Television

5 ways TV was different when 'Law & Order' debuted 20 years ago

Andy Edelstein
Newsday (MCT)

After 20 seasons, "Law & Order" comes to an end Monday (although reruns will undoubtedly run forever). But back in the fall of 1990, when it debuted, "L&O" was just another new drama hoping to make its mark on prime time. Here are five other things to remember about TV's Class of 1990.

Big screen/small screen — This was the big trend that everyone was talking about that season — four shows based on movies debuted. And all four — "Uncle Buck," "Ferris Bueller," "Parenthood" and "Bagdad Cafe" — flopped. (A retooled version of "Parenthood" would become a minor hit 20 years later.)

Music television — On "Cop Rock," right, officers interrupted the drama to break out in song, while "Hull High" featured teens performing musical numbers amid the action. Both shows tanked, and the concept seemed doomed forever until a little show called "Glee" came along.

Big-name flops — Every season touts its series starring big names as shoo-ins for success. This one had its share, and all three proved that big names don't necessarily translate into success. Culprits included James Earl Jones ("Gabriel's Fire), Carol Burnett ("Carol & Company") and Robert Urich ("American Dreamer").

Not so super — CBS was sure it could go where "Batman" and "Superman" previously went, but "The Flash," starring John Wesley Shipp as the Scarlet Speedster, stumbled badly.

Freshman hits — Lest you get the wrong impression, "Law & Order" was not the Class of '90's only success. Also debuting that fall was "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," the show that transformed a hip-hop singer into a superstar, and "Beverly Hills, 90210," which basically invented the modern teen drama.

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