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Ode to ‘Law and Order’

By Ariel Wittenberg

Section: Arts

September 23, 2010

I know it’s been months since NBC announced the cancellation of the original “Law & Order,” but I’m still in mourning. It’s a long process that consists of me constantly trying to convince myself not to watch all the reruns in a given marathon on TNT so I don’t deplete what is now a finite supply of unseen episodes.

The networks and cable channels are deeply aware of my loss. Instead of sending flowers or a condolence card, it seems every station is striving to fill the crime-show vacuum by feeding the addictions of “Law & Order” junkies like myself.

It’s not working.

In terms of empty calories, these shows are worse than cotton candy. They throw actors into uniform and think they have a hit crime-series, as though giving someone a magnifying glass would make them Sherlock Holmes (elementary, my dear Watson).

Crime, in its reality, is gritty. It’s messy. Murders happen in back alleys and on the streets, they splatter blood, complicate familial relationships and sometimes entangle detectives along with them. Crime is not, as ABC’s attempt “Rookie Blue” would suggest, a fun, brightly colored backdrop against which to set your latest soap opera.

In this summer’s “Rookie Blue,” a sort of “Grey’s Anatomy” does crime, rookies (like the interns) learn the ropes of cop-life in such a way that the mysteries they encounter on the job miraculously mirror their personal lives and, in the end, help the characters decide if they are dating the right person. As if the crime itself werent’t enough drama for viewers.

“Rookie Blue” is the worst offender, but it is not the only one. TNT’s “Rizzoli and Isles” was a valiant attempt and even had former “Law & Order” Assistant District Attorney Angie Harmon as a leading cast member, but still fell short. The premier of this fall’s “Detroit 187” (whose previews had looked promising) was equally disappointing.

To clarify, I am a “Law & Order” snob. “CSI,” in all it’s variations, doesn’t cut it for me. While I’m sure black lights and fancy machines have something to do with it, I am a true believer that the primary crime-fighting strategy should be shoe leather taking to the streets. I don’t even like “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” because it gets into too much psycho-babble instead of focusing on the facts of the case.

The thing Dick Wolf (God bless him) understood is that crime shows need to be about two things: detectives and the law. Maybe it’s just that Jack McCoy has always reminded my of Gregory Peck, my first on-screen love, but the law part is the best. A case doesn’t end when someone is arrested; there are trials, and plea bargains and arraignments, and “Law & Order” used these legal battles to discuss ethical dilemmas of the day. From governors caught sleeping with prostitutes to torture to the role race plays in arrests and convictions, “Law & Order” used its drama to tackle the important issues.

While some of this fall’s premiers (“Outlaw” and “The Whole Truth”) do deal solely with the law, it is the duality between the detectives and the district attorneys, the streets and the courtroom, that gives the show its rhythm.

I know “Law & Order: Los Angeles” is set to premier next week, but I’m skeptical. New York City was as much a character of the original show as were detectives Brisco and Green. “Law & Order” without New York City would be like having “The Office” without Michael Scott. That people are already calling the new spin-off “LOLA” does nothing to assuage my fears.

So, RIP “Law & Order,” you will be sorely missed for everything, down to your dramatic theme song (which shall forever live on as my cell-phone ring-tone).

Thank goodness (for now) I still have SVU.

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