|NBC is having trouble making up its mind about “Law & Order.”|
People who work on the pioneering crime drama were told Thursday afternoon that the show had been canceled after 20 seasons. But there were indications late Thursday that talks were continuing and that the show might still avoid a cancellation, although NBC declined to comment.
The series, produced by Dick Wolf, is tied with “Gunsmoke” as the longest-running prime-time drama on network television.
The franchise has been incredibly lucrative for the network and has spawned several successful spinoffs, including “Law & Order: S.V.U.” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” neither of which is likely to be affected by the final decision about the parent program.
In telephone calls Thursday afternoon, people at Mr. Wolf’s production company informed producers and actors involved with the show about the cancellation, including Fred Berner, an executive producer based in New York.
If true, he said, “it’s a kick in the gut to New York.”
By one estimate, more than 8,000 people in the city are employed, directly and indirectly, by the series and its two spinoffs, including many theatrical actors who make appearances.
On Thursday morning, NBC appeared close to canceling the program. But talks between the network and Mr. Wolf were still under way according to three people with knowledge of the talks who requested anonymity because they were not authorized by their employers to comment on the record.
Reports of the cancellation first appeared on the Web site Deadline.com.
Many in the television business had expected NBC to renew the original series this month, if only to allow Mr. Wolf to beat “Gunsmoke,” something he has long sought to achieve.
NBC executives had been quoted as saying that they expected a 21st season to go forward. Mr. Wolf and NBC have engaged in brinkmanship over the show in the past. NBC plans to announce its 2010-11 schedule on Monday in New York.
Mr. Wolf has also been in talks with NBC about another spinoff, “Law & Order: Los Angeles.” Its debut was expected to be among the announcements made by NBC on Monday.
“Law & Order” has averaged about eight million viewers so far this season, half as many as it averaged a decade ago. But in the splintering universe of broadcast television, the ratings and the profits in syndication have been high enough to sustain the series.
Almost immediately after the actors and producers were told of the possible cancellation on Thursday, there was speculation that a cable channel like TNT would give “Law & Order” a second life. But TNT, which resurrected another NBC police drama, “Southland,” last year, said it was “not in ongoing discussions” about doing so in this case.
TNT is an important player in NBC’s talks about “Law & Order” because it helps finance the production by rerunning the episodes. That licensing deal is set to expire this year.