The “Law & Order” franchise hasn't been around forever, it just seems that way. But that's a good thing. You know you've watched a “Law & Order” marathon at least once in your life. It's because the shows are so damned addicting. There have been a total of five different “Law & Order” shows that have been aired through the years. They started the whole take-a-succussful-show-and-spinoff-the-hell-out-of-it approach that we see today with shows like CSI, NCIS, etc. But the master of the genre was “Law & Order” as it started it all.
“Law & Order” (1990) – The original “Law & Order” still sets the standard for the franchise. When it premiered in 1990, it offered up a novel concept: the first half hour of the show was devoted to detectives searching for the perp while the second half hour followed the prosecution by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The ever-changing cast continued to breathe new life into the show year after year as you never knew who was going to be killed off or replaced for the following season. That said, the absolute best kickass detective pairing was Logan and Briscoe. Jack McCoy is the standard for a D.A. And crusty old Adam Schiff was great. He was always asking McCoy to plea down a case, but McCoy always went ahead with the prosecution anyway. And don't forget the great theme song. Ba-DUM-da-da-da-da-dum. Instantly recognizable and classic.
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (1999) – SVU was the first “Law & Order” spinoff series. Unlike its parent show, it has remained remarkably consistent with its lead characters and is the only L&O series on the air today. The SVU specializes in investigating sex crimes so you have some real sleazeball perps that it's easy to root against. Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni, as senior Detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, have been with the show since its inception, and are maybe the best-paired investigators on TV. They complement each other perfectly.
“Law and Order: Criminal Intent” (2001) – “Criminal Intent” was the second spinoff and focused on high-profile cases that were investigated by the fictitious Major Case Squad. Particular attention was given to the actions of the criminals, often including scenes from the victim's or perpetrator's lives, thereby giving the audience a look into the "criminal intent.” The show ran from 2001 to 2011 on NBC and then the USA network before it was finally canceled. The main stars of the show were Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe as Detectives Robert Goren and Alexandra Eames for the show’s duration. D’Onofrio’s performance as the brooding and brilliant Goren merits special mention.
“Law & Order: LA” (2010) – This show flopped big time as it lasted only one season. Maybe the idea of a “Law & Order” show sounded great over a three martini lunch, but for L&O fans, it failed for one simple reason: it wasn't set in New York. New York City is probably the most interesting character in the L&O shows and moving the series from the gritty realism of New York to glitzy Los Angeles was the kiss of death. Sure, the producers tried a major overhaul and a complete recasting, but it was sure to fail. NYC beats LA any day of the week for a crime drama setting.
“Law & Order: Trial By Jury” (2005) – The third spinoff series was a disaster that didn't even last a full season. The concept of the show was to follow the planning of the legal teams, the prosecution and defense teams, for a jury trial. Yawn. Boring. A Jerry Seinfeld bit about why this show failed might go something like this: "How can you have Law & Order when there's no Order? You have the Law part, but where's the Order? Doesn't the name imply that there should be an Order to go along with the Law?" It was a bad idea that should never have been made into a series.