Law & Order is one of television's longest-running
Premiering on NBC in 1990 (after Dick Wolf produced the pilot,
"Everybody's Favourite Bagman" for CBS in 1988), the
show is now in its 18h Season and has spawned three spinoffs
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999), Law
& Order: Criminial Intent (2001) and Law & Order:
Trial by Jury (2005).
Most television series continue because of the viewers' attachment
to the characters week in and week out, but with L&O,
the series has always been story-driven, with details about the
characters coming out very gradually - usually in response to
each case as it comes. The show's dedication to story has allowed
it to survive many cast changes across its fifteen years.
No original characters remain on L&O, which probably
puts it in the record books for a prime-time drama. Even record-holder
Gunsmoke (whose 20 years on air Dick Wolf is sure L&O
can beat) had two originals left in its final season.
The structure of the cast on L&O is also
unique. Six main characters holding six specific positions within
the show's structure is the series' paradigm. When one character
leaves, their replacement fills the same position - albeit with
their own personalities.
The first cast change came at the end of season one, when
George Dzundza left the series, to be replaced in season two
by Paul Sorvino. Sorvino left the following season to be replaced
by Jerry Orbach who remained until the end of Season 14. He was
replaced in Season 15 by Dennis Farina.
For each of the first seven seasons, one of the six main characters
was replaced. In fact, over 18 years, only two seasons have held
exactly the same cast as the previous year.
S Epatha Merkeson holds the record for the longest-serving
cast member, appearing in fifteen of the eighteen seasons as
Lieutenant Van Buren. The position of Lieutenant has only been
held by two cast members in the series run.
The second longest running cast member is Sam Waterston, who
joined in season five. Throughout his run he has appeared as
the Executive Assistant District Attorney, but in the forthcoming
season, he'll move into the position of District Attorney.