Law & Order Being Revived

Eleven years after it was canceled, the police procedural is being brought back for a 21st season.

Deadline (“‘Law & Order’ Revived By NBC For Season 21 From Dick Wolf & Rick Eid“):

Eleven and a half years after NBC abruptly canceled Law & Order, denying its shot at making TV history, the network is bringing back Dick Wolf’s Emmy-winning series for a new season, its 21st.

NBC has greenlighted a new installment of Law & Order, from Wolf and writer-showrunner Rick Eid, which will continue the classic bifurcated format and will once again examine “the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.”

There is no cast set but the new season is expected to feature beloved characters from the original series, with Sam Waterson’s Jack McCoy believed to be at the top of the wish list. The producers from Universal Television and Wolf Entertainment are expected to reach out to former cast member shortly about coming back. Some Law & Order stars are currently in the Wolf Entertainment/Uni TV fold, including S. Epatha Merkerson on Chicago Med and Alana De La Garza on FBI.

Law & Order, which launched the biggest procedural franchise on TV, was on the cusp of breaking Gunsmoke’s record as the longest running primetime drama ever when NBC in May 2010 unceremoniously canceled the series without a proper finale when renewal negotiations fell through.

While Law & Order creator Wolf got to set a new record for the longest-running drama series with spinoff Law & Order: SVU, now in its 23rd season, he always felt he had unfinished business with the mothership series ending the way it did.

“There are very few things in life that are literally dreams come true. This is mine,” he said about the Season 21 order.

While I’ve seen several episodes of the original show in syndication, I was never a huge fan and don’t believe I’ve seen any of the spin-offs. But this was indeed an iconic show and sparked something of a cottage industry.

Despite until relatively recently being viewed as the minor leagues for those aspiring to make movies, television is in many ways a better medium. The episodic nature of the programming makes character development much richer. But it is rare, indeed, for the combination of great writing and chemistry on a given series to last more than five to seven seasons. The creator gets restless and wants to move on, handing the show off to lesser talent. Romantic tensions between the male and female lead get old after a while. Or they get married and the tension that was at the heart of the show goes away. Second bananas get tired of being in the shadows. Stars get restless for something new.

And, yet, we’re seeing a proliferation of shows that seem to go on forever like soap operas. Law & Order was at the forefront of this and many of its spin-offs have followed suit. NCIS, itself a spin-off of JAG, has been around since 2003 now and has generated multiple spinoffs of its own. Grey’s Anatomy has been on since 2005 and, yes, it, too, has generated spinoffs. I was a regular watcher of both but lost interest a decade ago. (And that’s not even counting animated shows like the Simpsons and Family Guy.)

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. These multi-decade franchises are an interesting contrast to the opposite that we see mainly on prestige cable and streaming services: much shorter seasons with self-contained stories (some more tightly contained than others).

    On balance, I got to the point some years ago wherein I really don’t like the old-school network show with a largely set weekly formula and an endless horizon.

    We stopped watching “The Blacklist” (which I only watched because of James Spader, otherwise I thought it was kinda meh) because I thought: there is no incentive to really reveal all the mysteries until the show ends, and the network wants the show to go on forever.

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  2. I am also mostly tired of cop shows wherein every episode is basically saying that law enforcement is easy because they always are going after the right bad guy, which I think creates the wrong impression in the general public.

    Put another way: for the most part in a show like L&O (which we watched for a while some years ago) makes it seem like being arrested equals being guilty (a notion that permeates our society, but that is also antithetical, at least in theory, to the principle of innocent until proven guilty).

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @Steven L. Taylor: Yes and yes. I liked NCIS but eventually the formula just got tired. I watched a couple of seasons of The Blacklist but, yes, the very slow reveal got annoying and I gave up. Grey’s Anatomy started pretty good but offscreen drama changed the cast considerably and the main character just wasn’t very likable.

    In the early years of the site, I dubbed the continued watching of shows that had run out of juice simply because we’re invested in the characters “might as well see TV.” I’ve long since gotten to the point where I’ll just stop watching.

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  4. Michael Cain says:

    I am also mostly tired of cop shows wherein every episode is basically saying that law enforcement is easy because they always are going after the right bad guy, which I think creates the wrong impression in the general public.

    With Law and Order: SVU going the opposite direction, at least as I recall. Many episodes where the first person arrested is the wrong person. I recall thinking regularly, “No police unit that screwed over that many prominent people could possibly survive.”

