TV

Women of 'Law & Order' look back at what made it must-see crime TV

Jan. 14, 2014 at 11:45 AM ET

After 20 seasons, "Law & Order" aired its last new episode in 2010, but the crime drama lives on in reruns. This month WEtv is airing episodes from the show's first 12 seasons to honor the women of the show, and those women stopped by TODAY to reveal why it's still worth watching.

"I think it was incredibly smart writing," Jill Hennessy, who played A.D.A. Claire Kincaid, said of the secret to the show's success. "It wasn't dependent on any single character. We had such an incredible turnover of amazing actors. ... You can't throw a stick without hitting an amazing actor on 'Law & Order.'"

Elisabeth Rohm (aka A.D.A. Serena Southerlyn) considers that vast talent pool to be an on-going perk for the show's former stars.

"So many actors, on the jobs we've done since then ... you're always meeting someone who did an episode of 'Law & Order," she laughed.

While the actors were on-screen, it was all serious business. But according to S. Epatha Merkerson, who took on the role of Lt. Anita Van Buren for 17 seasons, there were plenty of laughs when the cameras weren't rolling.

"There were times when I was on-set with Jerry Orbach (Det. Lennie Briscoe) and Jesse Martin (Det. Ed Green), and they would start singing some Broadway tune with a dead body," she recalled. "It really was a lot of fun."

Of course, fans had most of the fun, as they enjoyed almost 500 episodes of "ripped from the headlines" drama. And each of those episodes started the same way, with an opening narration that set the stage. TODAY's Willie Geist and Natalie Morales quizzed the stars to see if they could recite it themselves, and ... well it didn't go so well.

"I remember, 'You have the right to remain silent," Merkerson said of the unrelated Miranda rights she often had to read.

For the record, these were the words they couldn't quite remember: "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories."

Hear that opening again and again as "Law & Order" airs weeknight from 6 to 8 p.m. on WEtv.

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