Initially debuting back in 1990, The Law & Order franchise has almost 30 years of established programming on US television. The initial series, Law & Order, spawned several spin-offs that fall within the same universe. Along with establishing its characters within the franchise world, they have expanded to other series developed by creator Dick Wolf. The Law & Order franchise has also inspired similar shows in other countries as well.
Though the franchise has been very successful, not all of the shows under the umbrella have been equally good. Let’s look at how the shows have stacked up over the years.
6 Law & Order: LA
The first series to be set outside of the gritty streets of New York, Law & Order: LA focused on the crimes and justice system of Los Angeles (which the title gives away). Although the series was originally picked up in 2010 with no cast or script, the show failed to capture an audience with its first eight episodes. After undergoing a 19-week hiatus and significant casting change, the series returned with an updated creative direction. However, the ratings for the revamped season turned out to be worse than its original run. LA joined Trial by Jury as the second series canceled within one season. There can be little doubt that this is the worst of the entire Law & Order franchise.
5 Law & Order: Trial By Jury
Law & Order: Trial by Jury became the first series in the franchise to exclusively focus on the criminal trials - the Order part, rather than the Law. The fourth series under the Law & Order umbrella, the series starred former Frasier star Bebe Neuwirth, Amy Carlson, and Kirk Acevedo. In addition, Jerry Orbach also joined the cast returning in his long-standing role as DA investigator Lennie Briscoe.
Tragically, Orbach passed away on December 28, 200, having only starred in two episodes. Between the loss of the star and its low ratings, the series became the second of the franchise to be cancelled and ended after only one season. It's possible that this one may have ended up becoming a bigger hit, had circumstances allowed, though - which is why it's not at the bottom of the list.
4 Law & Order: True Crime
Law & Order True Crime stands as the first series dedicated to the dramatizations of specific high-profile crimes and their trials. The first season, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, depicted the trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez. Actress Edie Falco starred as the Menendez brothers’ defense attorney Leslie Abramson. The eight-episode season did not stay true to the case and altered some of the facts and events to make the show more appealing. The season concluded in 2017 and has been placed on hiatus. Law & Order creator Dick Wolf stated the series would return in the future.
With the current popularity of True Crime series, it would seem as though this would be the perfect time to bring back Law & Order True Crime, but perhaps the Law & Order style just didn't suit this particular twist on the usual formula.
3 Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Law & Order: Criminal Intent finally gave audiences that chance to delve into the minds of the criminals and learn the motivation behind their crimes. The series switched between the investigating team and the criminals’ personal lives until they all collide at the final confession of the crimes. Stars Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe helmed the series for four seasons until the team was expanded with more characters.
Both stars left the series during season 9 only to return for the final season as the main focus again. The series concluded in 2011 with eight episodes in its last season. While this wasn't the best of the Law & Order franchise, it was popular, and it's easy to see why it lasted for as many seasons as it did. Getting into the minds of the criminals added a new dimension (and occasionally, relatability) to the series that many fans loved. Much like Criminal Minds, the series relies on the audience's love of psychology and personality, and a fascination with killers as well as victims.
2 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
As the only series of the franchise actively on air today, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit remains a fan-favorite thanks to its intriguing cases and strong ensemble cast. Law & Order SVU focuses on sexual crimes and their victims, and as such it can be quite difficult to watch at times. However, fans love the stories behind these situations, and although sometimes controversial, the show never shies away from some of the worst cases possible.
Premiering back in 1999, the cast was led by lead detectives Elliot Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay) for 12 seasons. Even after Meloni’s departure, the series continued to thrive with Hargitay as the lead through the show’s current 20th season. The series has been noted for bringing more awareness to criminal cases that may have previously been considered too controversial to talk about otherwise.
1 Law & Order
Although the original series debuted in the 1990s, Law & Order still remains as the top series in the franchise. The show, along with Law & Order: SVU, are listed as some of the longest-running scripted prime time television series in the US. The original series established the series formula of following detectives and attorneys as they solve new cases each week, a formula that sets this series apart from the other crime procedural series that existed at the time.
The series even established the now famous “Ripped from the Headlines” episodes - where real-life cases and headlines inspire the events of a particular episode, making it extremely relevant. Despite its solid cast and episodes, the series was canceled in 2010, regardless of Wolf’s efforts to save the original with a move to another network. As wonderful as the original series is, though, it may be time for the franchise to move onto bigger, better, and more novel things.