Law & Order
"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories."
Law & Order is a long running Dramatic Hour Long Courtroom Drama created by Dick Wolf that ran from 1990 to 2010 (twenty seasons). Basic concept is a Mix and Match, with the first half, "Law", showing the police trying to solve a crime (Police Procedural) and the second half, "Order", showing the DA's office trying to prosecute (Law Procedural).
The show is also notable for having replaced every single character at least once; no actor appeared in a regular role in all twenty seasons. Character departures have varied widely, from Dropped a Bridge on Him to Killed Off for Real to Put on a Bus to Chuck Cunningham Syndrome to Stuffed Into the Fridge to one case of Suddenly Sexuality. Very little is known about the characters' personal lives, with all the emphasis put on the formula of the story, which was part of the reason for the constant character changes; actors often complained that it was extremely repetitive. The focus on the formula makes the show very rerun friendly, however.
Has produced a number of spinoffs, including several international remakes.
The Simpsons parodied this with Law * Order: Elevator Inspectors Unit ("Helter Shelter"). Actually, it's happened a lot. Saturday Night Live ran a fake ad for Law & Order: Parking Violations Unit around the time Criminal Intent started. Adult Swim also parodied this in a commercial announcing thirty or so Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law spinoffs.
- Acceptable Breaks From Reality: 95% of pre or in-trial fact finding would be done by investigators (of the type Lenny Briscoe was on Trial By Jury), not the DAs themselves.
- An Aesop
- Amoral Attorney
- And Starring: The senior detective and the EADA are both introduced as "Starring..." despite the fact that the EADA is always fourth in the opening credits.
- This is a relic of the original plan for the show. The idea was that the show would be more versatile in syndication if they could chop each episode into two parts and sell it in half hour blocks. If that had ever been the case, the "Law" episodes, with the cops, would have only had the three police officers shown in the credits, while the "Order" half, with the lawyers, would have only the attorneys.
- "Also Starring Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet" in the show's third and fourth seasons. This was because, at the time she got her Promotion to Opening Titles, she was the only female regular, and then NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield felt that the absence of female characters in the first two seasons was scaring away potential viewers. She was demoted soon after the arrivals of S. Epatha Merkerson and Jill Hennessey.
- Animal Testing: The 2001 episode "Whose Monkey Is It Anyway?".
- Animal Wrongs Group: In "Animal Instinct", a professor is murdered and animal rights graffiti is found at the crime scene. The victim had been the target of protests from animal rights groups, so they're suspected of killing her, but it was really a mentally unbalanced woman who was obsessed with the victim's husband and the scene was staged.
- Asshole Victim: About 33% of the Victims Of The Week turn out to be this - ranging from mere Jerk Asses on the wrong end of Disproportionate Retribution to Complete Monsters who got what was coming.
- Audit Threat: Happens all the time.
- Autopsy Snack Time: A few examples. "This is the cleanest room in the city."
- Batman Gambit: Stone, McCoy, Cutter and even some of the assistant ADAs have used a defendant's own personality traits against them, either to bluff them into pleas or trash them on the stand.
- Be as Unhelpful as Possible: A staple of suspects and witnesses alike.
- Best Served Cold: Referenced in "The Torrents of Greed (Part II)". After being humiliated in court by a mob boss, Stone goes to great lengths to put the boss away. When Robinette calls Stone for seemingly focusing more on payback than justice, this exchange results:
Stone: You know, the Russians say revenge is the sweetest passion.
- Black Boss Lady: Lieutenant Van Buren
- Cast the Expert: Lawyer Fred Thompson as Arthur Branch (which gave him a reputation as being tough on crime in his latter political career) and former Chicago cop Dennis Farina as former Chicago cop Detective Fontana. Less prominently Ed Bogdanowicz, a retired ESU officer, was regularly used when the plot required a speaking ESU officer.
- Chain of Deals: The actions behind the central crime in "Kid Pro Quo" (Season 13 Episode 20).
