In a last minute deal with series creator Dick Wolf, NBC has decided to keep all three Law & Order series in primetime — though one in a very unique way.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the most popular of the franchise, was renewed in January for a ninth season so its fate has been secure for some time. Not so, for the other two L&O series.
Law & Order was believed to be on the shakiest ground but it will remain on the peacock network for an 18th season. It’s unclear if L&O will return in the fall or will be held until midseason. L&O’s ratings have dropped this year but this was expected as a result of the series’ move to Friday nights. There had been talk of moving the crime drama to TNT but execs decided instead to move Law & Order: Criminal Intent to the USA cable channel. NBC and USA are both owned by NBC Universal.
Reruns of Criminal Intent are very popular on USA and now, in a groundbreaking deal, the cable channel will be able to premiere the seventh season of first run episodes. Chairman of USA Universal Jeff Zucker said, “This was a strategic decision by us. We are really taking USA to a new stratosphere.”
This deal is also unique because encore airings of Criminal Intent will be run on NBC. The episodes will presumably be used to replace any failed new dramas or to fill in other programming holes.
Wolf will have to make some budget cuts on all three series but has said that the cost reductions won’t result in any noticeable changes for viewers.
Law & Order is the longest-running crime drama in TV history and is second only to Gunsmoke as the longest drama. (Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons, from 1955 until 1975 on CBS.) Wolf said, “We are now one year closer to my ultimate dream — to become the longest running drama in the history of television, beating Gunsmoke.” Though L&O may match Gunsmoke in a season count, it will be a tough to match the latter’s episode count. Gunsmoke ran for 635 episodes while, if L&O runs 20 regular seasons, it will have fewer than 460. Could Law & Order run for 29 seasons and beat Gunsmoke’s episode total? We’ll see. Stay tuned!