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The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Law & Order's Adam Schiff

For over thirty years, the "Law & Order" franchise has been taking the "art imitates life" mantra to new heights. Though plenty of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" episodes have famously been inspired by real crimes, the franchise began earning its "ripped from the headlines" reputation when "Law & Order" first premiered in 1990. Season 1, Episode 4, titled "Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die," is loosely based on Robert Chambers, AKA The Preppy Killer, and later episodes would reimagine the cases of the Menendez Brothers, Amy Fisher, and Phil Spector, among many others.

At the center of these true crime-inspired stories are the fictional law enforcement professionals and legal minds that make up "Law & Order." Fans favorites like Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) and Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) have long been enshrined in television history, even earning the title of Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy (via New York Times). Some characters, however, have roots in real-life people. Here's the District Attorney who served as inspiration for Adam Schiff (Steven Hill).

Adam Schiff was loosely based on Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau

For the first ten seasons of "Law & Order," Steven Hill portrayed Adam Schiff, District Attorney of New York County. Per CNN, the character was based on real-life Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau. Morgenthau served as D.A. from 1975 until his retirement in 2009, with his office overseeing such controversial cases as Mark David Chapman in 1981 and the Central Park Five in 1989, including their eventual exoneration.

Morgenthau was reportedly a fan of Hill's portrayal — and may have been jealous of the actor's paycheck. "I'm not a big TV guy," he told LifeStyles Magazine (via Jewish Virtual Library), "but I liked the Adam Schiff character. I told him once when we met that I wanted to know when he was resigning because I wanted his job. You know he got paid something like $25,000 an episode?"

Hill and Morgenthau may not have had a shared legal background in common, but the two men were united by their Jewish faith. Hill — born Solomon Krakowsky — refused to work on Shabbat while filming the "Mission: Impossible" series in the '60s, and "Law & Order" honcho Dick Wolf called him "the Talmudic influence on the entire zeitgeist of the series." Similarly, Morgenthau's faith would guide his journey towards a life in public service. "I thought a lot about what Hitler was doing to the Jews and the minorities [in Germany]," he said about his time as a student in the late '30s (via Jewish Virtual Library). "I wanted to get involved and fight against Hitler."