Vail Valley Voices: The end of Law and Order
Recently, after an extraordinary 20-year run, “Law & Order’s” final episode aired. And I am sad. There is a lot of crap on TV. You can’t get away from it. But “Law & Order” always rose above the drek. It was smart, well-written, well-cast and novel in its structure. There had been cop shows and there had been lawyer shows, but producer Dick Wolf’s notion was to dramatize how the two arms of law enforcement and the justice system interfaced. Its genius began with how simple a concept it was and its classy execution kept viewers loyal for two decades. With its “on the streets of New York” locations and its gritty, compelling and, as it would be known, “ripped from the headlines” scripts, “Law & Order” brought realism and intelligence to the genre. Unlike “Perry Mason,” (for those of you old enough to remember Mr. Burr), where rules of evidence and discovery never existed and someone always rose from the gallery at the eleventh hour shouting “I did it!,” “Law & Order” took the lawyer show to a new level. While it often took liberties to fit the needs of time and drama, it also took great pains to be accurate and show the often-frustrating intricacies and technicalities of the legal system. Because of “Law & Order,” I can educate you on the different standards for first and second degree murder and manslaughter, as well as what constitutes felony murder. I can also tell you about pieces of case law such as People v. Molineux (having to do with uncharged crimes being introduced at trial), thanks to Jack McCoy. I am admittedly a “Law & Order” geek. While others may know all the sluts and yahoos from the shores of New Jersey and Orange County, I can recite the entire list of “Law & Order” assistant district attorneys, and I can tell you the two who died during the show’s run (Jill Hennessy as Claire Kincaid, auto accident; and Annie Parisse as Alexandra Borgia, murdered). Favorite cast members came and went. Personally, I was always sorry that Dennis Farina and Dianne Wiest each only did one season because they were terrific. But then we were fortunate to have had the wonderful Jerry Orbach (Detective Lenny Briscoe), Sam Waterston (Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy) and S. Epatha Merkerson (Lt. Anita van Buren) for many years each — 12, 13 and 17, respectively. Apparently, the “Law & Order” franchise is a loyal one to work for, given the longevity of those actors. It also was not unusual to see the same actors show up time and again in different roles. My friend Ann Dowd appeared in no fewer than four “Law & Orders,” one “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” three “Law & Order: Special Victims Units” and one “Law & Order: Trial by Jury.” And if you have a good eye and watch the reruns, you’ll see Merkerson playing a defendant’s mother prior to being a regular on the show. The guest stars were a Who’s Who of American talent. Broadway aficionados could see Elaine Stritch, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Tovah Feldshuh, Kate Burton, Len Cariou and many other favorites in rare TV appearances. Kate Walsh, Claire Danes, Laura Linney, Samuel L. Jackson, Felicity Huffman, Edie Falco, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cynthia Nixon and Julianna Margulies all appeared in episodes before they became famous. Even our own Lindsey Vonn got the chance to appear in her favorite show’s final episode. Final episode. Sigh. Like I said, that makes me sad. It also PO’s me more than a little. The network geniuses at NBC (the ones responsible for the Leno-O’Brien fiasco this year) say that the ratings dropped this past season. Well, part of the reason they dropped was that NBC moved their time slot to make room for the Jay Leno mess, which meant that all the 10 p.m. (9 p.m. here) dramas had to move to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. here). So, despite the fact that the ratings were entirely the fault of the network idiots, the show was canceled. It now ties “Bonanza” as the longest running dramatic series in TV history. Had it run one more season, it would have broken that dubious record. So while we still have reality shows with idiots, tramps and imbeciles galore, one of the finest shows ever to be broadcast on network television is no more. And since it was the only thing I ever watched on NBC, I don’t have to worry about giving my viewership to the morons who made that call. This season will go down in history as the one in which NBC tied with New Coke for the biggest, stupidest blunders in the annals of corporate America.Thanks to TNT, though, I’ll still get my “Law & Order” fix, and that is a good thing. David Dillon is an Eagle resident.