Towards the end of the fifth season, Executive Producer Dick Wolf decided not to renew Chris Noth's contract, citing that the interaction between Logan and the similarly jaded Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) lacked enough dramatic contrast. Viewers and critics were shocked at the dismissal of the most popular and only original remaining cast member at that time. Years later, Noth convinced Wolf to produce Exiled (1998) to wrap up the story of Mike Logan, which Noth felt had been prematurely extinguished on the show. Noth returned again to revive the character for two seasons of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001).
In 2001, creator Dick Wolf announced plans for a special Law & Order mini-series featuring the casts of all three L&O series ("Law & Order", Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001)). The mini-series was to have been broadcast in the spring of 2002 and deal with a terrorist attack on New York. After the real-life attack on New York on September 11, the mini-series was canceled.
When the show began airing in re-runs on TNT, new digital technology was used to insert "product placements" (paid appearances of name-brand products) into the show. The easiest to spot is for Coca-Cola; any time you see a Coke can sitting on a desk, it has been added digitally.
The distinctive "thunk-thunk" sound effect used in between scenes was created by combining close to a dozen sounds, including that of a group of monks stamping on a floor. The sound is intended to be reminiscent of both a judge's gavel, and a jail cell door slamming.
Steven Zirnkilton, who narrates the opening credit sequences, only appeared on screen once. He played a detective in the pilot episode ("Everybody's Favorite Bagman"). He had one line of dialogue: "Look at that. Do you believe these guys?"
During the 2008 Presidential Election season, TNT stopped re-running episodes of Law & Order that featured Fred Thompson as DA Arthur Branch. Thompson was running for the Republican nomination for President and due to federal election law, TNT would have been required to give other candidates equal air time. Thompson eventually dropped out of the race.
With the airing of its 20th season, beginning 25 September 2009, "L&O" tied the record held by Gunsmoke (1955) for the longest running prime-time drama series on US television (other shows, such as Saturday Night Live (1975) and The Simpsons (1989) have lasted longer, but in other genres). However, it was announced in May 2010 that the series was not renewed for the 2010-2011 season, so the "Gunsmoke" tie remains unbroken.
At the time of the show's creation, one-hour dramas were going through a slump, with sitcoms being more popular and much more likely to get strong syndication deals for re-runs. Dick Wolf thought that it might be easier to sell the show in 30-minute segments and came up with the concept of the first half of the show being the police investigation and the second half the legal procedure. Dramas started rebounding in popularity shortly after Law & Order debuted, so this never ended up becoming an issue with re-run deals.
S. Epatha Merkerson wears her hair in interlocks. Although she has played police officers in other shows with her own hairstyle, notably Captain Margaret Claghorn in the futuristic crime series Mann & Machine (1992), she felt it would be unrealistic for an ambitious New York Police Lieutenant to adopt such a hairstyle so she wears a wig as Lt. Van Buren.
The show was known for underplaying the background stories of its characters. During the 1995-96 season, hints were dropped that the characters of Jack McCoy and Claire Kincaid were lovers (a fact confirmed in a later episode). Many fans enjoy spotting where and when these subtle hints occur in each episode. However, when Elisabeth Röhm's character Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn came out as gay in her very last line on the show (after she is fired, Southerlyn asks, "Is this because I'm a lesbian?") after absolutely no other indication of her character's sexual orientation had been given during her 4 years on the show, the writers came in for widespread derision from TV critics (including Slate's Dana Stevens, USA Today's Robert Bianco, and Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle) and on internet message boards for using the revelation of her orientation for its shock value instead of allowing it to be any part of her character.
The series was originally to air on Fox. But Fox CEO Barry Diller later decided against it. The series was then pitched to CBS and the pilot episode "Everybody's Favorite Bagman" was produced in 1988. But CBS did not pick up the series. NBC picked it up in 1989 and the series began in 1990.
Michael Moriarty resigned at the end of the fourth season after a long, vocal battle of words with Attorney General Janet Reno, who was making efforts to censor television violence. He felt that NBC was trying to silence him when two talk show appearances on the network were pulled at the last moment and his role was reduced considerably in the fourth season episode "Mayhem." Dick Wolf claims this was entirely coincidental. Moriarty claims he was forced into a situation where he had to resign. His character, EADA Ben Stone, also resigned on the show. After quitting the series, Moriarty moved to Canada, where he considered forming a political party.
