Sunday, November 29, 2015

TV — Law & Order: The Franchise of All Franchises

I forget a lot of thing these days. That’s not an entirely bad thing. Broadcast channels have expanded and filled the time with reruns. Many that seem new to me aren’t new to me. Also, I can take only so much nostalgia. However, the unsentimental reruns of “Law & Order,” the original, are fresh, perhaps because I am forgetful; but probably because they are just that good.

My favorite mainstream cop series was “Homicide, Life on the Street” and its dark, cynical humor. I never missed an episode of “NYPD Blue,” despite its complete lack of humor. I hoped I’d see Sipowicz smile – just once.  Nope.  On the other hand, “Law & Order” wasn’t as character-driven. It was issue-driven and compelling, largely because the stories were “ripped from the headlines.” which meant covering timely, but more important, controversial subjects, putting public issues on public display. Sadly many of those early issues – the show premiered in 1990 – are still not resolved and still under debate.  The repeats remain fresh. We’re not only caught up in the police procedural aspect of the drama, but also the legal maneuverings that examine in dramatic fashion the moral and ethical nuances of the crime. Sometimes the difference between law and justice are painfully apparent.

The shows, formulaic as they are, were well written with an unequalled cast of accomplished actors in recurring roles. However, the show was so successful and ran for so long – 20 seasons – significant cast turnover was inevitable. Many a fine actor found “Law & Order” a career stepping–off point, while others extended successful and highly respected careers.

Among the many talented actors who have made a mark in this TV classic were Chris Noth, Dann Florek, Michael Moriarity, Dianne Wiest, Richard Brooks, Steven Hill, Paul Sorvino, Sam Waterson, Benjamin Bratt, Jesse L. Martin, and S. Epatha Merkerson.

The highly successful spin-offs – “Law & Order Criminal Intent,” also in reruns, as well as the most successful of the offspring, “Law & Order SUV,” still going – may see their inspiration return. Rumors that creator Dick Wolf plans to reprise the original are still bouncing around.  He wants to.

Personally, I’d love to see it.  Unfortunately some of the actors are no longer among the living.  Jerry Orbach, Fred Dalton Thompson and Dennis Farina have passed on. However, heavyweights Sam Waterson and Chris Noth might be up for a brief revival, one more season to give the show the formal farewell it deserved (it was axed abruptly) as well as set the record for the most seasons for a prime-time dramatic series.  Currently, “Gunsmoke” is tied with “Law & Order” at 20 seasons each. To put the numbers in perspective, “Perry Mason” had nine.

Meanwhile Wolf is trying to build another franchise with Chicago P.D., Chicago Fire and Chicago Med. Incidentally, 

Steven Hill, who seemed ancient in the early episodes of “Law & Order” is 94.

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