“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.”
For 20 years, since September 1990, a whole lot of us have weekly waited for this opening line as our favorite show on television, Law and Order, would begin its weekly episode. In my household few things took precedence over watching this television drama. My two eldest daughters caught Dad’s passion for this show. Their sorority sisters at Hanover will remember them finding their way faithfully to the nearest television awaiting the dramatic chord “duh duh” that signaled an episode’s beginning.
Created by Dick Wolf, the show followed a predictable formula–a procedural legal drama. The first half devoted to the police and the investigation. The second half to the district attorneys and the prosecution of the case. The show did not resort to heavy doses of action, nor did it focus on the outrageous private lives of its characters. It was just good solid writing, with stories taken from the headlines–carrying a reality and a creativity that made the viewer think week in and week out about our society, its values, our legal system, and the impact on the lives of everyday people.
I didn’t always appreciate its values or its perceptions. Wolf and his writers seemed to lump all serious Christians with biblical values into the same camp as extremists and fundamentalists. And periodically it seemed to go out of its way to paint homosexuality in a light more favorable than I would. But it also promoted justice, a sense of accountability to the law along with characters who were down-to-earth and believable, even if they were passionate and narrowly focused.
In fact, it was those characters that kept bringing me back to Law and Order. I confess Jack McCoy, who rose through the ranks of ADAs to become the District Attorney was my favorite lawyer. Lt Van Buren will always be the face of the police. Lenny was my most memorable police detective. And this final cast of characters, in my opinion, the best ensemble yet in the 20 years of this show.
Law and Order has been canceled by NBC as it concludes its 20th season on television (that final episode being tonight.) It will share longest-running honors with Gunsmoke. Ephata Merkeson, Lt. Anita Van Buren, one of the long-running characters was slated to leave at the end of this season. Many of us would have missed this powerful and empathetic character (this last season she battled cancer). But now the whole show is about to be history.
The show spawned several spin-offs, but I confess, none ever caught my fancy nor claimed my allegiance. I watched them mostly when I couldn’t get my weekly fix of the original. I was very glad when TNT began broadcasting the reruns. many of which I could (and have) watched over and over. In the vast wasteland that is sometimes television, Law and Order was a giant of substance. In a time when absurdly contrived reality shows win ratings, Law and Order was always a view of reality that was purposeful and thoughtful.
Law and Order, I will miss you. I won’t be the only one.