- There have been six (and counting) spin-offs of the show “Law & Order.”
- “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” is the most successful spin-off.
- There was a successful two-hour made-for-TV-movie which inspired more spin-offs.
“Law & Order” premiered in 1990 and ran for 20 seasons, spawning six spin-offs (and counting) as it became one of the most successful franchises in television history.
The original series used a split-approach to each episode, dividing its time between “two separate but equally important groups: The police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.” The long-running show was famous for using “ripped-from-the-headlines” events as inspiration for its episodes. Stories were often rooted in real-life cases but always had their own twist.
The success of a “Law & Order”-branded two-hour made-for-TV movie in 1998 led series creator Dick Wolf to believe a spin-off series would work. Wolf told TV Guide there was a lot of pressure to come up with an idea that was different enough from the original series and he banked on people’s “insatiable interest” in sex when he created “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” With another winner on his hands expanding the franchise just made sense.
“Then the third one was sort of obvious. Gee, we have two that work; why don’t we have a third?” Wolf said.
As the franchise continues to grow with the forthcoming series “Law & Order: Hate Crimes,” we ranked all the spin-offs so far:
6. “Law & Order: LA” only lasted one season.
Crime happens in every city, but a spin-off set in Los Angeles wasn’t a success. “Law & Order: LA” premiered in 2010 and was canceled after a single-season run.
Like the original series, the spinoff drew inspiration from local crimes (The Bling Ring burglaries and the Manson Family murders), but it failed to connect with viewers. Low ratings prompted a mid-season overhaul that included major casting changes and confusing timelines since many of the episodes aired out of order.
5. “Law & Order: Trial By Jury” focused on legal strategy from lawyers on both sides.
The short-lived series debuted on NBC in 2005 and ran for 13 episodes before it was canceled. The spinoff was mostly a courtroom drama, which heavily favoured behind-the-scenes legal machinations of the ADAs and defence attorneys over the twists and turns of police investigations that the original series was known for.
4. “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” focused on the NYPD’s Major Crimes Squad.
The franchise’ second-most successful spin-off ran for 10 seasons after it premiered in 2001. “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” differentiated itself from its predecessors by offering viewers the perspective of both the criminals and the detectives trying to solve the case. Whereas the original series spent at least half of every episode investigating who did it, “Criminal Intent” was more interested in explaining why.
3. “Law & Order: True Crime” is an anthology series dedicated to examining infamous real-life crimes.
The first season premiered in 2017 and detailed the trial of brothers Erik and Lyle Menendez, who were both convicted of murdering their parents.
NBC has yet to renew the show for a new season but hasn’t canceled it either. Showrunner Rene Balcer told The Hollywood Reporter that a second season examining the trial of Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was a possibility.
2. “Law & Order: UK” was a British adaptation of the long-running NBC series.
The British spinoff ran from 2009 to 2014 and followed the same formula as the original American original series. Set in London, the spinoff actually repurposed and updated storylines from the original, but introduced new characters and was tweaked slightly to represent the British criminal justice system.
In a 2009 interview with The BBC, Wolf said the biggest difference between the British series and the American show was the traditional white wigs the judges wear, but from a legal perspective “the law is not really that dissimilar.”
1. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” is the most successful spin-off in the franchise.
“Law & Order: SVU” is a classic police procedural that has only improved with time. The spinoff is now in its 20th season and will likely be renewed for a 21st, surpassing the original.
The series follows the dedicated detectives inside the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit as they investigate sexually-based offenses. The series’ sensitive approach to telling stories about difficult subjects has increased viewers’ awareness, and according to one survey, had a positive effect on viewers’ attitudes about sexual violence and rape culture.
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