updated 05/26/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/26/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Certainly the cast has plenty to sing about. Since its debut on Sept. 13, 1990, Law & Order has turned into TV's most durable franchise and will air its 300th episode on May 21. The cop-law hybrid drama, which now airs up to 30 times a week on NBC and TNT, has received a record 11 consecutive Emmy nominations for best drama series (it won in 1997) and launched two successful spinoffs, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. "You never seem to be able to exhaust it," says Sam Waterston of the show's famous ripped-from-the-headlines plots. "The news is always new." So is the ever-changing cast, which currently includes Orbach, 67 (Det. Lennie Briscoe); Martin, 34 (Det. Ed Green); Waterston, 62 (Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy); Elisabeth Rohm, 30 (A.D.A. Serena Southerlyn); Merkerson, 50 (Lt. Anita Van Buren); and Fred Thompson, 60 (D.A. Arthur Branch).
With ratings improving each year, Order shows no sign of arrested development ("The passion is undimmed," says creator Dick Wolf)—just a life sentence of spinoff possibilities. "Jerry and I joke that one day there will be Law & Order: Parking Violations," says Merkerson. "There's no end to it."