These Are Their Verdicts
Here's something interesting sent to me by a reader: statistics on how the 456 episodes--all 20 seasons--of Law & Order ended. Guilty, not guilty, or otherwise. As you'd expect, the vast majority of episodes end with "guilty" or some equivalent. After all, no one wants to watch a show about a bunch of losers.
L&O clearly had a formula, and it extended to the final scene, even if they tried to break things up occasionally. Turns out the defendant lost, one way or another, over 80% of the time--if you include the 30%+ plea bargains (in real life, the vast majority of cases plead out)--while you get "not guilty" or a mistrial or a hung jury or charges dismissed a bit over 10%. Then there are the handful of cases where the defendant is killed (I'd rather be found guilty) or flees.
The last few seasons had the lowest rates of "not guilty" verdicts. In fact, the final season had none. The suspicion is producer Dick Wolf tried to help sagging ratings with more victories for the good guys. I guess that cancelation was the viewers' final verdict. (Nothing lasts forever. Much smarter, to keep the show's budget in line, Wolf figured out no one in the cast was indispensable. This helped hold salaries down during renegotiation.)
The irony is I never thought the show would last. From the start it seemed silly to make heroes out of prosecutors. For years, Perry Mason spent one week after another keeping innocent people out of jail (any stats on that?). Now that's a concept. Solving tricky crimes is one thing, but putting people away is closer to dog bites man. What this often meant, dramatically, was the prosecutors stretching the law and finding novel interpretations of statutes so they could convict people. Half the time I was rooting against them. (Actually, I got off the L&O bandwagon about 16 seaons ago, so I don't know if things continued this way.)
I guess the thing to do next is figure out who the criminals were. How many were murderers, drug dealers, Wall Street fat cats, etc? I'll let you know if anything new comes out.