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The 50 Best TV Dramas of All Time

30. Law & Order

Network: NBC
Air Dates: September 13, 1990 – May 24, 2010
Stars: Chris Noth, George Dzundza, Dann Florek, Michael Moriarty, Carolyn McCormick, Jerry Orbach, Paul Sorvino, Jill Hennessy, Sam Waterston, Benjamin Bratt, Jesse L. Martin, Angie Harmon, Dianne Wiest, Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson, S. Epatha Markerson, Carey Lowell, Steven Hill

Dick Wolf had an idea for a show that would depict the American criminal justice system with a complexity and fullness that hadn't been seen on TV before. Each episode would begin with a crime, at which point viewers would spend time with the investigating detectives. After they'd made an arrest, the remainder of the episode would be spent with the prosecuting attorneys, not the defense, as was usually the case in typical courtroom dramas. He'd call it Night & Day, or maybe Life & Death. No, after some additional thought, Wolf decided on Law & Order.

For two decades and 20 seasons, Law & Order was an American institution, spawning four spinoffs, of which Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been the most successful.

At its best, the original produced timely TV that probed questions of power in this country, with episodes like 1992's "Conspiracy," in which a Jewish man is charged with killing a prominent figure in the black community. —RS

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