Take a trip with production designer Gary Weist through the industrial-green corridors and wood-paneled walls of the show's set, which is housed at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. -- Randee Dawn
Fans have been watching detectives and lawyers roam the squad room and courtroom and boardroom halls of the “Law & Order” set for nearly 20 years now, but there’s rarely a chance to truly inspect these walls, which would surely have much to say if they could speak.
These are the desks for the lead detectives on the show; currently that’s Detectives Lupo and Bernard. According to Weist, the squad room set has virtually gone unaltered since the start of the show. “(Creator) Dick Wolf does not want the squad room touched, he told me that,” he said.
Here come the judge, and this is where he -- or she -- sits. Weist has lost count of how many nameplates they have for judges, and notes that a doorway to the left of the judge’s bench leads to a finished corridor in the courthouse used in select scenes.
The wall behind the jury panel can be removed to allow for different camera angles, and there isn’t always a need to have the actors in place if they’re not being filmed.
“We’ve done a lot of changes in the courtroom over the years,” Weist said. “We use this place for arraignment and other courts, so it has to have a lot of different looks.”
Here’s where the jury will sit for every trial, in seats that are guilty of looking pretty darned uncomfortable. But the jury isn’t always in every time a courtroom scene is in session.
To the right of the morgue are some Venetian blinds that cover the “morgue boxes,” ostensibly for bodies. Open the right one and you’ll get a view of the Hudson River.
If the morgue tables look familiar here, it probably means you were a fan of “Oz.” Weist worked for the HBO show and when it shuttered, he bought the tables for “L&O.” When he joined the show eight years ago, this was one set he completely revamped, expanding it and adding a desk for the medical examiner.
“It’s not something you’ll ever see on TV, it’s just a lovely idea,” Weist said. Along those lines: The late Gregory Hines, who appeared in 2003, has a plaque on the courtroom floor dedicated to him for a tap dance he did one time when he arrived on the set.
This list is meant to indicate individuals who are no longer with the justice system. After Jerry Orbach’s (Lennie Briscoe) death in 2004, his name was also added.
“Before, this was a real white-shoe looking law place, and the real Hogan Place space looks more like this, chaotic and paperwork everywhere,” Weist said. They ditched the law books “because everyone uses Westlaw online now,” he added.
Weist is behind the revamp of the district attorney offices, which are modeled on New York County’s real-life Hogan Place DA digs.
"There used to be light boxes because every time in the past before the advent of LCD screens and before we went to shooting video on the Genesis system you’d get a roll bar, and you’d have to sync all those CRTs to the camera," Weist explained. "We shoot at a different frame rate per second, and it was very time consuming and an elaborate problem for computers. As soon as we switched to LCD screens, they all run off a server wirelessly and we put on them whatever we want them to do."
And as for that staircase, it doesn’t really go anywhere, though it’s meant to leave the impression that there are more cops just upstairs.
While the soda machine “maybe” works -- “we’ve gotten sodas out of it on the show,” Weist said -- for a long time not many of the electronic devices around the station house really functioned. Now that the show shoots on digital video, and computers use LCD screens, the machines can function, up to a point.
She’s been at this desk for 17 years, but not much has changed in all that time. Actress S. Epatha Merkerson, who plays Van Buren, has never asked Weist to change her office. “The only changes now are we gave her an updated computer and a TV in her office, since she watches a lot of surveillance video and news there,” he said.
The couch from McCoy’s office from when he was an ADA was relocated, as was his coat rack. “He wanted to look like a real working DA,” Weist said. “We made it more like him.”
“Boy, what a mess!” Weist said. But that’s intentional, because actor Sam Waterston (McCoy) helped keep it more in his style, rather than that of McCoy’s predecessor, Arthur Branch (formerly played by Fred Thompson).
Fans of the show will recognize at least some of the names, but the others will be an unsolved mystery. Weist said they’re all names that have been “cleared” by the legal department, and it reflects the low-key Hogan Place style. It isn’t the case here, but Weist added that “on other lists, often we use names of the crew.”
Both “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” use space at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers’ Silver Screen Studios for their interior shots. “L&O” has more than 20,000 square feet of sound stage space on stages A and B and the North Stage. That includes space for dressing rooms, places to build sets, store wardrobe, and hair and makeup rooms.
Behind the walls of justice sit tons of unused equipment, often kept in wheeled bins like the ones shown here.