Sunday, May 16, 2010


It has been a while since I wrote an “Anything But Taxes” post. Here goes -

I just heard that “Law and Order” has been cancelled.

A fellow tax professional twit has told me that “Law and Order” will tie “Gunsmoke” for the longest-running television show – with 20 seasons each. He tells me that in terms of number of episodes “Gunsmoke” beats L and O – with about 200 more over the 20-year period. But from 1955-1961 “Gunsmoke” was a 30-minute show, expanding to an hour in Sept, 1961 – so when it comes to hours of episodes the race is closer.

Creator Dick Wolfe explained how the concept of the original “Law and Order” – first half “law” (police capturing the “perp”) and second half “order” (the trial) - came to be in a tv interview a while back.

Successful broadcast television shows can make lots of money in “syndication”, often more than the original production. Some shows have been known to operate at a loss on the initial broadcast episodes (they cost more to make than the network pays for airing) just to be able to create a sufficient syndication “inventory”. As one online explanation of the process put it – “If you can get a television show in syndication, you can live off that money for the rest of your life.”

Some 20+ years ago it was easier, and probably more profitable, to syndicate a half-hour series than it was an hour-long program. But the networks were looking for hour-long drama series. The “Law and Order” format – basically a half hour of police and a half hour of lawyers - was essentially created so it could be run as two-part half-hour episodes in syndication.

Dick and company had toyed with several such two-part shows, with names like Night and Day.

As it turns out DW did not have to worry about creating half-hour segments for syndication. I expect that the L+O franchise is the most syndicated in history, and that every hour of every day an episode of L+O or one of its spin-offs is running somewhere in the world.

Actually the idea of half police procedural and half courtroom drama was not new to television. “Arrest and Trial” was a 90-minute series that aired one season on ABC, airing Sundays from 8:30-10:00 pm during the 1963-64 season.

According to Wikipedia –

Each week's program was actually two 45-minute segments. The first segment followed Sgt. Nick Anderson (Ben Gazzara) of the LAPD as he tracked down and apprehended a criminal. The person Anderson arrested was defended in the second half of the show by criminal attorney John Egan (Chuck Connors).”

You will note that it differed from L+O in that it took place in LA and the trial portion was presented from the defense point of view and not the prosecution.

Episodes of A+T are available on DVD. I watched several earlier this year via my Netflix subscription.

Coincidently, Dick Wolfe used the title “Arrest and Trial” for a short-lived 30-minute syndicated “docudrama” hosted by Brian Dennehy in 2000. The show followed individual criminal cases (commission, police investigation, and actual trial) via a combination of reenactments and real trial footage.

As a bit of side trivia - "Arrest and Trial" became the first American import to be broadcast on the UK's BBC2. And along the same lines - apparently there is also a "Law & Order: UK" hands across the water spin-off - the first US drama television series to be adapted for British television.