‘Law & Order’: Sam Waterston Explains What Makes the Franchise So Successful

by Leanne Stahulak

Some form of the “Law & Order” franchise, from the flagship show to its various spinoffs, has stayed on the air for more than 30 years, and star Sam Waterston knows why.

Sam Waterston joined the “Law & Order” cast in 1994, during its fifth season. He’s played D.A. Jack McCoy for 378 episodes, out of nearly 470 total episodes. The number of episodes alone shows that the police procedural gained huge popularity throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. But even when the show took a hiatus during the 2010s, the franchise remained successful through spinoffs like “Law & Order: SVU,” “Organized Crime,” and “Criminal Intent.”

Waterston recently sat down with Hollywood Outbreak to share his thoughts on why the franchise has had such success over the course of three decades. He kept his answer short and simple: “Because they’re good!”

“I think that’s why they keep coming back,” Waterston explained. “And I think they’re good because Wolf [Entertainment] pays a gigantic amount of attention to detail. They don’t tire of what they’re doing. And the stories themselves… they come from the headlines, so they’re always new.”

Most shows that last as long as “Law & Order” do run into that problem — where to go next with the storylines. But as Waterston said, that problem’s more easily fixed when the stories keep up with modern times and relevant issues that audiences can relate to.

‘Law & Order’ Star Sam Waterston Reveals Dick Wolf Always Wanted the Show to Return

Dick Wolf, the producer behind the “Law & Order” franchise, always regretted ending the flagship show, according to Sam Waterston. In fact, one of the main reasons the show returned after 12 years is because Wolf insisted on it.

“I don’t think Dick [Wolf] has ever stopped talking about it!” Waterston said during a  press day panel held by Wolf Entertainment. “One of the reasons we are back is because of his persistence. We stopped making the show, but the audience never stopped watching them!”

Waterston added, “Dick, from the day that they suspended the show — I guess it’s fair to say a suspension because it’s coming back — he’s been saying that that was a terrible mistake, and they should bring it back. And every time I’ve seen him, he’s said that. Five years ago, he almost did it. He really is perseverance personified because he never gave this up. Having people like that involved in your career, I don’t know how you have a career without them.”

Some fans were surprised to hear that original cast members like Waterston returned with the show. He’s 81 years old now, but he’s not letting that stop him from doing what he wants.

“Time does take its toll, but working keeps you young,” Waterston told NPR earlier this week. “It helps to have a job because you have to show up. Somebody is expecting things of you and you need to deliver. So it works for me.”