The police procedural and legal drama “Law & Order” premiered in 1990, launching an entire franchise of crime dramas. Created by Diсk Wolf, the series evolved into one of the most enduring and iconic shows to ever appear on television. Set in New York City, it typically divides each episode into the police investigation of a crime, followed by an arrest, and the courtroom prosecution of the accused by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Plotlines, often based on true-life events, are filled with twists and turns. (See where it ranks among the best detective shows of all time.)
The series ran originally for 20 seasons, from 1990 until 2010, and was just reintroduced in February 2022 for its 21st season. Over the years the show has had numerous cast changes, with notable regulars including Paul Sorvino, Dennis Farina, Dianne Wiest, Jerry Orbach, Hugh Dancy, Edie Falco, Eric Bogosian, Jeffrey Donovan, Linus Roache, Fred Dalton Thompson, Jill Hennessy, Benjamin Bratt, S. Epath Merkerson, and Michael Moriarty. Sam Waterston played Executive Assistant Attorney General Jack McCoy for 15 seasons, and has returned for the current one.
To determine the best episodes of “Law & Order,” 24/7 Tempo reviewed user ratings for all 463 episodes of the show as of April 2022 on IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon. In cases of tied scores, the episodes with more votes in IMDb were ranked higher. Data on season and episode number and original airdate also came from IMDb.
The top episodes are fairly spread out over the years; seasons 7, 13, and 16 tie for having the most episodes in the top 25, with three each. Viewership for the show peaked in seasons 13 to 15, with No. 14 setting the series record at 20.9 million viewers. Interestingly, season 16 saw a massive drop off, down over 5 million viewers from the previous season’s 18.9 million — but it still offered a number of top-rated episodes.
The original “Law & Order” has been heavily syndicated and broadcast on seven TV channels other than NBC. It has also spawned six spinoffs, two of which are still active. “Law & Order: Organized Crime” premiered its second season in 2021 but has not yet been renewed for a third season. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” on the other hand, has been renewed every year since its debut in 1999 — and in 2019 became the longest-running primetime live-action dramatic series in TV history. (See which news programs, game shows, and animated series outpaced it among the longest-running prime time shows in history.)
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