- Choke Holds: A ex-military man upset at a Jerk Pacifist mocking his dead soldier son employs a sleeper hold blood choke. It leaves telltale bruises over the victim's carotid arteries.
- Church of Happyology: At least twice -- the first time it was disguised as a series financial seminars (although it started out as a religion), the second it was a straight cult.
- Cold Cash
- Cold Opening
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In the title sequence, the pictures of the detectives are all blue and the lawyers are all red.
- Commuting on a Bus
- Conspiracy Theorist: In "Absentia", a guru on trial for murder claims that the government is framing him... and also that the government killed John Lennon.
- The defendant in "Blood Libel" claims that the Jews are framing him.
- Cool Old Guy: Max Greevey, Lennie Briscoe, Jack McCoy.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Pretty much anyone running a business larger than a neighborhood deli may be portrayed as this, whether they're actually guilty or not. Particularly evident regarding anyone who works in the health care or health insurance fields.
- Corrupt Politician: Often a victim or a murderer, or a conspirator.
- Courtroom Antics: Frequently. Disregard That Statement and That Was Objectionable in particular occur innumerable times.
- Crossover: Several with its own spinoffs, as well as with Homicide: Life on the Street.
- Dawson Casting: "Shangri-La" involved a teacher arrested for sleeping with a 16-year old girl, played by a twenty year old actress. Completely and memorably justified, because the character was actually twenty-six, and had been faking her age since high school, as a con woman. The Reveal of this is considered to be one of the show's crowning, epic moments.
- Day in the Life: Season 4 Episode 17 "Mayhem" which included a clock in addition to the usual scene-change cards.
- Season 13 Episode 23 "Couples" has no less than four murders, including a very direct reprise of one case from Mayhem.
- Dead Man's Chest
- Dead Man Writing: In at least one episode, where a murder victim left video evidence to clear his best friend of the crime.
- Deadpan Snarker: Actually pretty common among the cops. Notable examples include Mike Logan, Lennie Briscoe & Ed Green.
- They're not the only ones. The attorneys also get their fair share. See Schiff One-Liner.
McCoy: What can I say? Turns out, no one's made of steel, not even with a 160 IQ.
- Deathbed Confession: One of the few hearsay exemptions. Usually played for drama when it shows up. A notable example is "Ghosts": A mugger, shot by a cop, confesses to a murder Detective Fontana worked on 10 years earlier, and thought he had solved.
- Deus Ex Scuse Me: The show does this a lot. Pick a series, pick an episode, someone answers their cell and walks out of the scene.
- Except those episodes that predate cellphones being common... of which there are several seasons worth.
- Dirty Cop: Occasionally a bad guy was a cop on the take. The show even dealt with the possibility that some main characters were dirty. Captain Cragen wore a wire to prove he wasn't. The show heavily implied that Fontana might have been dirty. His clothes were way too nice and he had way too much money. If he had been around longer, they might have explained that. Lennie Briscoe also let some people think he was dirty so they'd be more willing to talk. Also, he got the occasional free lunch out of it. That sort of thing only happened a few times, though.
- Disappeared Dad: Often. As victims, as criminals, as FreudianExcuses, and as main characters.
- Downer Ending: Pretty much every second episode.
- And even if there is a "happy" ending, you are still going to leave seriously thinking about some issue. If the ending isn't bittersweet, then the crime itself (or situations linked to it) was horrible. Season 10 was particularly bad about this, with about half the episodes ending with some less-than-satisfactory conclusion.
- Paul Sorvino's second to last appearance, before being put on a bus. A Columbian cartel hit man kills a couple in front of their kid and in the process of trying to find the guy, Sorvino is shot by a gun runner who sold him the weapon used in the hit. Since the gun runner is the only guy who can identity the killer (who's claiming to be someone else as his defense), Sorvino is forced to allow his shooter to get immunity for trying to kill him in exchange for his testimony. The lawyers convict the guy, but the cartel sends another hitman to kill him and this one tricks everyone into thinking he's a father of one of the killer's victims. He pleads guilty and is given two days to arrange his private matters before he goes to jail, at which point he escapes and everyone who testified against the original gunman is killed. He is then revealed to be also a hitman, but by that point, all of the witnesses in the case are killed off, with the daughter of the person killed at the start of the episode taken from her school by her "uncle".
