Law & Order is on the way back to television, despite originally coming to an end more than a decade ago. A lot has changed on the small screen in the years since it went off the air, including Law & Order: SVU making television history and the premieres of no fewer than seven other hit shows that now share the same TV universe. The return of Law & Order expands the shared universe to nine shows, spread across multiple genres, different cities, different continents, and even two networks. But how are they all connected?
Well, with Law & Order returning to NBC for Season 21 by the end of February, let’s take a look at all nine shows that will share a universe: Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Organized Crime, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, FBI, FBI: Most Wanted, and FBI: International. And where else to start tracing the connections but at the beginning?
Law & Order – The Show That Started It All
Law & Order was created by Dick Wolf and premiered back in September of 1990, and nobody could have known then just how big the show would become and how much it would expand to other series. It survived change after change in cast and went on to directly or indirectly launch six other Law & Order shows, with Criminal Intent and of course SVU becoming big hits before the original end of L&O in 2010. SVU was the last spinoff standing that had crossed over with the original, but now Law & Order is coming back with both some familiar faces and some newcomers.
Law & Order: SVU – The First Spinoff
Law & Order: SVU was the first spinoff of the original and by far the most successful of the franchise at 23 seasons and counting. It didn’t launch via backdoor pilot, as is customary for spinoffs, but there were crossovers over the years, including some characters who will still be around in 2021. Sam Waterston, who is returning for Law & Order, played Jack McCoy on SVU, while SVU’s Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni both appeared on Law & Order back in the day (well before Meloni got his own spinoff). SVU is still going strong decades after its launch in 1999, and is already guaranteed at least one more season.
Law & Order: Organized Crime – The Newest NBC Spinoff
Law & Order: Organized Crime is particularly unique among the nine shows because it is the newest of those on NBC but has closer ties to the original Law & Order than any show other than SVU. It launched via a backdoor pilot of SVU in 2021 that brought Christopher Meloni back to the franchise after more than a decade. Meloni did appear in multiple episodes of the original L&O, so if he and Sam Waterston share any scenes, it will be a reunion rather than an introduction thanks to SVU. And in fact, it’s thanks to SVU as a hub that the Law & Order section of NBC connects to One Chicago.
Chicago P.D. – The First One Chicago Connection To SVU
Although Chicago P.D. was not the first of the One Chicago shows when it launched in 2014, it was the one that established that the Chicago shows are set in the same universe as SVU’s Olivia Benson and Co. P.D. crossed over with SVU just six episodes into its first season and 15 episodes into SVU’s fifteenth season. As P.D. itself is a spinoff, that crossover automatically connected another show to any and all shows under the Law & Order banner. And that brings us to…
Chicago Fire – The Show That Launched P.D.
Chicago Fire officially expanded the shared universe when it launched in 2012, even though it didn’t actually connect to any of the L&O shows until the first Chicago P.D. crossover in 2014. Fire ultimately strengthened its ties to the Law & Order shows later in 2014, when it joined P.D. and SVU for a three-part crossover. Another three-part crossover aired in 2015, but that was the last three-parter between the One Chicago and Law & Order shows ever since. With the two NBC corners of the franchise set (and filming) in different cities, the characters don’t cross paths all that often. That’s not the case with Fire and another spinoff, however!
Chicago Med – The Newest Hit One Chicago Show
The One Chicago corner of the franchise grew again in 2015 with the premiere of Chicago Med, which launched after a backdoor pilot with Chicago Fire and with a strong tie to Chicago P.D. by virtue of Dr. Will Halstead’s introduction as the brother of Detective Jay Halstead. Mini crossovers between Med and the other two shows are relatively common thanks to Fire and P.D. characters frequently dropping by the hospital. Med hasn’t crossed with any Law & Order action yet, and technically is not the newest One Chicago spinoff, although Chicago Justice ended after a single season in 2017. Med’s strongest tie to any of the other eight shows is arguably P.D., and P.D. brings us to…
FBI – The First CBS Show In The Shared Universe
Another network enters the fold! FBI premiered in 2018 when producer Dick Wolf somewhat shockingly created a show for CBS when NBC was the home of (at that point) his four current hit shows. The idea of a crossover to connect FBI to either Law & Order: SVU or One Chicago was exciting, but felt far-fetched for some time due to the separation between the networks… until FBI leading lady Missy Peregrym stepped away for maternity leave and Chicago P.D. sent Tracy Spiridakos’ Hailey Upton to New York to partner with Zeeko Zaki’s OA, officially connecting the CBS and NBC branches into one five-show universe. Spiridakos only appeared in one episode of FBI after a production shutdown cut her arc short, so the tie isn’t too strong, but it’s there!
FBI: Most Wanted – The First FBI Spinoff
CBS wasted no time in expanding on FBI with a backdoor pilot for FBI: Most Wanted in 2019, followed by the series premiere of Most Wanted in early 2020. With its focus on a group of elite FBI agents who travel to track the worst of the worst most wanted criminals, it doesn’t often have reasons for a big crossover with FBI, but mini crossovers aren’t uncommon, particularly with Alana de la Garza’s Isobel and Jeremy Sisto’s Jubal Valentine. Most Wanted will soon actually replace Julian McMahon’s Jess LaCroix with a star from one of the NBC shows, but Dylan McDermott will not be playing his Organized Crime villain on CBS, much like how Sisto is playing a different character than he did on Law & Order.
FBI: International – The Newest FBI Spinoff
And this brings us to FBI: International, the very newest of the nine shows that will all share primetime by the end of February. International got a high-profile launch thanks to the three-part crossover with FBI and Most Wanted that started the 2021-2022 TV season. With International set in overseas, ties to the other FBIs have mostly consisted of Zeeko Zaki’s OA in the pilot and then video cameos in subsequent episodes. Still, it’s as much part of the shared TV universe as any of the other shows, and the latest episode involved the Fly Team helping crack a case that cut down on crime in New York. So, FBI and even indirectly SVU and Organized Crime might have been helped by them!
The nine shows may not all be as strongly connected as SVU and Organized Crime are to each other, or have family connections like Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med, but the ties are there, and they all ultimately go back to Law & Order, even though all but SVU launched after L&O ended in 2010. The sheer number of hit shows spread across two networks but still connected to each other is unprecedented on network television, and Law & Order is returning to a much stronger lineup than it left when cancelled more than a decade ago.
Watch Law & Order’s big revival for Season 21 with the premiere on Thursday, February 24 at 8 p.m. ET, ahead of the returns of SVU at 9 p.m. ET and Organized Crime at 10 p.m. ET, all on NBC following the end of the Winter Olympics in the 2022 TV schedule.