Why One Man Watched Every Episode of ‘Law & Order’ and Took Screenshots of All the Computers
Season 1, Episode 3: In the early years of Law & Order, computers were in the background, and usually turned off.
Binge-watching is mainstream. And Law & Order is among the most popular television shows of all time.
But nobody has binged on a show the way Jeffrey Thompson gorged himself on Law & Order.
He not only took in all 456 episode in the procedural’s 20-year-run, in order. He also meticulously cataloged — with more than 11,000 screen shots — every single instance of a computer or similar technology that appeared on the show.
“Does that sound crazy to you?” he asks.
Season 1, Episode 9: First appearance of a computer that’s actually turned on (displaying a child abuse database).
Before you answer, you should know that Thompson isn’t an extreme couch potato; he’s an artist whose work frequently deals with technology. And this is the “the kind of obsessive project where you don’t remember starting it,” as he puts it. He started out watching old Law & Order episodes on Netflix just for diversion. But he would periodically take screenshots of interesting oddities for his blog.
Then he started noticing computers. And eventually he realized what he was really watching was a massive audio-visual database charting two decades of technological evolution.
So he applied for a grant from Rhizome, a nonprofit arts organization that specializes in tech-culture projects, and he won one of the 2012 commissions decided upon by Rhizome member votes. (Rhizome Commissions range from $1,000 to $5,000.) On February 1, he’ll give an “illustrated lecture” at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, discussing his findings.
Season six: Computer sketch art, and a designer’s desktop, mid 1990s style.