- "Memo from the Darkside", which has the Obama Administration saving a Bush administration lawyer who was being put on trial for murdering a former soldier who was threatening to out him for his role in making legal torture by deux ex machina declaring (before the verdict can be read in court) that the lawyer can't be put on trial for war crimes, effectively nullifying the jury verdict.
- "Damaged". Judge William Wright overturns a jury's guilty verdict against three boys accused of raping a mentally disabled girl with the reasoning that McCoy hadn't been able to prove the state's case. Wright and all three of the boys pull a Karma Houdini of sorts, with the implication that the boys would continue having sex with girls at their school. Also, Lenny's daughter is murdered after testifying against drug dealers (even worse, the case against the drug dealers ended in mistrial... although the next season would briefly revisit this issue, with a somewhat worse ending for the drug dealer).
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Poor Kincaid and Borgia.
- Eagle-Eye Detection
- Empty Cop Threat
- Empty Promise
- Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: Joe Fontana + perp + toilet.
- Evil Former Friend: Nearly every time an old and trusted friend of one of the main characters is connected to a case, said friend will end up, at best, being marginally involved in the crime and, at worst, being the actual criminal. This trope has been used in the series as far back as the original pilot.
- Evolving Music: The series all has the same CHUNG CHUNG sound and theme tune, but each show has its own spin on the tune.
- Expository Hairstyle Change: The major one being Lt. Van Buren's hair-loss due to cancer, which leads to a new wig/hairstyle, and then reveals her real hair for the first time in the series; around the same time Lupo & Bernard ditch the Perma-Stubble.
- Expy: Any characters based on real people will generally be compared to the real thing EG "she's nicer then Ann Coulter" or "he stole more than Bernie Madoff."
- Failing a Taxi: At the end of the episode "Rage".
- Fake Guest Star. Leslie Hendrix as Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers. She's been in the original series longer than any current cast member.
- Fate Worse Than Death: For the few defendants that get Not Guilty verdicts, they find they have to live with the consequences of the damage they've done.
- Fell Off the Back of a Truck: Either used and promptly mocked by the police, or the police use a line along the lines of "where did you get it, did it fall off the back of a truck?"
- A Fool for a Client: Defendants represent themselves an average of once every other season. Interestingly, of the guilty ones, not one of them ever gets away with their crime. The ones who are guilty and acquitted invariably either die or go down for another crime before the credits roll.
- Four Lines, All Waiting: Season 8's Subplotapalooza.
- Framing the Guilty Party
- Freakier Than Fiction
- Fun with Acronyms: The show's research on the various parts of the NYPD is pretty accurate, so we get accurate acronyms for them. The crime scene guys are CSU, Crime Scene Unit; the anti-mob branch is OCCB, Organized Crime and Corruption Bureau, and the local equivalent of SWAT is part of ESU, the Emergency Services Unit.
- Good Ol' Boy: Arthur Branch.
- Happy Ending: In the series finale, the school bomber is captured without loss of life and Lt. Van Buren's cancer is in remission; also skier Lindsey Vonn, who claims to have seen every single episode of the show, was the series' last guest star. Perhaps the only thing to regret is they never got around to a story on the Times Square Failbomber, but that's probably more of a Criminal Intent thing.
- Hello, Attorney!: Pretty much every post-Robinette ADA.
- Honor Before Reason: Stone, McCoy, Cutter and even Adam Schiff have all had their moments, generally paired with an effort to gain Justice by Other Legal Means. An occasional variant is the refusal to hand off a case to a different jurisdiction (who would have a stronger case or stronger punishment) because "they have a responsibility to the people of New York" to try the case there.
- Horrible Hollywood
- Idiot Ball: Usually used to set up an As You Know scene.
