You know the moment. You're about halfway through an episode of L & O and it hits you — I've totally seen this before! Rooney Mara beat up fat people because she USED TO BE FAT! Duh! Makes so much sense, especially now that I've seen the episode 50 times. Case closed, bitches!
Well, Matthew Belinkie at Overthinking It harnessed our collective Law & Order knowledge and used it to chart the verdict for every episode of all twenty (yes, TWENTY) seasons of the original show. It was a Herculean undertaking that Belinkie announced in May of 2010, asking fans to email him the final word from all 456 episodes.
Now, over two years later, he plugged the results into Excel, and presents the evidence. CHUNG CHUNG.
Over the entire run of the show, more than a third of all the episodes ended in Guilty verdicts, while another third ended in plea bargains. 80% of episodes ended in solid wins: either Guilty verdicts, plea bargains, or implied victories. That's not too shabby, considering that the actual NYPD has a homicide clearance rate of about 50%. (Although you have to figure Law & Order isn't meant to represent every case these detectives investigated; in 20 seasons, I don't think there was a single murder that didn't result in an arrest.)
Another thing that's not realistic is that there are more Guilty verdicts than plea bargains. In real life, about 95% of all felony convictions are pleas. And going back to the data for just seasons 1-10, we see that the plea bargain used to be the most common outcome (by a smidge).
It gets even more interesting when he goes into "not guilty" verdicts vs. actual success rate — meaning, perhaps the District Attorney's office didn't win in the court room, but in our hearts, we know Jack McCoy did the right thing.
Let's face it, McCoy was good at his job. Damn good. Some say the best. When comparing his success to the actual DA's office, it's not surprising that the folks in the fictional world are doing better than their real life counter parts. Plus, the episodes are written for highest TV entertainment value and not, you know, real life accuracy. It's like watching Grey's Anatomy with an actual doctor — just don't do it; it's unbearable. I want to believe that two people can have a pole skewered through them and then can fall in love and get married, all while still on the pole! Just like I must believe that a ring of baby prostitutes who have a cat for a pimp can be taken down by the brave folks at SVU. I must believe, it is the only thing that keeps many of us hanging on.
Belinkie does some more analyZING as to the exact moment L & O jumped the shark, and why, but I refuse to acknowledge that this ever happened, and so I'm just going to ignore it.
The Law and Order Database: All 20 Seasons [Overthinking It]