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  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The last court show I really enjoyed was “Raising the Bar”, because it was from the perspective of the defense lawyers, and every episode was mostly cops and prosecutors being complete bastards who only cared about improving their success rate stats even if it meant destroying potentially innocent people.

    Of course, it only lasted for 25 episodes because it wasn’t glorifying the police enough.

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  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    One time I was visiting my parents and ended up seeing an episode of NCIS where two characters (a Major and a Lieutenant IIRC) were sent by their CO to drive to a military base, pick up a prisoner, and then drive back. While they’re there a guy escapes, and a Colonel at the base starts “ordering” them to drop their mission and go around helping him capture the escapee, and my parents couldn’t understand why I kept breaking out laughing every time the Colonel kept doing his “that’s an order, Major!” act (military rank doesn’t mean you can just start issuing new orders to soldiers from completely different units just because you outrank them).

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  7. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am also mostly tired of cop shows wherein every episode is basically saying that law enforcement is easy because they always are going after the right bad guy, which I think creates the wrong impression in the general public.

    You beat me to it. These programs (and thier descendents) have done more to hold back criminal legal system reform than any other media (and I include Fox News in that).

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  8. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We stopped watching “The Blacklist” (which I only watched because of James Spader, otherwise I thought it was kinda meh)

    Agreed that his chewing the scenery was the only reason to watch the Blacklist… Which we referred to as “head shot theatre” because it seemed like every episode at least one person got shot between the eyes.

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  9. Kathy says:

    It’s easy not to knit stories together in a cop show, because all cases are independent from each other. What they tend to do is get a serial killer to strike over and over, never quite managing to catch them or convict them.

    You know what would be a brave thing to do for TV? A show about the Internal Affairs officers who investigate other cops.

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  10. Joe says:

    While I did not watch a lot of L&O, I have a special connection to it because my son composed a piece called Agony that uses the script of an L&O episode as the backdrop for the piece to demonstrate the “pattern” to the story lines.

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    being arrested equals being guilty

    In some ways though, this was always the formula going back to Dragnet back in the 50s. It’s the counterpoint to defense lawyer programming–in the mold of Perry Mason–where the fact that you were arrested was the proof that you are innocent. The hero doesn’t make mistakes–on either direction. It’s what makes him the hero. Having both types of shows creates the karmic balance society yearns for–the evil are thwarted and the innocent are completely protected from negative consequences. We want the world to work that way.

    And we want armies to build thriving democracies out of whole cloth after wars about our national honor. And that doesn’t happen either. 🙁

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  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    L&O question: is there a composer who wrote the *DUN* *DUN* and who gets a royalty every time they play it?

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  13. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    They tended to follow the House MD model, making several diagnoses until they hit on the right one.

    However, they often only arrested the person corresponding to the correct diagnosis. And in L&O Criminal Intent, only after Goren gets them to confess.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    I can’t see what’s holding up a revival of Matlock and Mannix. Or F-Troop and the Beverly Hillbillies. What, are they interred in unmarked graves? Are Hollywood execs unable to find those corpses for their zombie TV army?

    I have all the channels, all the apps, all streams, and there’s some excellent stuff on. Hacks, The Other Two, Bosch (recently concluded), The Expanse, Better Call Saul, Dickinson, Derry Girls, Bridgerton, and from the Brits we get Line of Duty, Taskmaster and Would I Lie To You. But the good shows swim in a sea of unoriginal, derivative, rehashed, warmed-over crap. I would guess that of new TV shows 25% are genuinely new, and 75% are zombie shows, disinterred, outfitted with an inferior brain and shoved out into the world like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein.

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  15. With Jerry Orbach and Steven Hill (from your picture)? That would be a good trick.

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  16. Long Time Listener says:

    @Mr Reynolds: I regularly refer to a ‘rival’ division, at work, as ‘F-Troop’, and a colleague uses a finger to mimic the guard tower falling over. We’re all middle-aged, so we find it funny.

    Also: could you imagine pitching a TV show in 2021 with white guys in red make-up, portraying goofball Native Americans?

    Almost as bad-funny-bad as anything by Mel Brooks (that comedic genius)….

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Long Time Listener:
    I’ve confessed this before, but I know all the lyrics to only three songs: Rancid’s Fuck You, and the theme songs to Beverly Hillbillies and F-Troop. If I were ever forced – it would have to be at gunpoint – to sing Karaoke, it’d be, The end of the Civil War was near, when quite accidentally, a hero who sneezed. . .

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  18. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    L&O question: is there a composer who wrote the *DUN* *DUN* and who gets a royalty every time they play it?

