Friday, April 17, 2009

Law and OrderLY

Over the past 15 years or so, one of the most popular shows on TV has been Law and Order. You know, "ripped from the headlines" and all.

Actually, it is quite surprising that this show has enjoyed such longevity, considering the fact that each episode follows the exact same plot arc—to the minute. Yes, the names and other specific details change; but one basically can predict more or less what will happen in a given episode based solely on how much time has elapsed since its opening moments.

Don't believe it? Feel free to take the following plot outline and compare for yourself. Don't know when the program is on? Play this mini-game: Close your eyes and pick any cable TV station at any time of the day or night. You are probably only 15 minutes away from the next episode...

A black screen with white letters. A solemn voice-over informs: “In the Criminal Justice System the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups, etc."


Two self-absorbed passersby walk in dark alley/damp street/city park having a conversation about recent meeting/horrid date/investment opportunity.

Aforementioned, self-absorbed passersby nearly trip over grisly, partially decayed murder victim. Ick.

Patrolmen, Detectives and Medical Examiner on scene. Detectives poke at body, find wallet. Detective 1 turns to Detective 2—ironic joke made at the victim’s expense. Tacky, but gritty. Cue Law and Order Theme Song.

Investigation starts in dingy homicide squadroom and moves to various locations about New York City. Interested, disinterested and uninteresting parties interviewed.

Detectives interview student or faculty member at Hudson University (fictitious NYC college where I hope to get fictitious degree one day).

Primary suspect identified. Brought into interview room. Good Cop/Bad Cop routine. A lot of table-pounding. Grisly photos fly across table in both directions. "Just come clean; you'll feel better".

Arraignment. Primary suspect pleads “Not Guilty”. Assistant District Attorney wants “remand” (i.e., indefinite time in the Pokey). Defense Attorney wants case dismissed and apology from judge. Judge splits difference and offers own ironic joke—this time at suspect’s expense.

SVU fans—add 180-degree plot twist that no viewer expects.
Criminal Intent fans—add series of consecutive plot twists that no viewer understands.

Prosecutors discuss case with boss, the District Attorney. Evidence reviewed. Sketchy at best. District Attorney decides city needs conviction/he or she needs re-election. Prosecutors directed to offer plea and move on.

Insolent prosecutors do exact opposite of what they’re told. Off to court we go.

Order to suppress only piece of viable evidence presented by Defense Attorney. Lawyers present arguments to judge. Judge finds in favor of defendant. Prosecutor whines and gives incredulous look. Judge offers yet another ironic joke—this time at prosecutor’s expense.

Lesser of 2 prosecutors makes return trip to Hudson University to re-interview witness. Witness admits he/she lied to police. Things are looking up.

In court, Defense Attorney paints sympathetic picture of sociopathic defendant. Cut to jury—tears and/or quivering lips are observed.

Prosecutors whine to their boss about state of case. “I told you so”.

New evidence uncovered. Empowered, prosecutor grills key witness and suspect. Grilling turns to badgering. Defense Attorney paralyzed by prosecutor’s litigatory wizardry. Witness/suspect gives damaging testimony before Defense Attorney can object.

Defense Attorney awakens from catatonic state and begs Judge for immediate mistrial. Too late.

Foreman of Jury announces they have reached verdict. Guilty--Who knew?

Prosecutors debrief in District Attorney’s office. Scotch is poured; female prosecutor refuses—politely. Final ironic comment made—this time at everybody’s expense.


Shawn said...

This is actually why I hate most TV dramas. You could make up a similar template for about 90% of them. That's why I stick with LOST. Template that!

Dave said...

Thanks for visiting, Shawn. Would you believe, even with the predictability of most dramas, I still have tremendous difficulty following what is going on?

In truth, I made this post as a viewing aide for myself. Helps me keep track of where we are in the plot.

Jeff Tompkins said...

Dave, this is good stuff.

Let's hope you aren't sued by Dick Wolf Productions. They could claim that you've exposed their formula to the people who haven't yet caught on, for whatever reason.

Oh, and it might be a class-action suit, joined by 95% of mystery authors out there.

But if you are sued, get one of those hot chick lawyers like they have. Most of the time, anyway.

Dave said...

Jeff: I was going to respond directly to your comment; however, I just received an important email...

I am giving the commencement address at Hudson University in June!!

A dream come true (*sniff*).

Tina said...

Have you played the Law & Order video game? It follows this exact structure as well.

Dave said...

Tina: Where do I file for my "cut" of the proceeds?

Ralph said...

Nice one!
Bonus feature with Criminal Intent: The state of D'Onofrios hair and weight are telling you exactly which season you're in. (Guy's really good at acting, though.)

Dave said...

I like D'Onofrio in CI, although he can get to be too much after a while. I do enjoy when he tilts his head and/or entire body approximately 90 degrees off the vertical.

He was absolutely hilarious as the possessed farmer in Men In Black. If you never saw or don't remember, rent it!

Anonymous said...

I don't watch tv & I am just blog hopping. Self-absorbed. Isn't that like the new black? You don't make the shows sound very interesting and I suspect that is REAL accurate.~Mary

Dave said...

Mary (or Frank, as the case may be): Don't get me wrong. TV is great. It keeps me from reading all those nasty books that the local library insists on obtaining and displaying.

P.S. Stop by anytime. There's no cover charge and--certainly--no drink-minimum.

brookeamanda said...

I just gotted sucked into back-to-back Law & Order Criminal Intent reruns on USA. Ralph is right,
Vincent's weight/hair is constantly changing and he sometimes borders on perviness. But I have a friend who's in love with him.

Dave said...

Brookeamanda: True story--The main reason that Chris Noth (and now, Jeff Goldblum) have been called in as alternate LO/CI detectives is that D'Onofrio actually was suffering from exhaustion. He would appear in every scene filmed. Honest Injun.

Heather Cherry said...

Yeah but the "Bum-bum" is what keeps me coming back.

Dave said...

Heather (or should I say, Miss Cherry?): I agree. When I watch with my wife, I always try to anticipate the bum-bum a split second before they do it. If I forget, my wife cracks up and begins to go on a 10-minute diatribe about this and my other inadequacies. She's supportive that way.

P.S. Thanks for stopping by. Hope you visit again!