No Justice for Law & Order

Penn grad Dick Wolf's crime drama bites the dust. And I'm pissed.

Say it ain’t so, L & O!

In a fit of colossal stupidity, NBC, the fourth-place network, has decided to kill the original Law & Order after 20 seasons. The final curtain drops Monday.

For millions of L & O addicts, this is a kick to the video solar plexus. While the “mothership” has not always been consistent, it has been consistently there, providing a comfortable oasis amidst the churning turbulence that is network television.

Presidents come and go, republics rise and fall, but Law & Order keeps on truckin’ for the Peacock. At least, until now. Twenty seasons. Four hundred and fifty-three episodes. Cast changes from A (Anthony Anderson) to Z, sort of (George Dzundza). [SIGNUP]

To Penn alum Dick Wolf, creator of the L & O franchise, this is personal. NBC’s bonehead move blocks him from reaching his most cherished goal: To make L & O the longest-running prime-time drama in TV history. He has to settle for a tie with Gunsmoke (1955-75).

That’s only Part One of NBC’s L & O debacle. In Part Two, the network will “expand” Wolf’s brand by relocating it from New York to L.A. The new Law & Order: Los Angeles, already making the rounds as LOLA, will launch in the fall.

L.A.? No way! This decision will rank in the pantheon of New Coke.

For starters, everybody over 40 knows that “Lola” is the title of a 1970 Kinks tune about a romantic hookup between a young guy and a transvestite in a London club. Just the image a network wants for a new cop show.

More importantly, New York is an integral character in the mothership and its spinoffs, L & O: Special Victims Unit and L & O: Criminal Intent, both of which will return in the fall, btw. Shot in the streets of New York, L & O is the ultimate urban drama — infused with grit, noise and hard edges. Every plotline revolves around the city.

In L.A., nobody walks and supermarkets have valet parking. Celebrity criminals and their celebrity lawyers speak in tongues. L.A. is expansive, horizontal. New York is claustrophobic, vertical. They are on opposite coasts for a reason.
NBC says L & O will continue to be “ripped from the headlines.” From where I sit, NBC execs must have been ripped when they greenlighted an L.A. spinoff. What, oh what, were they thinking?

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.