Law & Order: Season 1, Episode 1

Prescription for Death (13 Sep. 1990)

TV Episode  |  TV-14  |   |  Crime, Drama, Mystery
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 219 users  
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Greevey and Logan discover that a hospital is covering up an emergency room physician's mistake which results in a patient's death. They later find out that the doctor may have also been drunk at the time.


(as John P. Whitesell II)


(created by), (teleplay by), 2 more credits »
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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Paul Sparer ...
Dr. Edward Auster
Howard Morton
Phillip Nevins
Dr. 'Ekballa' Raza
Alvin Epstein ...
Dr. Chester
Maryann Urbano ...
Dr. Jean Mills
Bruce McCarty ...
Dr. Stephen Simonson
W.T. Martin ...
Dr. Lignell


Detectives Max Greevy and Mike Logan investigate the death of teenager Suzanne Morton in a hospital emergency room after her father files a complaint saying she was murdered there. She had gone to the hospital to have her prescription for antibiotics refilled and was dead a few hours later. All of the doctor's in the case are tight-lipped about what happened but when the detectives find that part of the girl's chart was erased with white-out, they come to believe that someone is covering up. Their investigation leads them to the hospital's Chief of Medicine, Dr. Edward Auster, an eminent cardiologist who had been drinking heavily at a reception just before going into the ER. The challenge for Executive ADA Stone is to mount a case against someone with his sterling reputation and prove that he has a problem with alcohol. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis




Release Date:

13 September 1990 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


In DA Stone's office, there is a small version of the Irish Brigades Flag on the bulletin board. See more »


When covering up the dead body with a sheet (end of opening scene) the victim can clearly be seen swallowing. See more »


Narrator: [opening narration] In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.
See more »


Remade as Law & Order: UK: The Wrong Man (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

The birth of a TV institution
7 March 2010 | by (Italy) – See all my reviews

Twenty years and two successful spin-offs later, it's almost easy to forget that when it first aired, Law & Order was a gamble on the part of both series creator Dick Wolf and the network NBC. Since one-hour (well, 40-minute) dramas weren't very popular in the late '80s and sitcoms were more likely to get syndication deals, Wolf came up with a brilliant idea: to structure every episode as if it were made of two separate segments. As the opening voice-over (an uncredited Steven Zirnkilton) says: "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime, and the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.".

Though not actually the show's pilot episode (the real one was broadcast a few weeks later), Prescription for Death works very well as an introduction to the series: loosely based on a real case, it begins with a young girl being rushed to the hospital, only to die while receiving medical care. Although everyone says it's the kind of stuff that sometimes happens in a hospital, Sergeant Max Greevey (George Dzundza) and Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) soon begin to suspect something else is in the works, especially after discovering that the on-call surgeon, the well-known and respected Dr. Edward Auster (Paul Sparer), has a habit of showing up at work drunk. The second half of the story focuses on Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) and his assistant Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks) as they try to build a case against Auster, under the guidance of D.A. Adam Schiff (Steven Hill).

With no underlying story arc, the show lives simply on the strength of the storytelling and the characters, and it succeeds in both areas: early episodes of the series were very concerned with social issues, and this investigation of the dark side of medical treatment is rather poignant, albeit with a few touches of typically dry humor (most notably coming from Stone). As for the characters, they are immediately convincing thanks to the obvious chemistry between the two duos - Dzundza-Noth and Moriarty-Brooks - and the contributions from Hill and Dann Florek, who plays Captain Donald Cragen (later seen in the Special Victims Unit spin-off) and is at the center of the one piece of character development we get in the episode: Cragen's own issues with booze help Greevey and Logan decide to arrest Auster.

Also notable is another L&O staple, namely its penchant for talented guest stars who later became household names in film or television: this series opener boasts excellent turns from John Spencer (The West Wing) as the victim's father and Ron Rifkin (Alias) as the defense attorney. With an ensemble like that, what's not to love? And it has stayed this way ever since (well, most of the time). Unmissable.

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