The Big Picture

  • The
    Law & Order
    franchise has expanded with multiple spin-offs like
    Criminal Intent
    , and more, creating a massive shared universe.
  • Crossovers with other Dick Wolf-produced franchises like
    One Chicago
    have connected
    Law & Order
    to a larger procedural landscape.
  • The return of
    Law & Order
    in 2021 has brought exciting crossovers and continued success, solidifying the franchise’s place in TV history.

“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 some of those famous words that have opened up Law & Order since the series first aired in 1990. The Dick Wolf-produced series has defied all expectations as far as legal dramas and police procedurals are concerned, and that’s part of what makes the franchise so impressive. But how many shows are actually included in the greater Wolf-helmed franchise? Well, this is their story.


Law & Order

New York’s finest police detectives and prosecutors fight to make the city a safer place. With integrity as the guiding force from investigation to verdict, the teams weigh every perspective in their commitment to finding justice.

Release Date
September 13, 1990


‘Law & Order’ Is an Ever-Growing Franchise

It only took nine years for Law & Order to first spin off with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show that has been on the air consistently since 1999. Even when the original Law & Order ended its initial run in 2010, SVU continued to air and has now surpassed the season and episode count of the original, despite its 2021 revival. But beyond SVU, the series continued to grow, with installments like Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Trial By Jury, Law & Order: LA, Law & Order: True Crime, and the most recent Law & Order: Organized Crime all expanding the universe into something of a Dick Wolf-themed empire. The 1998 made-for-TV movie Exiled: A Law & Order Movie also fits within the shared universe. Not every Law & Order series has made it to order though, as proposed shows such as Law & Order: Hate Crimes and Law & Order: For the Defense were scrapped during development.

But beyond the strictly “Law & Order” themed brand, other Wolf-produced shows have been revealed to exist within the same shared universe. The short-lived Conviction is possibly the most obvious example, with SVU actress Stephanie March reprising her role as Alexandra Cabot in a leading capacity on the legal drama. The Fox drama New York Undercover featured characters from Law & Order during its third season. Aside from just the Wolf-helmed shows, Law & Order often crossed over with Homicide: Life on the Street throughout the 1990s, with three different multipart crossovers airing during their original runs. Years later, Law & Order: Criminal Intent featured characters from fellow USA Network series In Plain Sight during Criminal Intent‘s Season 7 episode “Contract.” Jesse L. Martin even appeared as his Law & Order character Ed Green in the “The Big No Sleep” episode of NBC’s detective sitcom Andy Barker, P.I., expanding the reach (and tone) of the franchise further.

Of course, the most obvious source of crossover within (and without) the Law & Order world is through the late Richard Belzer‘s John Munch. Belzer played Munch originally on Homicide (and later Homicide: The Movie) before moving to Law & Order: SVU as a series regular for the first fifteen seasons. For over 20 years, Munch appeared on television in some capacity, and the character found his way to other franchise installments, such as the original Law & Order, the Trial By Jury spin-off, and the short-lived The Beat. But even more interesting is Munch’s guest stints on shows like The Wire (“Took”), Arrested Development (“Exit Strategy”), The X-Files (“Unusual Suspects”), and several other shows (including a brief reference in Luther) that may or may not be canon to the overall franchise. The reach of Law & Order is much bigger than anyone could have originally imagined.

NBC’s ‘One Chicago’ and ‘FBI’ Shows Exist in the Same World

Stella Kidd and Kelly Severide look at one another in Season 7 of Chicago Fire
Image via NBCUniversal

With the launch of the One Chicago franchise in 2012, creators Derek Haas and Michael Brandt stepped on a gold mine, but little did they know that would eventually mean that they too would be folded into the Law & Order shared universe. Beginning with the two-part 2014 Chicago P.D. and Law & Order: SVU crossover, the Chicago shows began crossing over regularly with the usually Manhattan-based SVU. The following season, two major crossovers (one at the beginning and one at the end) between SVU, Chicago P.D., and the flagship Chicago Fire aired over two nights, a tradition that continued with the short-lived Chicago Justice the following year. Sadly, the last crossover between Law & Order and One Chicago occurred in the 2018 SVU episode “Zero Tolerance.” But despite the lack of synergy ever since, the Chicago franchise (which also includes Chicago Med) is still going strong years later.

In addition to One Chicago, another network procedural franchise has made its way into the Law & Order universe in recent years. Though FBI started in 2018, it wasn’t until 2020 that the larger FBI franchise––which also includes FBI: Most Wanted and FBI: International––connected to the larger shared universe, albeit in a roundabout way. In the FBI episode “Emotional Rescue,” longtime Chicago star Tracy Spiridakos reprised her role as Detective Hailey Upton, a Chicago P.D. regular who aids in a federal investigation. While this is thus far the only connection between the One Chicago and FBI worlds, it’s enough of a crossover to confirm that the FBIs too exist in the same procedural landscape as Law & Order. Unsurprisingly, Dick Wolf co-created FBI alongside Craig Turk, and produced each spin-off.

‘Law & Order’s Triumphant Return Continues to Surprise Audiences

Since Law & Order returned to television in 2021, longtime fans of the franchise have been blessed by even more crossovers than before. While Special Victims Unit and Organized Crime––which saw the return of Christopher Meloni‘s Elliot Stabler––have engaged in yearly crossovers since 2021 (with many guest appearances between cast members since 2018), things got more exciting with a three-way crossover between Law & Order, SVU, and Organized Crime, which aired in one sitting back in 2022. While we have yet to see all three currently airing Law & Order shows crossover again (and we anxiously await that sort of reunion), SVU and Organized Crime did a four-part crossover between shows that ran back-to-back between May 11-18 back in 2023.

With over 1,300 episodes of television aired across an impressive number of seasons in over 30 years, the Law & Order series proper is enough of an accomplishment if you don’t add its sister franchises like One Chicago and the FBIs. Law & Order is truly one of those TV giants that helped shape the modern legal drama and police procedural, and there are very few shows, let alone franchises, that come close. Even after losing beloved cast members like Jeffrey Donovan, the series continues.

“We try hard to maintain a certain level of quality which I think is why the shows sustained in reruns so well,” Law & Order: Special Victims Unit executive producer and former showrunner Warren Leightnoted back in 2012, when SVU was the only installment still airing. “And I’d like to believe there’s room for another generation in some way.” Since then, the original Law & Order has returned, more spin-offs have been made, and the franchise is stronger than it has ever been since 1990. Quality has certainly made Law & Order what it is today, and it’s what’s kept the long-running television empire afloat after all this time.

Law & Order airs on Thursdays on NBC and can be streamed on Peacock.

Watch on Peacock

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