“Law & Order” (9 p.m. Central Monday on NBC)
On air: 1990-2010, 20 seasons
Why it was great: It ripped about one-third of its stories from the headlines. I’m not a big news-watcher — I find it depressing — but I am a big entertainment guy, so when I can be entertained and keep up with current issues by accident, that’s cool. Watching the detectives and prosecutors at work drove home the thrill and the value of doing something important with your life.
“L&O” was comfortably familiar: It used a storytelling formula, there was no ambiguity about whether a defendant committed a crime or not, and we got familiar tropes such as McCoy (and later Cutter) creatively interpreting the law in order to see justice served. Yet I can’t remember a single episode that I’d describe as predictable.
Seasonal breakdown: I could get sucked in by any episode from any season, but this current cast can’t be beat, so I’d actually rank the 20th and final season as the best.
Best character: Jack McCoy, for the reason I mentioned above, and for Sam Waterston’s portrayal. The runner-up is Lenny Briscoe (the late Jerry Orbach), who perfected the art of the macabre quip when coming upon a corpse or arresting someone in an awkward situation.
Possible heirs: “L&O: Los Angeles” starts in the fall. I assume it will follow the original’s formula, only with a setting that’s cheaper to film in. And hopefully some of the New York cast will switch over.
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