Law & Order, episode 300, with Jerry Orbach, Larry Miller, and Jesse L. Martin; Photo - NBC

Law & Order turns 300 tonight, and over the past few years and after successfully extending the brand, everyone has been tripping over themselves to explain exactly why Law & Order been so successful. The Los Angeles Times has a pretty comprehensive piece about its staying power. Brian Lowry's gives Gothamist interesting observations, like how L&O subverted the movie-of-the-week genre and a subhead that says, "The by-the-book crime show has undermined TV movies, figured out the perfect series formula (stories, not stars) and succeeded with spinoffs. This is its story. Chung-chung." A companion LA Times piece outlines Law & Order's history of actors and story arc.

Tonight, the pilot episode airs at 8PM, the 299th episode airs at 9PM, and the 300th episode concludes at 10PM. Three hours of Law & Order goodness? It's just like TNT - just first-run. And holy bajoly, it's Larry Miller on the 300th! Again! He was on Coma (Season 5) and Encore (Season 6), playing comedy club owner Michael Dobson, accused in each episode of killing his wife. Based on the show description, looks like Miller is going for the trifecta. We can't wait to hear Detective Briscoe's pithy comment about seeing Dobson again.

The Daily News' David Bianculli gives episodes 299 and 300 three-and-half stars, but his review is more an analysis of why the show is effective. He also reminds us that on Memorial Day, TNT will run 14 hours of Law & Order. Even more reason for Gothamist to be shut-in. There are a plethora of L&O drinking games, but Gothamist will work on one for the upcoming season (incorporating the girl Profaci).

Gothamist went to see Dick Wolf and Jerry Orbach discuss Law & Order with Commissioner Ray Kelly and defense attorney Bruce Cutler. The only other current show around that has hit 300 - The Simpsons.

Press release decribing New York City honoring Law & Order:

'LAW & ORDER’ CELEBRATES 300TH EPISODE NBC, WOLF FILMS AND UNIVERSAL EXECUTIVES JOIN CAST, PRODUCERS, WRITERS AND CREW AS CITY OF NEW YORK HONORS THE LONG-RUNNING DRAMA SERIES

NEW YORK, April 8, 2003 - Law & Order, the longest-running drama series on primetime television and the record holder for consecutive outstanding series Emmy nominations (tied with "Cheers" and "M*A*S*H" at 11) celebrated its 300th episode as the series and Dick Wolf, architect of the Law & Order franchise, were honored by the City of New York today.

Katherine Oliver, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, presented the proclamation on behalf of New York City Mayor Bloomberg. The show’s cast, (Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach, Jesse L. Martin, S. Epatha Merkerson, Elisabeth Rohm and Fred Dalton Thompson), executive producers (Wolf, Michael S. Chernuchin, Jeffrey Hayes and Peter Jankowski) and writers, along with NBC executives Bob Wright (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NBC) and Jeff Zucker (President, NBC Entertainment), Universal executives Michael Jackson (Chairman, Universal Television Group), David Kissinger (Chairman, Universal Television Productions) and David Goldhill (COO Universal Television Group) were on the Law & Order set at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan to join in the celebration. Steve Zirnkilton, whose narration opens each episode, served as Master of Ceremonies.

Law & Order premiered September 13, 1990 on NBC, and for the past 13 seasons, has become one of the most successful drama series in the history of television. The show has weathered numerous time period and cast changes (since 1993 on Wednesdays at 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT) and is currently ranked as the # 9 series (year to date) for the 2002-2003 season. With reruns on A&E and now TNT, over 96 million unique viewers a week tune in to watch the series, which has a unique bifurcated structure.

In its 13th year, Law & Order remains one of the most successful dramas in television history. So far this season, Law & Order is the #3 drama on all of television, with an average 6.4 rating, 17 share among adults 18-49 and 17.7 million viewers overall. Law & Order remains NBC’s top-rated non-Thursday program, as it’s been for the last four seasons. Last season, the breakthrough drama rose to its strongest ratings results in series history, a remarkable achievement for a 12th-year show. It was NBC’s best season-long performance for a Wednesday series in 9 years. Law & Order has also launched two additional hit dramas, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, both of which are now the dominant regular shows in their respective Friday and Sunday time periods.

In the criminal justice system, the people are separated by two separate yet equally important groups - the police who investigate crime and the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories...

The Law & Order brand is widely regarded as the most successful in the history of primetime network television, with two highly successful spin-offs (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent), the dramamentary series Crime & Punishment (the "real-life" version of the series which focuses on the prosecutors from the San Diego District Attorneys office) and the NBC movie, Exiled: A Law & Order Movie which starred original Law & Order cast member Chris Noth reprising his role as Detective Mike Logan. Frequently, all three Law & Order - branded series are in the top 20 of all network primetime programming.

