|Law & Order is the only American TV show to have started in 1990 and still be going strong. Its detectives and DAs may have had limited success in keeping the bad guys off the streets of Manhattan, but in its 18 years the programme has become a global phenomenon and spawned two successful spin-offs, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.|
Unlike other legal dramas, which show either police procedure or lawyers' negotiations, L&O broke new ground by portraying the judicial process from the discovery of a crime (usually murder or rape, often both) to the outcome of the trial. This keeps things interesting and gives viewers an insight into all of the considerations and complications of making a case.
Sure, it can be samey sometimes. After almost two decades, there aren't many story lines that will still surprise viewers. But all the Law & Order franchises are well-made and fast-paced, capturing New York in all its gritty glory whilst somehow managing to make the city seem glamorous at the same time.
So it's understandable that producers would want to emulate its success: countless New York cop dramas (from Third Watch to Without a Trace) have tried to recapture the Law & Order magic, but none has bettered it.
The last spin-off anyone would expect to see (well, apart from Gareth McLean in January) is a UK version of the show. But according to an announcement earlier this week, that is exactly what ITV is planning. This new programme will throw together ex-Dr Who companion Freema Agyeman and ex-Corrie star Bradley Walsh, replicate the American show's title and format and hope the results spell success. More likely they will spell disaster. Walsh's cheeky Cockney copper is hardly the kind of character who would show up in an L&O script.
Although Dick Wolf, creator of the original series, has pledged that his company will co-produce the British version, I can't see it giving the American show any competition in the ratings stakes, even on this side of the pond.
In fact, it only shows how far ITV is behind the BBC. Instead of original content like Life on Mars, ITV is trying to re-work an American stalwart without the acting talent or production values to back it up.
From the camp and improbable Midsomer Murders, to the overblown drama of The Bill, British cop shows have always lagged behind their American counterparts, managing to look cheap and unrealistic instead of dramatic and lifelike. British police dramas are usually ploddy (no pun intended) and slow. And however well meaning ITV may be, their new programme seems unlikely to buck this trend.
In fact, while fans of the original series live for the "bing bing!" that signals the start of a new episode, I can't help thinking that anyone watching the British version will be living for whatever sound signals the closing credits.