|It all began in 1990. Like a stealth relative who manages to elude family radar, "Law & Order quietly became part of NBC's prime-time schedule, giving television viewers a balanced diet of ripped-from-the-headlines crime stories unfettered by deep character development. |
In time, it became one of the most popular cop shows on television, winning the Emmy Award for outstanding drama series in 1997 and persisting in daily syndication the way fallen leaves multiply on the weekend.
In 1999, creator/producer/crime junkie Dick Wolf added Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a spinoff centering on the activities of an elite New York police squad dedicated to solving the more lurid type of Big Apple crimes, notably of the seedy, sexual variety. This season, Wolf returned once more with Law & Order: Criminal Intent, aiming to examine wrongdoing from the wrongdoer's perspective and showing a lot more violence than the original ever contemplated.
For those who find three Law & Orders to be two too many, it can seem overwhelming. NBC has only 11 dramas in its prime-time lineup, and three fly the Law & Order banner.
Not surprisingly, Wolf doesn't see it as saturation. He sees it as the ultimate in branding.
"It's like Coke, Diet Coke, Diet Coke without caffeine, Cherry Coke," he says. "As long as we don't screw up one of the brand extensions, I think the brand remains intact."
Wolf is so confident in the scheme that he even develops a shorthand for the new progeny. Thus, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit quickly became Law & Order: SVU, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent has already been shortened to Law & Order: CI, allowing the mind's eye to rest on Law & Order -- the brand -- instead of the unnecessary clutter that comes after. Evidently, NBC likes the idea. So it follows that other dramas on the network will inevitably gather under the Law & Order umbrella. ER will become Law & Order: ER and focus on solving the twin mysteries of Dr. Benton's missing smile and Dr. Romano's missing personality. The West Wing will become Law & Order: WW, zeroing in on a ring of light-bulb thieves who have rendered the White House as poorly lit as the guests at an alcohol-free bachelor party. UC: Undercover will simply become
Law & Order: UC, even though we still don't C any reason for it to be on the air.
In the event these conversions don't attract the audience to which the network has become accustomed, we offer Wolf and NBC these additional suggestions to help keep the brand alive.
Law & Order: SUV. Each week, Detectives Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green use the half-hour that they're not working on the original Law & Order to track down the owners of Ford Excursions, Chevy Suburbans and other bloated behemoths, charging them with assorted crimes against humanity, including deliberately taking up too much space and wantonly blocking out the sun. Owners of Lincoln Navigators and Cadillac Escalades face the additional charge of being ostentatious without a permit.
Law & Order: QVC. Michael Moriarty returns as assistant district attorney Ben Stone in this riveting spinoff centering on crimes related to the home-shopping industry. In the series premiere, Stone prosecutes a grisly homicide arising from a domestic dispute over the cost of a pair of 14-karat white-gold earrings with oval-cut pink tourmaline stones in a four-prong setting surrounded by eight round-cut diamonds. Employing an unusual cross-promotional tie-in, NBC makes a copy of each week's piece of evidence available for purchase in four easy installments at ShopNBC.com.
Law & Order: FTD. Martha Stewart stars in her first prime-time drama as a federal investigator looking into the pricing of floral arrangements the sender never gets to see. Using forensic skills acquired at the East Hampton Academy of Forensic Decoupage, Stewart's character, special agent Flora Bunda, uncovers a worldwide racket to pass "medium" off as "large" while simultaneously exposing the wrist corsage as not a good thing.
Law & Order: HBO. In this bold departure for network TV, Chris Noth takes time out from playing Mr. Big on Sex and the City -- hey, it's only a part-time job -- and reprises the role of Detective Mike Logan to investigate why cable shows such as The Sopranos and Sex and the City can get away with saying #?%? and #$%#&?/, while shows on the broadcast networks can't. The probe leads to the networks' standards and practices departments, where each week Logan has his knuckles rapped with a ruler and his mouth washed out with soap. Sponsored by Procter & Gamble. Law & Order: VH1. When he's not appearing on CBS's That's Life, Paul Sorvino, who left Law & Order after one season (1991-92) to study opera, is back as Detective Phil Cerretta to investigate allegations that Behind the Music is really the same show every week, with only the band's name changed to confuse the gullible.
Law & Order: PPV. In a cunning stroke of marketing strategy, NBC airs the first 55 minutes free of charge, then requires viewers to pay $9.95 to see the conclusion. Free six-pack of Pepsi with every purchase.