How does ‘CSI’ measure up to procedural powerhouse ‘Law & Order’?

With the 25th anniversary of the premiere of NBC’s “Law & Order” on Sept. 13 and the conclusion of the CBS mainstay “CSI” which aired Sunday night, it seems only natural to compare and contrast the two long-running series that both redefined procedural television as we knew it.

Though both series sought to solve crimes, each focused on very different areas. While “Law & Order” famously busied itself with “the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders” “CSI” delved into the science behind those same police investigations. Each a product of the decade they debuted in, “Law and Order” understood the inherent conflict that existed not just between cop and criminal, but between officer and attorney, and found new complications to exploit therein, where “CSI” gave the individuals doing the dirty work at the crime scenes, who would be background figures in any other show, center stage.

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That said, let’s look at how the pair match up when they go head-to-head.


‘Law and Order’ ‘CSI’
Debut Sept. 13, 1990 Oct. 6, 2000
Finale May 24, 2010 Sept. 27, 2015
Setting New York City Las Vegas
Number of episodes 456 337
Spin-offs 4; “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” “Law & Order: LA” Will Hart / NBC Universal 3; “CSI: Miami,” “CSI: NY,” “CSI: Cyber” Cliff Lipson / CBS
Number of franchise episodes 1,054 777
Season ratings high (in millions) Season 12, 18.7 Season five, 26.26
Emmys, won/nominated 6/37 6/39
Best season Five Three
Longest-running cast member 393, S. Epatha Merkerson as Anita Van Buren Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times 335, George Eads as Nick Stokes CBS
Young guest stars Claire Danes, Emmy Rossum, Kate MaraGenaro Molina / Los Angeles Times Taylor Swift, Dakota Fanning, Justin BieberLuis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
Guest directors Eric Stoltz, Tony Goldwyn Danny Feld / ABC Quentin Tarantino, William Friedkin Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press
Notable crossovers (outside franchise) “Homicide” “Without a Trace,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Mythbusters”
Theme-song composer Mike Post, “Theme of Law and Order” Pete Townshend, “Who Are You”
Exists in Westphall Universe Yes Yes
Series regulars who hunted Hannibal Lecter None 2. William Petersen as Will Graham in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” and Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford in NBC’s “Hannibal.”Sonja Flemming / CBS
Placement on TV Guide’s Best Series of All Time List (as of 12/23/13) 14 Did not place
Dominant controversy “Ripped from the headlines” format sometimes left real-life victims feel exposed and manipulated. Science and procedures as showcased were often inaccurate.
Legacy “Taking the “ripped from the headlines” model to new highs (and lows). Alternate: The clang. The CSI Effect” that purportedly raises juries expectations for forensic science and related evidence in trials.

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