'Law & Order' Deserved a Proper Series Finale

jack-mccoy-promoted"Objection, your honor." - Jack McCoy



Law & Order devotees have subconsciously felt this moment coming for some time, but now that the axe has finally fallen, many of us are grappling with television-induced heartache.
NBC confirmed Friday that it had canceled the original “Law & Order,” bringing an end to a 20-year-old television drama that jump-started an era of television production in New York City.

“Law & Order” was on the verge of becoming the longest-running drama in prime-time television history, surpassing “Gunsmoke.” But it appears that the “Law & Order” executive producer, Dick Wolf, has settled for a tie. The final episode of the series will be shown on May 24, NBC confirmed in a news release Friday.

As I ponder the unwelcome reality that one of my favorite shows is, well, done-done, I'm struggling to get past the unsatisfying fact that one of television's longest running programs was unceremoniously dropped--with neither fanfare nor closure. As the process shook out, the final episode ended up being shot before NBC decided to pull the plug. The end result: What was initially written and produced as a season finale (which was excellent, especially S. Epatha Merkerson's moving performance and Sam Waterson's epic rant) became the de facto series finale. Law & Order's cast, crew, and fans deserve better.

On Sunday, LOST fans were treated to a two-and-a-half hour conclusion to their freaky-deaky science fiction saga. ABC included a two-hour tribute show before the main event, and enlisted Jimmy Kimmel to host an extensive post game show. Adopting a decidedly minimalist approach, Monday's 24 series finale on Fox was preceded by a recorded thank you message to fans from star Kiefer Sutherland. By comparison, Law & Order's swan song was utterly bereft of any special commentary or even a mere acknowledgment. It started with the show's trademark "In the criminal justice system" voiceover, and ended with the familiar "Executive Producer - Dick Wolf" full-screen graphic. For the casual viewer, NBC provided not even a clue that the decades-old series had just ended. Unacceptable.

But hope springs eternal. The New York Times reports that in addition to adding a new LA-based show to the L&O franchise (really, NBC?), the network might offer its flagship a "proper send-off," perhaps in the fall:
NBC is also quietly exploring the possibility with Mr. Wolf that the show may be able to produce some kind of movie or extended retrospective next season to give the series a proper send-off.

An extended, thoughtful series finale is the very least NBC can do. Being the generous type, I thought I'd offer a few suggestions for a compelling and fitting final show.

(Obligatory note to NBC suits and Dick Wolf: Feel free to steal the entire idea. I won't sue or demand compensation...just allow me to be an extra in the episode).

Basic Plot:

The show opens with District Attorney Jack McCoy receiving a phone call that beloved retired detective Lennie Briscoe has been murdered. Briscoe is a fan favorite, and because actor Jerry Orbach has passed away, a show centered on securing justice for his character would hold enormous sentimental value and would inject a sense of urgency into the investigation.

Detectives Lupo, Bernard, and Lt. Anita Van Buren quickly surmise that Briscoe was almost certainly targeted in a revenge killing by an ex-con whom he had helped put away earlier in his illustrious career--but who? and when? To gather a list of possible suspects, the current investigative team enlists the assistance of Briscoe's ex-partners (Logan, Curtis, and Green) and Briscoe-era Assistant ADA's (Ross, Carmichael, Southerlyn). This gimmick would help advance the plot, remind viewers of blockbuster cases from seasons past, and allow star-studded parade of Law & Order royalty to make cameo appearances in the final episode.

When the investigation finally implicates a ruthless Columbian drug cartel, lead prosecutor Michael Cutter becomes obsessive in his pursuit of the killers. His overzealous posture puts the case--and his safety--in jeopardy, and the cartel murders him in cold blood. A tragedy of this magnitude forces McCoy to exert executive control over the case, leading to his dramatic decision to return to the courtroom to sit first chair at trial. Former ADA Paul Robinette and superstar lawyer Danielle Melnick act as co-defense counsel. At the conclusion of an emotional trial (which would feature obligatory testimony from Medical Examiner and possible Briscoe fling Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers), McCoy delivers a classic stemwinder of a closing argument before a riveted courtroom, packed with luminaries such as Ben Stone, Adam Schiff, and Arthur Branch.

The verdict? Guilty on all counts.

The series ends at a reception held in memory of Briscoe and Cutter--a grim celebration of the successful conviction and a time for old friends to catch up. The camera pans the assembled crowd of current and former police (who investigate crime) and district attorneys (who prosecute the offenders). Those were their stories.

Fade to black. Executive Producer: Dick Wolf.

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