It’s a rare hour on any given day of rerun escapism that you can’t tune in to one of the 320 episodes of the original “Law & Order,” TV’s longest-running current drama, in its 14th season.
While pressure often prevails for many TV shows set in New York to shoot at least partially elsewhere, “L&O” has remained a quintessential Gotham production. Shot entirely on the streets of Manhattan and onstage at Chelsea Pier, skein has been a significant source of steady revenue for the city and its production community.
How significant? After 672 weeks of production, the location-driven series is estimated to have spent more than $650 million in the Big Apple, providing over 350,000 days of work for production crew members, and over 110,000 days of work for NYC thesps.
“Unlike other New Yorkers who go to an office, my office 50% of the time is on the streets of New York,” says lead actress Elisabeth Rohm, who plays Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn.
“Many of the stories could only happen here,” adds exec producer Jeffrey Hayes, who’s been onboard since the show’s first season. “It was really a groundbreaker for Manhattan TV production in many respects. … The production business is cyclical and ‘Law & Order’ sustained the business in NYC in hard times.”
Gino Lucci, president of Picture Cars East, an 18-employee company that first got its start on Wolf’s “The Equalizer” back in the mid-’80s, attests to that point. “After 9/11, no one was coming in to shoot. While New York was dead, ‘Law & Order’ literally kept us in business.”
“It’s amazing what this show has done for the city,” says NYC commissioner of Film and Television Katherine Oliver, whose office often points to the success of Wolf to attract other productions to the city. “We’re often faced with this whole perception vs. reality … preconceived notions that New York is a big city that is complicated, expensive, and intimidating. … Here’s someone who’s figured out how to effectively use the city.”
“Lots of the myths are unfounded,” adds Hayes. “The show never even had security until this year and traffic is really a nonissue. We’ve never lost a day to traffic with an average of two moves a day.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself was the most recent addition to the 23,520 nonregular guest spots on “L&O.” The spot made hizzoner a card-carrying Screen Actors Guild member (he donated his proceeds to the N.Y. Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Fund).
“Between the original show and its spinoffs, the show could be your bread and butter,” says Gotham actor Giancarlo Esposito, who recently completed his second guest appearance. “I’d say half the members of my theater company (Atlantic Theater Co.) have done the show at some point.”
Employing a 130-member year-round crew (almost all members of a union or guild), the series has been a huge boon for local labor. “Dick Wolf showed everyone that TV could be done in N.Y. It’s given more regularity to workers lives … and to their families,” says Tommy O’Donnell, of Teamsters Local 817. “To me it’s been a godsend.”