According to Wolf, the original idea for Law & Order was conceived in 1988, and the model was the great legal and crime dramas of early television, as well as classics like Sherlock Holmes.

As the template for the series, Wolf used Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s rigid storytelling, the construction of the facts and the emphasis on procedural stories, as well as what he perceived as a shift towards a more conservative attitude regarding crime. With Universal Television, he pitched the idea to Barry Diller, whose then fledgling Fox Television Network was looking for new programming. But unfortunately, Diller felt it wasn’t right for the new network.

In a strange twist of fate, 11 years later, Diller, as head of Studios USA (now Universal Television) and Wolf came up with a model of repurposing for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (a second run on USA Network ten days after the network premiere) that has changed the network/cable programming dynamic.

After Fox passed, Wolf sold the idea to CBS, and the network commissioned the original pilot, but a last minute scheduling change almost banished it to the television graveyard. Wolf and Universal believed so strongly in the concept they approached (then) NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff with the pilot.

"Brandon asked me what the bible for the show would be, and I said ‘the front page of the New York Post,’" Wolf explained. "Unfortunately, crime is a constantly renewable resource and in the naked city there are hundreds of new stories every day."

Law & Order is a classic procedural crime drama, with a beginning, middle and an end. Wolf and his writers/producers made sure that it was story, not character-driven and only eyedropper doses of the protagonists’ non-work lives would be doled out, no matter how hungry the viewers were for personal information. The result is there are no ongoing story arcs, so the series plays much better in syndication and viewers can come and go and not worry about serialized storylines.

But the series’ "ripped-from-the-headlines" formula has caused controversy since its debut, and during its first season, Law & Order had more advertiser pullouts than any other show on television. But NBC didn’t give up and neither did Universal or Wolf.

"Law & Order is an unprecedented achievement. No television series has ever combined this level of quality, popularity and durability, not to mention spawning two outstanding spin-offs. In a world of expendable entertainment, Dick Wolf has created a franchise that is for the ages. He has done this by assembling the most talented casts, writing staffs, and production teams in the business. We at Universal are proud and grateful to be Dick’s partners in this landmark of television history," said David Kissinger, President, Universal Television Productions.

"The success of Law & Order is a testament to the genius of Dick Wolf, one of the most talented producers and creators in television. More than a crime series, Law & Order has become an enduring franchise that continues to rule its time period even in its 13th season," said Bob Wright, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NBC.

"The Law & Order franchise is the most important franchise in the history of television, and the original Law & Order program is the centerpiece. It is entirely a tribute to the brilliance of Dick Wolf and his incredible team. We are honored to be the home of Law & Order and look forward to the next 300 episodes," said Jeff Zucker, President, NBC Entertainment.

"People have asked repeatedly, what is the secret to the show’s success? It’s quite simple. We have had the incredible fortune of having the best in the business work on the show. Current show runner Michael Chernuchin, who has been on the series seven of its 13 years, is writing and supervising scripts this year that are among the best in the show’s history," Wolf said.

Wolf credits the writers, who are the heart and soul of the series, with much of the show’s phenomenal success. In addition to Chernuchin, show runners include Rene Balcer (currently executive producer and showrunner of Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and Walon Green who is running Wolf’s new version of Dragnet.

Despite the complicated logistical nature of the production - filming in New York and writing and post production on the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles - Peter Jankowski, executive producer and president of Wolf Films, says the show "runs like a Swiss watch."

"The production team, from the cinematographers, to costume designers, make up artists, location managers and everyone on the crew are the best in the business. Many have been with us since day one, and some are even second generation crew members," Jankowski said.

Jeff Hayes is the executive producer in New York who oversees the production process and has followed in the footsteps of other top-notch director/producers like Ed Sherin. Multiple Emmy Award-winning music composer Mike Post not only wrote the Law & Order theme and its two spin-off variations, he also created the world-famous "ka-ching" which accompanies the on screen "cards" which establish the location for the action.

Law & Order is a Wolf Films production in association with Universal Network Television. Dick Wolf, Michael S. Chernuchin, Jeffrey Hayes and Peter Jankowski are executive producers. Lewis H. Gould, Richard Sweren, Eric Overmyer and Arthur Forney serve as co-executive producers.

Universal Network Television is a division of Vivendi Universal Entertainment (www.universalstudios.com), the U.S.-based film, television and recreation entity of Vivendi Universal, a global media and communications company.