“Law & Order” is an indestructible monolith that will outlive us all

They’ll be laughing long after we’ve all turned to dust.
They’ll be laughing long after we’ve all turned to dust.
Image: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
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One of the longest-running franchises in the history of American entertainment is about to get longer.

NBC ordered yet another Law & Order spin-off from prolific TV producer Dick Wolf yesterday (Sept. 4), this one to focus on hate crimes. The sixth spin-off of the original Law & Order, which premiered in 1990 and ended after 20 seasons in 2010, Law & Order: Hate Crimes will be based on the real-life New York Police Department Hate Crimes Task Force.

All told, Wolf’s police and legal franchise has aired more than 1,100 episodes across 52 seasons of television. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU), launched in 1999, is set to premiere its 20th season later this month.

Law & Order accounts for two of the five longest-running US primetime scripted series ever, sharing second place with the 1950s-60s CBS Western series Gunsmoke, and behind only The Simpsons:

(This list does not include unscripted, reality TV, or daytime programming. If it did, NBC’s Meet the Press would destroy the competition with 69 seasons, while CBS soap opera Guiding Light would be the longest-running drama series ever, at 57 seasons.)

You’d think that Wolf—creator of the original Law & Order, all of its spin-offs, and the more recent Chicago franchise (which itself encompasses four separate series with no end in sight)—would be running out of procedural topics to explore after all these years. But you’d be wrong. At 71, he’s still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down his unfathomably vast television output.

“As with all of my crime shows, I want to depict what’s really going on in our cities and shine a light on the wide-ranging victims and show that justice can prevail,” Wolf said in a statement. “Twenty years ago when SVU began, very few people felt comfortable coming forward and reporting these crimes.”

Law & Order: Hate Crimes will feature an “elite, specially trained team of investigators” that goes “behind the headlines and viral videos” to thwart crimes motivated by discrimination, according to Deadline. The NYPD unit on which it’s based is the second oldest bias-based task force in the US. It’s a potentially dubious move, considering SVU’s shaky track record on LGBTQ issues.

What’s not shaky is the Law & Order franchise’s resolve to outlive us all and, we assume, the universe itself. As far as we know, Dick Wolf is an eternal being, more of an idea than an actual TV producer. Dick Wolf has always been, and always shall be, and so shall Law & Order. Dun dun.