the district attorneys):
Michael Moriarty as ADA Benjamin "Ben" Stone (1-4)
Sam Waterston as ADA Jack McCoy (5-current)
Richard Brooks as ADA Paul Robinette (1-3)
Jill Hennessy as ADA Claire Kincaid (4-6)
Cary Lowell as ADA Jamie Ross (7-8)
Angie Harmon as ADA Abbie Carmichael (9-11)
Elisabeth Rohm as ADA Serena Southerlyn (12-current)
Steven Hill as D.A. Adam Schiff (1-10)
Dianne Wiest as D.A. Nora Lewin (11-12)
Fred Thompson as D.A. Arthur Branch (13-current)

The court psychiatrists:
Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet (2-5)
J.K. Simmons as Dr. Emil Skoda (6-current)

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