Spanning more than four decades, the Law & Order franchise popularized police procedurals in a way no other shows have accomplished.
Since 1990, executive producer Dick Wolf has created quite a few spin-offs from the original hit series, each exploring different aspects of crime and law enforcement.
The franchise even traveled overseas, proving that viewers everywhere are interested in seeing how the criminal justice system works…and when it doesn’t.
Law & Order (1990- 2010)
Starring: Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston
Where To Watch: Peacock, YouTube TV, Sling TV, fuboTV, Philo, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Vudu
Right away, Law & Order stood out from the crowd with its “ripped from the headlines” approach to content.
The writers often used real-life cases to inspire their episodes. Audiences, therefore, got the rubbernecking thrill of true crime, without losing the satisfying drama of fiction.
In each episode, the first half follows detectives investigating a homicide, while the second half shows the District Attorney prosecuting the offender.
Over the years, there have been many crossover episodes between the different spin-offs. These feature one or more characters from different Law & Order shows in the franchise, coming together to solve crimes or work on multi-jurisdiction cases.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999- Present)
Starring: Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T
Where To Watch: Peacock, NBC, Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV, fuboTV, Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime
Special Victims Unit focuses mainly on sex crimes, rather than homicides like the original series.
This proved to be an interesting departure, since it spent more time on the psychological toll for the victims. Additionally, the show analyzed how the criminal justice system treats these types of cases.
Unlike the original series, SVU has plenty of episodes where the bad guy doesn’t go to jail—and thus shows how the current justice system badly fails many victims seeking justice.
SVU is one of the rare cases when the spin-off becomes more successful than the original, as evidenced by its longer run. Many fans feel emotionally connected to the well-written characters.
While Law & Order garnered a reputation for its revolving door of actors, SVU has seen a much lower turnover rate, which might contribute to its popularity even more.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001- 2011)
Starring: Vincent D’Onofrio, Kathryn Erbe
Where To Watch: Peacock, YouTube TV, fuboTV, Philo, Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime
Criminal Intent follows the Major Case Squad, who investigate high-profile cases. Generally, these cases involve serial killers, gangs, or mobsters.
Unlike the original series and SVU, where the camera always follows the police or lawyers as they investigate, Criminal Intent has multiple scenes following the perpetrator.
This show in the Law & Order franchise is more about understanding criminal psychology, rather than solving the mystery of whodunnit.
Law & Order: UK (2009- 2014)
Starring: Bradley Walsh, Freema Agyeman
Where To Watch: Amazon Prime, YouTube TV
Although not the only international adaptation, Law & Order: UK is the only one in English. It is based in London, England, and adapted many of the same plots used in the original series to work within English laws and their court system.
The Metropolitan Police Force Murder Investigation Unit works to collect evidence for the Crown Prosecutors, who then take that evidence—and the people responsible—to trial.
For Americans, this show is a fascinating look at the current English court system.
However, after the eighth season, the showrunners confirmed that the show was not on hiatus, but had officially ended.
Currently, there are no plans to bring it back.
Law & Order: Trial By Jury (2005- 2006)
Starring: Fred Dalton Thompson, Bebe Neuwirth
Where To Watch: Amazon Prime
Trial By Jury concentrates on a criminal trial’s legal aspects, following both the defense and the prosecution as they prepare and argue their cases.
Unfortunately, Trial By Jury quickly became the first Law & Order spin-off to be canceled due to low audience ratings.
As it turned out, viewers preferred watching the inspecting and detecting, more than the difficult-to-understand court system at work.
Law & Order: LA (2010- 2011)
Starring: Corey Stoll, Skeet Ulrich
Where To Watch: Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime
Unlike the majority of the Law & Order franchise, this spin-off moves the premise from the Big Apple to sunny Southern California.
However, due to issues in production, the show’s episodes were aired out of order. The show was then forced to take a hiatus, before returning with a different cast to resume filming.
Fans didn’t take to the change well, and the show was canceled after a single season.
Law & Order: True Crime (2017)
Starring: Edie Falco, Gus Halper
Where To Watch: Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime
Deviating from the normal format of Law & Order, True Crime skips the part about being inspired by real crimes. Instead, it presents a representation of a real crime: that of the Menendez brothers.
This short series features a dramatization of their trial, as well as the investigations leading up to it.
It is currently unknown whether the producers have any intentions of making subsequent seasons, focusing on other true crimes.
Law & Order: Organized Crime (2021- Present)
Starring: Christopher Meloni, Dylan McDermott
Where To Watch: NBC
Set to debut on April 1st, this show brings back fan-favorite Elliot Stabler after his departure from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Christopher Meloni left the show over a decade ago, so some of the new series will focus on how much has changed since then—and how an old-fashioned cop like Stabler must adapt to the times, to solve crimes in the modern age.
Expect to see some big crossovers with his previous co-stars: Mariska Hargitay has already teased that she filmed some episodes with her old friend, beyond the snippets appearing in promos.
Since its debut, Law & Order and the other shows in the franchise has consistently entertained, shocked, and fascinated viewers with everything from horrific crimes to courtroom drama.
While real life isn’t always filled with snappy dialogue or cool action shots, the shows—particularly SVU—have changed how the average person views the criminal justice system, and even how other crime shows are written and formatted today.