Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television

It’s a particularly intense time in Dick Wolf’s career, as his flagship creation, NBC’s “Law & Order,” now in its 18th season, heads toward breaking the longevity record held by “Gunsmoke,” which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1975.

The excitement of displacing “Gunsmoke” has made Wolf as breathless as an Olympic marathoner going for the gold. But Wolf prefers a different analogy. “It’s nice to climb to Everest, not K-2,” he says. “It’s always nice to have the record.”

He attributes “Law & Order’s” sustained success to several things, including the cast changes that have kept the show fresh. Its six-person ensemble of three cops and three district attorneys rotates regularly, most recently this season. Another asset is what he calls “the triumph of storytelling over character,” which allows his writers to concentrate on plot details rather than provide backstories for series regulars.

Yet the most important element is something Wolf exploited rather than created: “Law & Order’s” format.

“Procedurals have a built-in advantage,” he says. “You don’t have to be there every day. They’re self-contained episodes. It doesn’t matter if you miss a week, or even a year.”

So what’s next?

“Ubiquity,” Wolf says. “I think the shows are now on about 75 times a week. I’d like one of them to be available 24/7. I’m very proud of the brand. It’s stood the test of time.”

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