Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Honor of Our Namesake

In this post, we are taking a break from covering local politics to discuss the famous television show that is this site's namesake -- Law & Order. After all, last night marked the end of the show's 20th season, and possibly its last, if Creator Dick Wolf is unable to find a new home for the drama on TNT or another network or possibly get NBC to change its mind.

Tonight's show, called the "The Rubber Room" was perhaps the best episode in the last few seasons, for both its twists and turns as well as some of the best scenes in the show's history - from D.A. Jack McCoy's ripping of a teachers' union lawyer to the goodbye scene for Lt. Anita Van Buren. If this show is indeed the last regular episode -- if Wolf strikes out on finding a new home, NBC will assuredly run a series-ending movie -- then the writers did the show justice.

But this post is not about one episode, it is about honoring the 20 year drama that is, without question, the best show in television history, and to urge that NBC either reconsider its decision to cancel the show or that TNT pick up new episodes for not only a 21st season, but beyond.

A show like Law & Order doesn't go on for twenty years -- making it through the era of brainless sitcoms, reality TV, and numerous failed dramas -- if it isn't the essence of good television. A show doesn't create multiple spin offs -- Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Trial By Jury (cancelled), Conviction, Law & Order: UK and now, Law & Order: Los Angeles -- unless it's a compelling franchise. Simply put, in the era where ratings mean everything and quality means less and less, a show like Law & Order has to be outstanding in order to survive.

And Law & Order is all of the above. Unlike most fictional television shows which are primiarily based on the lives of characters, Law & Order is based on headlines. Now make no mistake, Law & Order has had a series of great characters -- but by basing its plots largely on something that will naturally keep relacing itself, it could survive multiple cast changes in each of the main six characters and still last 20 yeas, and theoretically, if the writing holds up, another 20 years and another 20 years.

Of course, it is not just the "ripped from the headlines" theme that made the show -- it is the quality, first class writing. For twenty years. And, writing that dared to be controversial and also dared to make you think, no matter what your political persuasion. In the show's first season, a show called "Life Choice" depicted an explosion at at abortion clinic, but fairly reflected all sides of the issue. Recently, some fellow conservatives criticized the show because Jack McCoy came across as quite liberal, yet they forget that just a few seasons ago, some thought the show was too conservative when McCoy's precedessor, Arthur Branch, was the DA.

Point is here that the show was and is the best on television. That's the reason so many are addicted to it and why it has so many millions of fans, and why it has done so well on TNT on reruns. And that's why so many of us are trying to do whatever we can to save it.

Law & Order should, of course, be renewed for a 21st season. NBC cancelling it, and denying itself a television milestone right when they need positive news, makes little sense, particularly given that they are launching another spin off, Law & Order: Los Angeles, when they should have/could have just kept the mothership. Not only that the cancellation will result in the unemployment of thousands of actors -- not just the six main stars - but the thousands of actors who have appeared on Law & Order in some form. It also will have an extremely bad effect on the economy of New York City -- and, perhaps more imporantly, it's culture.

However, even if NBC had kept it/does keep it for a 21st season, it was not going to survive past that season on a major network. The reason is several-fold: NBC doesn't have a clue how to market quality shows; NBC can't design a programming lineup that makes sense; NBC refuses to do crossovers between the shows on the franchise; it's now popular to replace old with new, even if the new is bad; budgeting; and the fact that shows like L&O are no longer valued or cherished by the network brass like it used to be. People forget that L&O wouldn't have even made Season 2 unless the then-NBC head was a L&O Nut. He gave it life and it lasted 20 years. That won't happen when people like Jeff Zucker are in charge.

So, for those who really wanted Law & Order to survive ANOTHER twenty seasons, the network holding it was not going to be NBC, but probably a cable outlet -- most likely, TNT. Dick Wolf has given us all hope that L&O is not dead as he has given indications he is actively shopping the show to other networks, and will exhaust every available means before relenting.

TNT, of course, makes the most sense. As the home for reruns of the show since 2002, it has helped make L&O the success it is. Its slogan is "We Know Drama". It saved another NBC show, Southland. It has several other legal dramas. It would thus be a perfect fit for TNT to make Law & Order the crown jewel of its network not only for one season, but for the next decade or more.

So, Dick Wolf, TNT, or whoever else will help make the decision -- we ask that you bring Law & Order back -- that you not let it cancel, and you let this national pasttime of American television continue on so another generation can actually turn on the TV and not only be entertained, but made to think and even inspired.

After all, it inspired this blog.