    Mike Post (who’s birthday is today)

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  19. just nutha says:

    @Stormy Dragon: My guess is yes, someone composed it but no, he only gets a royalty when/if someone else uses it. For L&O, he was paid a fixed fee–or is the show’s music editor or something else.

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  20. Joe says:

    Though I find no evidence on the ever-reliable Internet after almost an entire minute of searching, I recall reading that The Ballad of Jed Clampett (as the theme song of The Beverly Hillbillies is actually titled) had dozens of verses, only three of which were used in the show and, I suspect, only three of which were memorized by Mr. Reynolds.

    @Mu Yixiao: But for fair use, I suspect my son might owe a couple of bucks to Mr. Post.

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  21. just nutha says:

    @Michael Cain: The Glades worked on that model. The detective kept arresting each person of interest until he got to the one who checked all the boxes.

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  22. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am also mostly tired of cop shows wherein every episode is basically saying that law enforcement is easy because they always are going after the right bad guy, which I think creates the wrong impression in the general public.

    Perhaps this 21st season will reveal that they were planting evidence, and lying on the stand for the previous 20 seasons. That would be fun.

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  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Joe:
    I cannot be held responsible for mystery verses that may or may not exist. Like a mockingbird, I can only sing the songs that were sung to me.

    BTW, if I wrote more like that last sentence I’d be a literary writer with a lifetime output of three books, a framed literary prize hanging on the wall of my Brooklyn studio apartment and an empty bank account.

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  24. just nutha says:

    @Gustopher:

    Perhaps this 21st season will reveal that they were planting evidence, and lying on the stand for the previous 20 seasons.

    I recall they actually did that story. Jack McCoy was charged with prosecutorial misconduct and sexually harassing (IIRC) the ADA who would have been able to blow the whistle. As I recall, it got papered over and McCoy’s reward was later was being appointed DA–after the sitting DA was discharged for misconduct.

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  25. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “I can’t see what’s holding up a revival of Matlock and Mannix.”

    Thank you very much, we did both on Diagnosis Murder. The Matlock revival I stayed away from — the show had been off the air for a year or two, Andy Griffith was a nightmare, and I wasn’t running the show yet, so I could stay away.

    But Mannix — that was all me and my partner. We conceived the idea, watched dozens of episodes to find one where the guest cast was both alive and affordable — which meant Pernell Roberts and Julia Adams, not Gene Hackman — and came up with a story where we could bring them all back and use the Mannix episode for flashbacks. Then we had the big task of luring Mike Connors out of retirement… which we did.

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  26. wr says:

    @just nutha:”My guess is yes, someone composed it but no, he only gets a royalty when/if someone else uses it. For L&O, he was paid a fixed fee–or is the show’s music editor or something else.”

    With all due respect, your guess is wrong. He gets a royalty for the actual theme music every week (and for reruns) and he is credited as composer on all the episodes, so they’re paying him for that Dun Dun every time.

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  27. flat earth luddite says:

    @Michael Cain:
    I personally can’t watch SVU because I’ve known (and lived with) the a-holes portrayed. And by a-holes I’m including the perps, LEO’s and ADAs.

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  28. Mister Bluster says:

    Bring back the Rockford Files.
    I’ll play the lead. I’ll even do it for scale as long as I get to drive that Pontiac and live in a trailer on the beach in Malibu.

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  29. CSK says:

    @Joe: @Michael Reynolds:

    There’s one extra verse cited here:

    http://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/beverlyhillbillieslyrics.html

    You’re welcome.

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  30. just nutha says:

    @wr: Thank you for the information. As I said, only a guess (and an assumption that the one phrase might not have been composed by the main composer).

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  31. Joe says:

    @CSK: Thanks. I had a moment and just found it separately and here’s the “missing” penultimate verse. I expect Michael Reynolds to commit it to memory.

    Old Jed bought a mansion, lordy it was swank
    Next door neighbor’s the president of the bank.
    Lotta folks complaining but the banker found no fault
    ‘Cause all Jed’s millions, was a-sitting in the vault!

    Redemption funds. Stocks and bonds.

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  32. EddieInCA says:

    @wr:

    What wr said.

    He gets paid per episode.
    He gets paid for reruns.
    He gets paid for syndication.
    He gets paid for streaming.

    That “Dun-Dun” has earned him a tidy sum over the last 20 years plus.

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  33. EddieInCA says:

    @just nutha:

    The Glades worked on that model. The detective kept arresting each person of interest until he got to the one who checked all the boxes.