- Ill Girl: Victims and bystander aside, one character is undergoing chemotherapy which leads to a funny/heartwarming moment the day after her son gets her some medical marijuana to perk up her appetite. Her boss angrily rounds on her when people report smelling marijuana on her, then in private gives her a tin of strong mints and tips on hiding the smell, revealing he also went though the same thing. The next episode shows her celebrating the return of her appetite.
- Infant Immortality: Frequently and tragically averted.
- Irishman and a Jew: Subverted with Logan and Briscoe. Briscoe's father was Jewish, but his mother raised him Catholic.
- It's Personal
- Jack the Ripoff
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arguments could be made for Jack McCoy and Mike Cutter.
- John Munch
- Juggalo: The episode "Steel-eyed Death" focuses on this subculture. The writers Did Not Do the Research.
- Justice by Other Legal Means: Jack McCoy practically lives this trope.
- L&O and its Spin Offs just as often defy this trope (by refusing to rely on lesser charges or lawsuits) or invert it (not mentioning other ways to nail the defendant, acting like the top count is the only charge they have) as play they play it straight.
- Karma Houdini: Epic example in "Patient Zero" when the defendant who injected a woman with whom he had broken off one of many affairs with SARS, and the defendant's wife, who perjured herself to inexplicably get him off, despite numerous confirmed affairs.
- Karmic Death: The fate of many defendants who are definitely guilty, but who manage to escape legal justice. Especially prevalent in cases where defendants tried the case pro se (meaning they served as their own attorney). Most pro se defendants in the show's history has either been convicted or killed by the end of the episode.
- So many people have been shot on the court house steps it is a wonder anyone goes near them.
- Killed Off for Real: Junior ADA Claire Kincaid was killed in a car accident. Detective Lennie Briscoe died of cancer off-screen (coinciding with the cancer death of actor Jerry Orbach). Another junior ADA, Alexandra Borgia, was murdered in a home invasion.
- Sgt. Detective Max Greevey was killed in a shooting.
- The Kindnapper: One episode involves a mentally-unbalanced woman kidnaps a young girl from a neglectful mother and keeps her in a secret room in her basement. At the end of the episode, the woman is acquitted of kidnapping and is planning on suing for custody of the girl.
- Lampshade Hanging: The episode "Bottomless" had a member of a big bad corporation comment on how Jack McCoy often goes after "big bad corporations".
- Limited Wardrobe: Jack prefers a bulky windbreaker to a more aesthetically pleasing overcoat, and occasionally wears jeans and a denim jacket. Justified in that he rides a motorcycle instead of driving a car: can't really wear overcoats with those.
- Long Runners
- The Main Characters Do Everything: The original series is a notable aversion of this trope. The writers made sure that the main characters stick to their own job and operate within their limits. This applies to both the policemen and the attorneys. If something outside their spheres needs to be done, it usually won't be shown on-screen, or more rarely will be shown done by a minor guest character or even a disposable extra. This allowed keeping realism while avoiding Loads and Loads of Characters.
- Make the Dog Testify
- Malcolm Xerox: If an episode showcases racial issues, you'll see several of those. Especially if a black lawyer is the defense attorney.
- Mama Bear: Any number of victims, perpetrators, and their relatives. Jamie Ross is this to her daughter.
- Mauve Shirt: The psychiatrist characters, Olivet and Skoda and Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers. Also, Detective Profaci during the first seven seasons.
- May-December Romance: A bit of a reversal, as the May is a 20-year-old guy and the December is a 60-year-old woman. The guy is shocked that his lover had gotten a "vagina-lift" (among other revitalizing procedures), since he liked her just the way she was.
- Jack and Claire is a straight example.
- The McCoy: Definitely not Jack McCoy. Usually the female A.D.A. Except when Angie Harmon played the role as a conservative Republican, which led the writers to bring in a new D.A. who was female and a former college professor, and made her The McCoy.
- Mistaken for Terrorist:
- One episode subverts this when a guy killed a terrorist group by using terrorist tactics which accidentally killed some people as well.
