‘Law & Order’: Why Creator Dick Wolf Says Sam Waterston Is the ‘Ultimate Conscience of the Show’

by Suzanne Halliburton
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Sam Waterston was the final cast member added to the revival of Law & Order. But can you imagine the long-running series without Jack McCoy?

Dick Wolf, the show creator, certainly couldn’t. All along, he’s referred to Waterston’s McCoy as the “ultimate conscience” of Law & Order.

Wolf loved the day in December he was able to announce that Waterston would be on board.

“Very few casting announcements have ever given me this much pleasure,” Wolf said in a statement to the media. “Since day one, Sam has had perfect pitch when it comes to Jack McCoy as a character who both reflects and expands our ability to understand the law. He is the ultimate conscience of the show.”

And then Wolf revealed the real-life figure who inspired McCoy. That was long-time New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. He decided to retire at age 90 eventually dying 10 days before his 100th birthday.

Morgenthau was an interesting character in New York legal circles. He served as DA from 1975-2009. And before he was DA for NYC, he also served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York after President John F Kennedy appointed him in 1961. And while Morgenthau served as DA for New York County, some of his assistant district attorneys included John F. Kennedy Jr., future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and two future New York governors — Elliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo.

(Trish Lease/Getty Images)

So Will Waterston Stick With Law & Order Til He’s 90? He’s Got a Good Nine Years

So if Waterson is going to do his best Morgenthau impersonation, he’s got another nine years on Law & Order. Anthony Anderson is the other returning cast member from the original show, which ran from 1990-2010. Anderson will reprise his role as Detective Kevin Bernard.

Waterson’s McCoy is the second-longest-running character in Law & Order history. He’s topped by behind S. Epatha Merkerson’s Anita Van Buren. In the original run, Waterston appeared in 16 seasons, while Merkerson was in 17.

The Law & Order reboot started production in New York in early December. The show premieres Feb. 24, when it will join the Thursday lineup with two of its spinoffs — Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime. That gives Wolf three full nights of primetime. He has three hours with his FBI franchise on CBS on Tuesdays. His Chicago One franchise appears on NBC, Wednesday. Then Thursday is for Law & Order.

In all, 29 actors appeared in the permanent cast of Law & Order over its first 20 years. There are four new cast members for the 21st season. Hugh Dancy as Nathan Price and Odelya Halevi as Samantha Maroun join Waterston in the DA’s office. Meanwhile, Anderson, who starred in Law & Order for its final two seasons, will investigate crimes with fellow detectives Jeffrey Donovan as Frank Cosgrove and Camryn Manheim as Kate Dixon.

Waterston told TV Insider he’s enjoying the renewal of the show.

“It couldn’t be more timely, and its storytelling is rock-solid as ever,” Waterston told TV Insider. “Voices you can trust to tell all sides are always scarce. If we get it right, people will be back throwing their shoes at their TVs and loving it!”