    Thanks for the shout out to a show on which wr and I both worked. That show was one of the best professional experiences of my life. Mostly because I got to live oceanfront in South Florida for four seasons.

    Sidenote: Matt Passmore, who played the lead, is one of the nicest guys on the planet.

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  34. Mister Bluster says:

    @David Schuler:..With Jerry Orbach and Steven Hill (from your picture)? That would be a good trick.

    D.A. Adam Schiff, Detective Lennie Briscoe and Detective Ed Green, in order of appearance, are my three favorite characters on the original Law and Order. Unfortunately Netflix does not offer discs of L+O Season 10 to rent, the only season all three appeared together. Every now and then if I am out joyriding and find myself in a motel that offers DirecTv and the planets are aligned correctly I will be able to catch L+O season 10 episodes on one of the channels that runs continuous L+O Marathons.
    Law and Order: Criminal Intent holds my attention most episodes. The only other character that I have seen Vincent D’Onofrio play is the angry, ill fated David Kahane “I don’t WRITE POSTCARDS! I WRITE SCRIPTS!” (a young Reynolds?) in Altman’s The Player.
    Law and Order: SVU is not a regular watch for me however I do enjoy Ice-T and Belzer in their roles as Fin and Munch.
    Another seemngly forgotten cop show I am considering buying the DVD is Homicide-Life on the Street. Not offered at Netflix that I can find.

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  35. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    FWIW, Amazon Prime Video in Mexico had L&O season 10.

    D’Onofrio plays the alien bug wearing the Edgar suit in the first Men In Black movie, and he was the military/security jerk in the first Jurassic World movie (he gets eaten by a velociraptor).

    Steven Hill played the original lead in season 1 of the old Mission: Impossible series.

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  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @EddieInCA: My pleasure! I liked the show and was sad (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT) that Passmore’s character was left dying in the entryway of his new house at the end of the last season. On the other hand, I was almost positive that whatever the writing team came up with for an explanation was going to be beyond my ability to swallow (much like McGee’s recovery after having been shot through the knee by Gibbs–and yes, I stopped watching NCIS shortly after that. My contract with CBS AllAccess was cancelled by accident on their end and they were unable to reconnect me).

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  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: I can see why they didn’t use it. Doesn’t scan well to the contour of the melody.

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  38. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kathy:..Steven Hill…Edgar

    Several years ago my brother made me aware of the Mission: Impossible role that Hill played. He even sent me a clip. Couldn’t mistake the voice for any one else.
    Never saw MIB. Had to look up Edgar suit and found this clip. Now I’ve got to add another film to my gotta’ see list.

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  39. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I found it by accident. I moved years ago, and it took weeks to get cable or satellite. Meantime there was a Blockbuster nearby (years ago), and they had full seasons on DVD for rent. One I got was season 1 of Mission: Impossible.

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  40. Stormy Dragon says:

    @CSK:

    Related: there are actually lyrics to the original Star Trek theme song that Gene Roddenberry wrote so he could claim a co-writing credit and get a royalty every time it’s played, even as an instrumental:

    Beyond
    The rim of the star-light
    My love
    Is wand’ring in star-flight
    I know
    He’ll find in star-clustered reaches
    Love,
    Strange love a star woman teaches.
    I know
    His journey ends never
    His star trek
    Will go on forever.
    But tell him
    While he wanders his starry sea
    Remember, remember me.

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  41. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    I hope this is a joke.

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  42. Stormy Dragon says:

    @CSK:

    Get used to disappointment

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  43. @CSK: He is serious. Rationale and all.

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  44. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon: @CSK: @Steven L. Taylor: Ewwww! That was…
    Well, dreadful seems inadequate somehow.

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  45. EddieInCA says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    The vagarity and egos of TV and Film Executives are responsible for that fiasco.

    Here’s the backstory. The Glades was in it’s fourth season, getting the best ratings of it’s four season run. The studio had assured our showrunner and other Exec Producer that there would be a season 5. They wrote that cliffhanger ending anticipating closing it up season 5. Close to the end of the season, the network got a new head of production. That person, as often happens, wanted to put his stamp on the network, so he cancelled “The Glades” and “Longmire”, shortly after they finished their seasons. Those were A&E’s two biggest shows at the time, with Longmire regularly getting over 6 million viewers per week. Longmire went on to an additional three seasons on Netflix. The way “The Glades” ended was NEVER supposed to be the series finale.

    There are still people on Facebook clamoring for a resolution to the series.

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