The franchise has been running since the original series debuted in 1990, placing it among the longest-running police procedurals and most sprawling crime drama franchises airing on network television. It has spawned multiple spin-offs, as well as a revival of the original series in 2022. The series is somewhat unique among police shows, in that it depicts both the police investigations and the courtroom drama aspects, which was something new when it first premiered.
Though he didn't join the series until its 5th season, Jack McCoy became a big staple of the show during its most popular years and continues to be a presence in its revival era. The setting also played a big part in the "Law & Order" aesthetic, with the original and its various spin-offs having filmed on location in New York City. In fact, it's such a vital part of the heart of the series that Waterston himself believes that it can be credited for a lot of other shows setting up shop in the expansive metropolis.
During an interview with in March 2022, Sam Waterston reflected on his time on "Law & Order," as well as how grateful he is to still be involved in the show now that he's in his 80s. However, one of the more interesting aspects of the interview is his belief that the series opened up avenues for other shows to start filming and taking place in New York City once they became more popular. Not only that, he believes that it helped theater actors in the city continue to work there and pursue their dreams.
"There are a lot of TV shows being shot in New York now, but when 'Law & Order' started, it was basically the only show in town," Waterston said. "And you couldn't go to the theater in New York and read the program [and] most of the actors have been on Law & Order, too. And it was one of the things that made it possible for actors to continue to pursue the theater in New York."
In fact, he believes that "Law & Order" was so instrumental to theater actors that creator and executive producer Dick Wolf should get an honorary Tony Award for his contributions to the craft. Regardless, Waterston's definitely not wrong that shows shot in New York City exploded after the crime drama blew up in popularity, especially when it comes to other police procedural series.