- Mix and Match
- Must Make Amends
- My Card
- No Ending: A couple of episodes. One notable one was the midpoint of the series, the Season 10 finale. McCoy has convicted a Chilean national of a murder committed during a military coup, but it's being challenged on jurisdiction grounds. We see McCoy and the opposing attorney, Chiles, make arguments to the Supreme Court in DC, and then a clerk comes to deliver the verdict to the lawyers... and the show ends just before she gets to them.
- No Party Given: Averted. Given the show's Manhattan setting, it's not surprising that most characters are explicitly Democrats; the only confirmed Republicans are DA Arthur Branch (explained in-series as a reaction to both 9/11 and the pushover nature of the previous DA, Nora Lewin), and ADA "Hang 'Em High" Abbie Carmichael (perhaps not coincidentally, both characters were played by actors who are known Republicans).
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: One episode features a semi-sting to get potential criminals in front of a witness, with Detective Briscoe posing as an Obstructive Bureaucrat and loving every second of it.
Briscoe: I told you, the amnesty requires the form be filled out in triplicate!
- Obstructive Vigilantism: Nick Falco shows up after his short run as a suspect and his determined efforts to clear his name repeatedly pooch the investigation.
- Ominously Open Door
- Opening Credits Cast Party
- Opening Narration: One of the most famous in TV history.
- Out with a Bang: With Julia Roberts, no less.
- Papa Wolf: Any number of perpetrators, victims, or their fathers.
- Penultimate Outburst: Partially subverted in the episode "Life Line".
- Perp Walk: Usually of the Up (or Down) the Courthouse Steps version. Expect a Vigilante Execution whenever you see one.
- Plot-Powered Stamina: Well, sometimes - they're inconsistent about it.
- Police Lineup
- Power Walk
- Pretty in Mink: A few episodes, if the guest character is wealthy (not always the perpetrator, so it's not that other trope).
- Promotion to Opening Titles: Carolyn McCormick as Dr. Elizabeth Olivet, The Shrink. The only such promotion in 20 years, as every other new cast member was introduced out of the blue in their premiere episode. Note that Olivet was later Demoted to Extra before her actress left the show entirely; in its later seasons, she returned in the same limited capacity.
- Put on a Bus: Almost every character that wasn't killed off.
- Quip to Black: Lennie Briscoe is famous for these.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The departure of DA Arthur Branch was entirely because Fred Thompson decided to run for the Republican nomination for President.
- Detective Ed Green was shot so that actor Jesse L Martin could take the time necessary to reprise his role as Tom Collins in the film version of Rent.
- Refuge in Audacity: Jack, frequently. Defense attorneys, just as frequently. The cake has to be taken by a legal aid attorney on his first murder trial using his own lack of experience as part of his strategy.
Judge Stein: Either you're a brilliant strategist, Mr. Fienman, or you are the biggest jackass ever to set foot in my courtroom.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Trope Namer via NBC's promos in the early 2000s. Almost all the stories are loosely based on real incidents, with things like the characters and outcomes changed.
- But note their disclaimer: "The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event."
- On some occasions, they've even had to doubly stress that the story that's just been on is fictional, even if they do acknowledge that viewers may find similarities to a real life case.
- Some stations have been known to air a disclaimer of their own when the case the episode was ripped from was local, warning viewers that the story may be based on an incident that traumatized the area.
- One episode, which demonized the Brooklyn DA's office, explicitly stated that the episode in no way reflected on the actual Brooklyn police department or DA's office.
- A few episodes pull a RFTH trifecta: The 5/2/10 episode featured guy who (along with his sister) crashed a party at an executive mansion and jumped the security line at an airport. The third part implies that a senator is having an affair with the sister and his assistant takes the blame but it's actually his wife who's having the affair with the aforementioned party-crasher/gate-jumper guy.
- On some occasions, they've even had to doubly stress that the story that's just been on is fictional, even if they do acknowledge that viewers may find similarities to a real life case.
- Sometimes it gets out of hand. They've covered the Jon Benet-Ramsey case on three separate occasions, each with a different outcome.
