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Law & Order: The Thirteenth Year [5 Discs] [DVD]

Release Date:11/05/2013
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As it entered its 13th season on the air, Law & Order also entered the history books as the longest-running TV program of its genre. This, however, did not satisfy series producer Dick Wolf, who had every intention of keeping the series in production for at least another eight years, long enough to smash Gunsmoke's status as the longest-running dramatic series of all time. Wolf also refused to rest on his laurels by concentrating on his "baby" alone: In addition to the original Law & Order, he was also churning out spin-offs Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, as well as the documentary/reality series Crime & Punishment, with an updated revival of the classic Dragnet still in the wings. The basic Law & Order cast from season 12 was still in place, with one very significant change. After two years of service, interim District Attorney Nora Lewin (Dianne Weist), who'd replaced the venerable Adam Schiff (Steven Hill) in 2000, was herself replaced by DA Arthur Branch, played by Fred Dalton Thompson, an erstwhile actor better known to the public as a former Republican senator from Tennessee. The avuncular, home-fried conservatism of Branch -- who, unlike his strictly-business predecessors, was inclined toward long-winded anecdotes and rustic homilies whenever making an important point of law -- was frequently at odds with the intense liberalism of ADA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) and the studied seriousness of McCoy's assistant Serena Southerlyn. So much for the "Order" portion of the program. Back on the "Law" end of the spectrum, producer Wolf had promised viewers that there would be more friction between detectives Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Eddie Green (Jesse L. Martin); as it turned out, however, Briscoe and Green developed into something of a comedy team, with Green playing off of the witty comments and abysmal puns invariably dropped by Briscoe at each murder scene. Similarly, the detectives' sober-sided superior, Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson), became a bit more wry and light-hearted than she'd been in previous seasons. As always, Law & Order kept abreast of the times with stories based on actual events and persons. The aftermath of 9/11, the saga of "American Jihad" John Walker Lindh, the shoplifting trial of actress Winona Ryder, the Lacy Peterson murder case, the Martha Stewart inside-trading imbroglio, pop star Michael Jackson's display of parental recklessness from a balcony, the criminal charges against the NBA's Jayson Williams, and the "D.C. Snipers" case were all grist for the writers' mill. The 13th-season finale of Law & Order was lavishly publicized as the series' 300th episode. Technically, however, it was the 301st, but NBC seldom acknowledged the series' pilot episode because it had been financed by CBS. Ironically, that selfsame pilot show was rebroadcast by NBC May 21, 2003, the same night as the "300th" installment.~Hal Erickson

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