Basic premise: A license for Dick Wolf to print money and try his crazy gimmicks, some of which failed.
Why it’s here: This is the show I think of when I think of crime procedurals; I have seen every single episode at least once. It’s terrific television. It’s not as gritty as NYPD Blue, but it’s also more realistic. Sam Waterston made this show, more than any other person, when he wasn’t selling robot insurance.
Why it isn’t higher: By my own definition of crime procedural, Law and Order is shaky, because it’s about 1/3 cop show and 2/3 lawyer show. (The balance varies from episode to episode.) I couldn’t leave it off the list, but neither could I rate it in the top half by that criteria. If we go by strictly legal procedurals (which I won’t — two of these series is enough for me unless Kevin comes up with a new idea), it’d be #2 or #3. It, more than any other show in history (I think), suffers from fatigue. There’s only so far you can go with this, and it just went on too long. Changing characters helped a lot, but after Jerry Orbach left the show, the quality suffered. Still great television, but not as compelling.
I want to address one more thing that I realize now I left out of the original post: Law & Order: SVU. There will be one more Law & Order on this list — SVU isn’t it. Why not?
SVU is a fine television program that addressed and still addresses something that needed to be addressed: sex crimes. I applaud Dick Wolf for pushing for it. I, however, find the program incredibly difficult to watch. I almost never voluntarily watch the show when it’s on — not because it’s bad, but because I simply can’t stomach the content. This will come as a great shock to my readers, particularly when you see some of my other choices, but it’s a personal preference. I’ve seen about 40% of the episodes, but nothing since I stopped watching it with my parents.