- The Paul Bernardo/Karla Homolka murders have been covered at least 3 times between the main series and the spinoffs.
- And then there's the episode "Melting Pot" in Season 17, based on the murder of actress/director Adrienne Shelly. Adrienne Shelly guest starred in the Season 10 episode "High & Low".
- At least one legal argument was ripped from the headlines. In the episode Jeopardy the then ongoing Aleman trial, where a Chicago hitman was retried after a judge admitted to being bribed in his original case and the prosecutors argued he was never in jeopardy in the first place, was used as the basis for the legal twist. The description of the fictional bribed Judge Hynes's method of suicide at the end matches that of the real Judge Wilson.
- But note their disclaimer: "The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event."
- Salt and Pepper
- Schiff One-Liner: Trope Namer.
- Shaggy Dog Story: Frequently, the prosecutors and detectives go to great lengths to convict the defendant, only for the jury to be deadlocked (resulting in a mistrial), or for the obviously (to the viewer) guilty party to get off scot-free.
- One particularly memorable instance was in "Gunshow" (Season 10 Episode 1), involving a defendant who was most certainly guilty, and the jury agreed. Immediately after declaring him guilty, while everyone is celebrating as per usual, the defense attorney asks the judge to set aside the verdict, and the judge does so, admonishing the jury and ADA McCoy that they allowed their feelings to get in the way of interpreting the facts correctly. So McCoy won a very difficult court battle, and the defendant still got to go free. Though it should be noted that Jack's strongest piece of evidence (a memo proving the defendants knew about the issue at hand) thrown out because it was privileged communication.
- Shout-Out: Serena is named after one of Dick Wolf's kids. The other two are Elliot and Olivia.
- Shown Their Work: One of the more accurate Legal Dramas,mostly with regards to Prosecutors.
- Sick Sad World
- Slut Shaming: Par for the course with every rape case. The victim gets taken through the ringer.
- Smug Snake: Plenty throughout the years. Most get nailed -- or answer to a higher authority -- in a satisfactory manner.
- Snuff Film: "Performance".
- Something Completely Different: One of the most famous episodes, "Aftershock", is a look at the personal lives of the four principals the day they witness an execution - the first in New York state history since the moratorium was lifted (something that never actually happened in Real Life). There's no investigation, no trial, and, unless you count the execution itself, no homicide until the closing moments, when ADA Claire Kincaid is t-boned and killed.
- There is also the episode "Couples", which focused almost entirely on Briscoe and Green and had them investigating several unrelated cases on the same crazy day, one of which even ends happily.
- Spousal Privilege
- Subtext: As mentioned, the show focuses on the cases, very nearly to the exclusion of the character's personal lives. All these things inform the characters actions and choices, but sometimes this was done well (Jack and the drunk driver), sometimes not. See Suddenly Sexuality below.
- Suddenly Sexuality: "Is this because I'm a lesbian?" To be fair, it had been very subtly foreshadowed, especially with how eagerly supportive Serena became at the slightest whiff of a gay cause, but this is one of those time when the general lack of focus on the characters' personal lives wound up biting them. That and Serena's increasing Straw Liberal tendencies masked any foreshadowing.
- Take That: A thirteenth season episode opens with the cops repeatedly telling the CSI guys to leave the detectoring to them. They got everything but the basic facts of the crime wrong, and even left some of the victim's property in her pockets instead of bagging it. CSI had been on the air for a few seasons by that point.
Briscoe: Those crime scene guys are all highly overrated; problem is, they all think they're cops.
- The Season 4 episode "Pursuit of Happiness" did this as well, with the tech guys offering a series of theories that Briscoe shot down as inane.
- Taking the Heat: Played mostly straight and occasionally for a Downer Ending when someone actually goes to jail to protect the real guilty party (or shield co-defendants).
- Team Dad: Adam Schiff, then Jack McCoy
- Thanatos Gambit: In one episode, the victim had set up his suicide to look like murder for hire, implicating his wife and her lover. This is only revealed at the very end of the episode, through a video will.
