‘Law & Order’: Here’s Why the Narrator of the Memorable Opening Scene Sounds So Familiar

Many Law & Order diehard fans know the words to the iconic opening scene. It’s become a staple of the series, and even the spinoffs sport opening lines as well. It gets the audience ready to watch the unique police procedural and be entertained. But you might wonder where you’ve heard that legendary voice before. It turns out the actor has had many other popular roles where you might have heard him.

Who narrates the opening scene for ‘Law & Order’ and its spinoffs?

Jerry Orbach and Chris Noth in 'Law & Order'
Jerry Orbach and Chris Noth in ‘Law & Order’ | Jessica Burstein/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Many fans of the series Law & Order know the opener by heart, and it’s become synonymous with the show: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: The police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”

But who actually says those words? It turns out it’s an actor named Steven Zirnkilton. But he doesn’t just voice the lines for Law & Order, but for all of the five series in the United States lasting from 1990 onward, according to the actor’s Fandom page for the series. It’s actually quite an accomplishment, and that means he voices the opener for Law & Order: SVU as well, which is working on its 22nd season.

How did Steven Zirnkilton get the pivotal role?

Kathryn Erbe, Vincent D'onofrio, Eric Bogosian, Chris Noth, Alicia Witt in 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent'
Kathryn Erbe, Vincent D’onofrio, Eric Bogosian, Chris Noth, Alicia Witt in ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ | Eric Ogden/USA/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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Zirnkilton was actually in the pilot episode of Law & Order in a small role as a detective that included two sentences. But from there, he would become the voice actor for the narration known by many. But how did that transition happen? According to an interview Zirnkilton had with Speak Easy and Backstage, it all came down to his previous connection with Dick Wolf, the creator of the shows. Wolf was looking to purchase a house in Maine, and Zirnkilton had his appropriate licenses to help, including an insurance license, and he got in touch. After helping him, Zirnkilton gave him his “VO demo,” and he later received a call to work on “Nasty Boys,” which didn’t last long. From there, he scored his small part as a detective, and finally he became the voice of the opening lines.

“Then I got a call from Mr. Wolf’s secretary saying that Mr. Wolf has a show called ‘Law & Order,’ and he’d like you to play a detective in the show,” Zirnkilton recalled. “I played a detective in the pilot and shared a trailer with William H. Macy, by the way! Nobody wanted the show. CBS and Fox both passed. Nearly a year went by and then Brandon Tartikoff at NBC decided to give it a try. Mr. Wolf’s secretary called me again and said, ‘Please meet Mr. Wolf at the recording studio. He has something he’d like you to read.’ And that was the opening. I had no idea if the show would have any legs, but happily it hung around for a while.”

Here’s why the narrator of the opening scene of ‘Law & Order’ sounds so familiar

Steven Zirnkilton might sound familiar because he’s been in a decent amount of television series and movies. He played the voice of a reporter in The Rugrats Movie in 1998 according to IMDb, and he’s also worked on numerous other shows as well.

Zirnkilton has worked on other Dick Wolf created shows, including Arrest & Trial as the narrator. He has also had a voice role in the series Dragnet, which was created by Dick Wolf and Jack Webb. He was the narrator for Crime & Punishment, another Wolf series, as well.

He has even been a voice over for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2004. The actor also had a role narrating a play on the Law & Order introduction in an episode of Family Guy in 2005. Other roles include being the narrator in The Stag Hunt in 2008, as well as a motel clerk in the movie Too Cold to Swim in 2018.

But Zirnkilton isn’t just an actor. He’s had on a different hat before as a member of the Maine House of Representatives at one point. He served a total of four terms from 1982 to 1988, and in 1992 to 1994 as well.

Steven Zirnkilton has worked in numerous other projects before besides Law & Order, making his voice familiar to many.