|Since television shows age roughly in dog years, NBC's "Law & Order" was 140 when it died.|
Let's put that in perspective. If Grandma dies at 140, you don't say, "Gee, I'm surprised she died." You go, "Great life, Grandma!"
"Law & Order" had a great life. Best TV show ever? Nah. But no TV show did a better job executing the basics.
"L&O" mastermind Dick Wolf took one of the oldest ideas in crime drama - the snappy dialogue that drove stories from Dashiell Hammett to "Dragnet" and beyond - and freshened it with a first-rate acting ensemble in a great location.
Actors as distinguished as S. Epatha Merkerson (Lt. Anita Van Buren since 1993) and Sam Waterston (top prosecutor Jack McCoy since 1994) had prominent roles but never defined the show.
For 20 years, the show was all about one question some of us ask every day: What is justice?
Toward that answer, Wolf walked several artistic lines.
"Law & Order" was ripped from the headlines, but not bound by them. Wolf based episodes on fresh real-life crime cases, but gave them his own delicious spin.
The characters cracked dark wise-guy jokes without getting too hardened to care. The late Jerry Orbach's Detective Lennie Briscoe, on the surface one of the most cynical cops ever, wasn't.
The show didn't pretend justice was always just. The bad (and good) guys didn't always get what they deserved. That's another element ripped from the headlines.
"L&O" gave us the law and the order. Other shows could have spun an hour from either the police or court part of "L&O" cases. Each had to wrap in 20 minutes. Twenty seconds here, 40 seconds there. Boom, boom, boom.
"L&O" foreshadowed the age of the txt msg. It was 140-character TV before the tweet was invented. It also was an hour you didn't begrudge having given to your TV set.