I still watch them all!

NBC could lay down the ‘Law’
Law & Order is trying to avoid becoming a victim.
NBC and producer Dick Wolf are in negotiations to shave costs from the longest-running crime series and one of its spinoffs, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, to justify keeping either on the air. (A third, more successful series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, isn’t endangered.)
A final decision won’t be made until next month, when NBC sets its fall lineup. But there’s a good chance at least one of them won’t return. That would mark a stark departure from L&O’s heyday a half-dozen years ago, when, as a top-10 series, it spawned spinoffs SVU (1999), Criminal Intent (2001) and the short-lived Trial by Jury (2005).
“I’m surprised it’s in this position,” Wolf says. He says he has heard no complaints about the show’s quality. “It’s not a creative discussion; it’s obviously a business discussion. We’re having very serious talks about how to take a significant amount of money out of the budgets,” from cutting cast members to changing film stocks.
Says NBC West Coast chief Marc Graboff: “We’re exploring with Dick ways to keep one or both.”
Yet thanks to their longevity and star salaries, each now costs a steep $4 million an episode to produce, vs. $2.5 million for similarly rated Las Vegas. That show sealed its renewal by trimming its budget, dropping stars James Caan and Nikki Cox.
But unlike Vegas, L&O has earned billions for NBC Universal, which produces the show, airs its original episodes and sells reruns to TNT and its own USA and Bravo channels. Pick up a remote and you can hardly miss it: Today alone, these cable networks will air 16 episodes of the three series. But all that exposure ó coupled with normal declines for aging series ó has sent ratings into a tailspin.
L&O, already sagging last season, was moved to low-rated Fridays in the fall, where it has since declined 19%. It now ranks slightly behind Criminal Intent, down 16% in its new Tuesday home. Both average about 9 million viewers, still above NBC’s record-low prime-time average the past two weeks.
The fourth-place network, under financial strain, is exploring whether less popular but cheaper series are better.
Fans are split. Some call L&O an institution: “It’s the only show I literally drop everything to watch,” says Sherrill Craig of Raleigh, N.C. Others say it’s time to go, after too-frequent cast changes and too many spinoffs.
Wolf has his own agenda: breaking the record for longest-running drama held by CBS’ Gunsmoke, which ran 20 years. L&O is now in its 17th. “I would obviously love the show to go 21 seasons. I still think that has the potential to happen.”