Adam Schiff (Law & Order)

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Adam Schiff
Law & Order character
Adam Schiff - L&O.png
First appearance "Prescription for Death"
Last appearance "Vaya Con Dios"
Portrayed by Steven Hill
Time on show 1990–2000
Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Credited appearances 228 episodes (L&O)
1 episode (SVU)
229 episodes (total)
Preceded by Alfred Wentworth
Succeeded by Nora Lewin

Adam Schiff is a fictional character on the TV drama series Law & Order. He was played by Steven Hill from 1990 to 2000. Schiff was one of the main characters of the series and appeared in every episode of the first ten seasons except for "Everybody's Favorite Bagman", which was produced before Hill joined the cast, and the Season Seven episode "D-Girl". He appeared in 229 episodes (228 episodes of Law & Order and the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Entitled".)

Character overview[edit]

Schiff is District Attorney of New York County, and a graduate of Columbia University, where he served on the Law Review. He is a pragmatic Democrat of faintly liberal stripe, but regardless of political inclinations, he is never perturbed by his critics nor by uncooperative judges. Political persuasions sometimes cloud his decisions with regard to certain cases such as the death penalty, however. According to the episode "Aftershock", he wrote a brief protesting the death penalty in 1971.[1] He is also pro-choice.[2] A.D.A. New York City 1973[3]

While he is often stern and unforgiving in his professional conduct, he has amicable relationships with his assistants. He is closest to Benjamin Stone (Michael Moriarty), seeing him as a kind of surrogate son, and is disturbed to see him resign when a witness he is trying to protect is murdered.[4] His relationship with Stone's successor, Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), is more problematic, as McCoy is more ruthless and unconventional, and his habitual bending of trial rules occasionally garners Schiff some bad publicity. The two eventually grow to like and respect each other. However, Schiff is more critical of the junior assistant DAs, especially Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessy), whom he sees as too idealistic to do her job effectively.

He has many friends among New York's elite, including powerful politicians, judges, and businessmen. Over the show's run, however, many of these friends prove themselves to be either corrupt or hiding secrets. The politician who first asked that he run for District Attorney, Edward Vogel, later tries to use their relationship to quash the prosecution of his councilman son's murderer to avoid having the son's sexuality revealed.[5] In another case, one of his closest friends, Judge Edgar Hynes, commits suicide after being caught taking bribes;[6] another, Carl Anderton (Robert Vaughn), a high-powered CEO, is discovered to be suffering from bipolar disorder and attempts to arrange an unjust punishment for his similarly affected grandson to hide his own condition.[7] The once solid friendship destroyed, Anderton seeks vengeance and backs Schiff's opponent in a primary election, although Schiff is subsequently reelected.

In 1997, Schiff's wife has a stroke that puts her in a vegetative state. She dies after he elects to have her taken off of life support.[8] Their son Josh is mentioned in several episodes, as are Josh's own wife and son, but he never appears on screen.

Schiff is a fan of the Boston Red Sox[9] and Columbia Lions football.[10]

Post-Law & Order[edit]

In 2000, the Schiff character was written out of the show to accommodate Hill's resignation. Within the story arc of the show, Schiff leaves the DA's office to accept a role in coordinating commemorations of the Holocaust Project. He goes on to work with Simon Wiesenthal. He is succeeded by Nora Lewin (Dianne Wiest).[11]

After McCoy becomes the District Attorney in 2007, he commented that he now understands why Schiff always seemed to be in a bad mood.[12]

In 2009, Schiff is said to be in Africa with former President Jimmy Carter, attempting to get into Zimbabwe. While in Africa, he sees an article about McCoy's election campaign on the Internet and lends him his support.[13]

Real-life models[edit]

The character of Adam Schiff is loosely based upon long-serving New York County, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.[14]


  1. ^ Law & Order episode "Aftershock", aired May 22, 1996.
  2. ^ Law & Order episode "Life Choice", originally aired January 8, 1991.
  3. ^ " Law & Order" episode "Vaya Con Dios", originally aired May 24, 2000.
  4. ^ Law & Order episode "Old Friends", aired May 25, 1994.
  5. ^ Law & Order episode "Silence", aired April 28, 1992.
  6. ^ Law & Order episode "Jeopardy", aired November 1, 1995.
  7. ^ Law & Order episode "Burned", aired December 10, 1997.
  8. ^ Law & Order episode "Terminal", aired May 21, 1997.
  9. ^ Homicide: Life on the Street episode "Baby, It's You, Part II", originally aired November 14, 1997
  10. ^ "Law & Order" episode "Empire"
  11. ^ Law & Order episode "Endurance", aired October 18, 2000.
  12. ^ Law & Order episode "Illegal", originally aired February 13, 2008.
  13. ^ Law & Order episode "Crimebusters", aired February 11, 2009.
  14. ^ Kitman, Marvin (2000-08-02). " - Entertainment - Another crime perpetrated on 'Law & Order'". CNN. Retrieved 2008-07-01.