Law & Order, the Dick Wolf-produced procedural that paved the way for so many other shows — NYPD Blue, NCIS, CSI: So Many, and so many others — has been running, in one form or the other, since 1990. Since that first season, Law & Order, and all its iterations — SVU, Criminal Intent, and a few other less successful variants — have followed nearly 1,000 criminal investigations. So, it’s no surprise that a lot of those crimes were based on real-life events — some of them even from just a few months prior.
It’s difficult to distill a large body of work into such a small number, but here, we’ve tried. The episodes aren’t ranked necessarily on the quality of the episode of itself, but sometimes on the importance/cultural significance of the event it’s referencing. (As an aside, nearly all of the first season’s 22 episodes were based on true life events, something that probably helped the show become immediately successful, but wasn’t carried through to the following seasons.) Once SVU trumped the success of the original series, many of the ripped-from-headlines stories went there.
Here’s what we think are 50 of the best ripped-from-the-headlines L&O episodes of all time. Get ready to binge watch.
50. Law and Order Season 17, Episode 16: “Murder Book”
OJ Simpson’s whole life has been ripe for crime writers, but it was perhaps one of the more recent chapters in his life that made for one of the more bizarre RFTH cases. The publisher of a crime novel that presupposed its author’s real life guilt — a la Simpson’s If I Did It — is murdered, drawing attention to an accused killer who had been found innocent in a prior case. OJ Simpson: the gift that keeps on giving.