Law & Order is a US television series set in New York City that first aired 30 years ago today, on September 13, 1990, and ran for 20 seasons until its final episode in 2010. Each episode is split into two segments: an investigation by the police (Law) and subsequent prosecution by the district attorney’s office (Order). The series has been spun off into a larger franchise of shows, including Law & Order: SVU which is the longest running primetime live-action series in US television history.
Starting with the very first season, and continuing across the franchise, Law & Order has made prominent use of Friz Quadrata for its titling and branding. Along with the show’s trademark dun-dun sound, the simple but consistent use of the typeface has cemented the brand among the most iconic in US television. As Art of the Title explains it:
It’s a testament to the power and ubiquity of the series that 30 years later one glimpse of that typeface and two bits of sound can immediately transport audiences back to a world of perilous but soothing procedure, where process and justice are the only things worth a damn.
The original title sequence was created by Betty Green with the Howard Anderson Company, and though some details have changed with new seasons (most notably between seasons 3 and 4) and rotations with the cast, the overall design remained more or less the same over the years.
The episodes start with the main title in all caps while a stiff voiceover sets the stage for the show. “LAW & ORDER” is shown at first as just the shade of the letters, gradually fading into the rendering of white letters with a dark shadow and outer glow of blue for the top line and red for the bottom. The short pre-intro concludes with the now-famous dun-dun sound.
Following a short teaser scene, the full title sequence continues, accompanied by a synth-jazzy soundtrack. Dramatic zoom-ins on “LAW” and “ORDER”, interspersed with stark imagery, continue the blue and red color coding to introduce the cast of police and attorneys, respectively. The actors’ portraits fade in from halftone renderings, with a few minor appearances of Eurostile for “STARRING” and “DIRECTED BY”.
In addition to the title sequence, Friz Quadrata also features prominently in the show’s intertitles, used to help move the storyline along quickly, giving the show a distinctive fast-paced editing style. According to the show’s creator, Dick Wolf:
The title cards take the place of a lot of the garbage time in most shows of people driving up to buildings, getting out of cars, walking in, going up in elevators, walking out … There are no establishing shots. There are no transition shots.
The final episode of the original Law & Order series aired on May 24, 2010, but subsequent spin-off series have continued to make prominent use of Friz Quadrata. After 30 years, it’s one of the longest and most consistent uses of a typeface for any TV franchise ever.