- Theme Naming: It's probably a coincidence, but across the spinoffs there's been ADA Skinner, ADA Borgia, ADA Carver, Det. 'Gore'n, ADA Cutter, CPS Steele, CPS Thorne...
- Theme Tune: There's a certain rock theme associated with the series -- it's remixed in a different manner for all the spinoffs.
- There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Cops who use this trope, and cops who don't.
- There Should Be a Law: Uh oh, someone's climbing on a soapbox again...
- They Look Just Like Everyone Else: Lots of defendants, but special mention goes to the defendant in "Hubris", who is firmly established as a Complete Monster without ever doing anything evil or sinister in view of the audience.
- Time-Delayed Death
- Token Lesbian: Played With when Serena Southerlyn was revealed to be lesbian immediately before being Put on a Bus. The Other Wiki says that "[t]he decision to announce Southerlyn's homosexuality only as the character left the show was widely denounced both by fans and critics."
- Trope Telegraphing: See Perp Walk and Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize above.
- Useless Security Camera: Frequent. One episode has a Double Subversion: a store camera is both active and shows the killer dragging his victims to where he kills them. The only reason it doesn't get used is because the killer had the video and the trick police used to stall him so he couldn't destroy the evidence before a search warrant arrived was more than the judge was willing to let slide.
- In "Strike!" from Season 18, the detectives learn that their victim deliberately turned away a security camera so he could get in a fight without being seen. They gripe that the victim screwed up his own murder investigation.
- Vigilante Execution: The sheer number of times this has happened in the courts, New York must have the worst courtroom security in the world.
- Vomiting Cop
- Well-Intentioned Extremist
- What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: The shows occasional treatment of minor felonies - particularly upscale prostitution.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: When Paul Robinette was first written out of the series, no reason was given. It would not be until Season four was released on DVD, a deleted scene was included explaining his vanishing as him leaving to join a wall street law firm.
- Detective Profaci, a regular Law and Order background character vanished around season seven of the series. His fate was revealed in the TV movie "Law and Order: Exile", which revealed that he was arrested and sent to jail after helping a mob boss arrange a murder, in exchange for money that was used to pay for fertility treatments so that his wife could become pregnant.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Often pulled on McCoy when he goes overboard, saving him from being a Jerkass Stu (though not always).
- Where Everybody Knows Your Flame
- Worst News Judgment Ever
- Writer on Board: With varying degrees of obviousness.
- You Look Familiar:
- A particularly weird case: While Lennie Briscoe basically became the face of the franchise for the better part of the series, actor Jerry Orbach first appeared in the second season as defense attorney Frank Lehrmann. Every bit as much of a Deadpan Snarker as his later detective character, Orbach's attorney character is remembered for the line "It's called plea bargaining, not plea scalping!"
- Equally strange examples include S. Epatha Merkerson playing the bereaved mother of a murder victim years before she was cast as Lieutenant Van Buren, and Annie Parisse playing the stripper girlfriend of a defendant shortly before being cast as ADA Borgia. Parisse allegedly wanted to play the same character and claim that she had been working as a stripper to pay for law school, but Dick Wolf wasn't keen on the idea.
- Additionally, a clean-shaven Jeremy Sisto appears as defense attorney Clint Glover in the season finale of the seventeenth season. In the very next episode, he returns as a scruffy Detective Cyrus Lupo and continues this role for the rest of the series.
- In the SVU series, before she was known as ADA Novak, Diane Neal spent one episode as one of three women charged with raping a male stripper. She plead out and was given a long stretch in prison.
- Several character actors appeared numerous times in the series, each time in a different role. As an example: comedian Larry Miller appeared three times -- twice as a husband who hired people to murder his two wives, and once as himself. During his appearance as himself, Miller's "resemblance" to the wife-murderer is lampshaded by Detective Green.
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle
- A gun manufacturer charged with Depraved Indifference Homicide for allowing their products to be modified into illegal automatic weapons because fixing the issue would cut into profits. A case that was based on the real life Intratec TEC-9