Jesse L. Martin was absent from the last four episodes of the fifteenth season. He left the show temporarily to work on Rent (2005). His character, Det. Green, was shot in the line of duty. For those four episodes, Martin was replaced by Michael Imperioli as Det. Falco.
Law & Order used several actors to play multiple characters. Edward D. Murphy portrayed 12 different characters in 12 episodes during the first 10 seasons. Lee Shepherd portrayed 7 different characters in 9 episodes in 9 seasons. Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays a man that confesses to the murder of several children in one episode, in a later episode, he plays an NYPD captain, in all he appears six times in five roles. The actors who do this are called repeat offenders.
The distinctive typeface used for all titles, credits, and on-screen "scene change" cards, for "Law & Order" and all of its spin-offs, is named "Friz Quadrata." The typeface used for "Starring" and "Created By" in the opening credits, the lone exception, is Eurostile.
Law & Order episodes are often advertised as being "ripped from the headlines." Many people mistake this to mean that they are based on real events. In reality, the slogan is referring to the show's practice of coming up with stories that are partially inspired by recent headlines. However, with almost no exceptions, only a fairly small portion of the episode will resemble the real incident or incidents that it is inspired by. There might be a few scenes that resemble a well-known headline while the majority of the episode goes in a different direction, or there could be one character that is based on a famous individual but the circumstances the person encounters are largely made up.
George Dzundza left the series after the first season because he tired of the commute to New York City from his Los Angeles home. He was replaced by Paul Sorvino. Sorvino left in the third season because he disliked show's work schedule and, because he was an opera singer, he wanted to preserve his vocal cords.
Season 8 (1997-98) marks the first season of the series in which there were no main character changes. From season 2 on, there was at least one change in the main characters either at the beginning of or during the season.
All three of the series' longest-serving cast members lasted far longer than those they replaced: Jerry Orbach (Detective Lennie Briscoe) (1992-2004) lasted twelve years and replaced Paul Sorvino (Sgt. Phil Ceretta) who lasted only a year and a half (1991-1992); S. Epatha Merkerson (Lt. Anita Van Buren) (1993-2010), was with the series for seventeen seasons, replaced Dann Florek (Captain Don Cragen), who lasted three years (1990-1993); Sam Waterston (Executive District Attorney/District Attorney Jack McCoy) (1994-2010), who was with the series for sixteen seasons, replaced Michael Moriarty (Executive Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone), who lasted four years (1990-1994) and all three of the series' longest-serving cast members that were not there when the series ended lasted far longer than the ones that replaced them. Jerry Orbach (Detective Lennie Briscoe) (1992-2004) lasted twelve years and was replaced by Dennis Farina (Detective Joe Fontana) (2004-2006) who lasted two years. Steven Hill (D.A. Adam Shiff) (1990-2000) lasted ten years and was replaced by Dianne Wiest (D.A. Nora Lewin) (2000-2002) who lasted two years Jesse L. Martin (Detective Ed Green) (1999-2008) lasted nine years and was replaced by Anthony Anderson (Detective Kevin Bernard) (2008-2010) who lasted two years.
The show was based on and inspired by a BBC 4 part drama about the British legal system broadcast in 1978 and seen by Dick Wolf. The drama looked at an event ( a corrupt Scotland Yard detective frames a known criminal for an armed robbery) from four different perspectives: the policeman's, the criminal's, the prosecution and defence lawyers and finally life in prison for the unfairly convicted villain. Wolf liked the innovative idea of following a crime from both the police investigation and then the lawyers perspective through to the trial and verdict.
Many of the actors on Law & Order were also regular cast members on HBO series. In fact, at least 20 actors that made a special appearance on Law & Order went on to major story lines in The Wire (2002). For instance, Peter Gerety played an attorney on Law & Order and on The Wire, he played a judge who authorized the wiretap that was the initial premise of the show.
Prior to becoming an actor, Dennis Farina, who portrays Detective Joe Fontana, was a Detective in the Chicago Police Department for 18 years. He got into acting through his former partner and police commander, Chuck Adamson, who had retired and became a police consultant on movies and TV shows.
The series was originally set to film in Los Angeles, but Dick Wolf fought NBC to film it in New York City and won. In May 2010, it was announced that a new L.A.-based spin-off, tentatively titled 'Law & Order: LA (2010), would start in the 2010 fall lineup.