Confessions of a Law & Order Junkie

Why Penn grad Dick Wolf's juggernaut is as powerful as it was when it started two decades ago

My name is Gail and I am a Law & Order addict.

Any hour of the day or night, I have to feed my L & O jones. I can’t stop myself, even if I know the episode by heart.

The truth is, I have never been clean and sober. And I know it won’t change tonight, when L & O: Criminal Intent launches its new season.

With L & O on Mondays, L & O: CI on Tuesdays and L & O: SVU on Wednesdays, I’m facing a trifecta of new episodes, all in a row, every week. Just talking about it makes me sweat. [SIGNUP]

Temptation is everywhere. It’s not just the 467 repeats every day on USA, TNT, Bravo, and Oxygen, but the marathons of repeats, into the wee hours.

Why L & O? Because it’s a predictable high. Because it never changes.

No matter who’s in the cast or what “ripped from the headlines” crime they’re investigating, L & O junkies know it will be resolved by the end of the episode. Continuing storylines are for wimps.

L & O, L & O: SVU, L & O: CI — they all look, and sound, the same. From the opening “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups” to the “cha-chung” before every scene change.

Good guys. Bad guys. Cops. DA’s. Cha-chung. To an L & O junkie, it’s comfort food with a kick. That’s just how Dick Wolf wants it, too. He’s the pusher who created the drug.
It’s all about branding, and let me tell you, Wolf knows something about branding. Before Mad Men, he was the real deal — a three-martini-lunch ad man on Madison Avenue. He learned how to get us hooked a long time ago.

And guess what else? He went to Penn, Class of ’69! When somebody asked what he remembered about the decade, he said, “If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.” A stoner!

Fortunately, for me, the franchise shows no sign of slowing down. The mothership is in its 20th season. That ties it with Gunsmoke as the longest-running prime-time drama in TV history. “SVU” and “CI” have 20 seasons between them.

Is there no end in sight? Thank you, Dick Wolf! Damn you, Dick Wolf!

Thanks for letting me share.

GAIL SHISTER, TV columnist for the Inquirer for 25 years, teaches writing at Penn and is a columnist for She writes for The Philly Post on Tuesdays.