Out of Order: Our Government Should Take a Page out of a Certain TV Crime Show to See How Justice Should Be Served

By McCormick, Patrick | U.S. Catholic, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Out of Order: Our Government Should Take a Page out of a Certain TV Crime Show to See How Justice Should Be Served


McCormick, Patrick, U.S. Catholic


ON THE LONGEST RUNNING crime series in the history of television, the cops hardly ever fire their guns, and the lawyers never go to bed with anyone. Yet without much gunplay or foreplay, NBC's Law & Order has held onto a primetime network slot for 18 seasons, received a record-setting 11 consecutive Emmy nominations for best drama series, and generated four spin-off series (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Crime & Punishment, and Law & Order: Trial by Jury).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Meanwhile, Law & Order shows have been syndicated on A&E, TNT, USA, and Bravo, and a British network is planning its own version of the original--Law & Order: London. Soon producer Dick Wolf will be able to claim the sun never sets on the Law & Order franchise.

Law & Order has become TV's second-longest running drama and colonized cable by focusing on plot and headlines and providing viewers with both a murder mystery and a morality play.

A traditional police procedural, this show about cops and prosecutors pays little attention to the interior lives of its characters. Even longtime fans can tell you only two or three things about any of the rotating stable of detectives or attorneys who have investigated or prosecuted crimes on this show.

Detective Lennie Briscoe was a divorced alcoholic who liked cigars. District Attorney Jack McCoy is a divorced workaholic who rides a motorcycle. "What else do you need to know?" the show seems to ask. Just follow the plot and watch the cops catch the killers and the district attorneys put them away.

For 18 seasons Law & Order has grabbed viewers' attention by telling stories "ripped from the headlines." Is there a celebrity trial, fresh scandal, or notorious crime on the front page this morning? Chances are there will be an episode about this case in six to eight weeks. And what is the hot-button issue pundits and politicians are clamoring about this week--race, road rage, health care, abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, terrorism, or the war in Iraq? You can bet there will be a couple of episodes this season dealing with the most urgent and topical of these questions. In fact, you can often date a rerun by the issue it addresses. Vigilante shootings are from the early '90s, the war on terror, last year.

BUT THE SHOW'S UNIQUE APPEAL COMES FROM its split format. The first half hour is a traditional murder mystery in which our two homicide cops try to solve the crime stumbled upon by a pair of citizens in the opening scene. For 30 minutes viewers watch the police play cat and mouse with the suspects until they snatch the real killer.

The second half hour is more of a morality play in which our team of prosecutors tries to convict the suspected perpetrator. Here the district attorneys wrestle with defense lawyers, psychiatrists, judges, and sometimes their own consciences in an attempt to establish the guilt of the accused.

In the process, society, the government, corporations, the church, the military, the press, and even the judicial system often find themselves being put on trial alongside the suspect. Who was really guilty here--the killer or the social forces that led to this murder? …

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