Dick Wolf created the show with an eye toward eventually syndicating the reruns. In the late ‘80s, hourlong dramas weren’t as popular as half-hour sitcoms, and he thought he could make a show that could be evenly split down the middle, and sold into reruns as two half-hour shows.
It took a long time to get to TV. In the very early days of Fox, executives ordered 13 episodes without even seeing a pilot. When a new president came in, he reversed the decision because he felt it didn’t fit in with the network’s other programming. Creator Dick Wolf then shopped the show to CBS, where a pilot was made, but the network passed because the show didn’t have any big stars. In 1989, NBC executives saw that pilot and liked it, but, amazingly, thought the formula of “law” then “order” would get stale quickly. The next year, NBC changed its mind and ordered a full season of episodes.