One ‘Law & Order’ Gets a Death Sentence, as Another Joins the Force
|The Dodgers. “The Tonight Show.” Now “Law & Order.”|
NBC confirmed on Friday that another cherished New York brand was moving to Los Angeles. The network canceled the original “Law & Order” series after keeping it on the air for 20 years. In its place, NBC is ordering a new drama, “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” moving the franchise to a place where there are presumably more murders to investigate.
At least one “Law & Order” spinoff will stay in New York: NBC said on Friday that it had renewed “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” for another season.
The USA cable channel, which shows another spinoff, “Criminal Intent,” has not yet decided to order more episodes.
The original “Law & Order” — often called “the mothership” in the television business — was on the verge of becoming the longest-running drama in prime-time television history, surpassing “Gunsmoke.” But it appears that the “Law & Order” executive producer, Dick Wolf, has settled for a tie. The final episode of the series will be shown on May 24.
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Wolf quoted Henry Ford II: “Never complain. Never explain.”
While NBC tried to portray the move as a continuation of the hit franchise, the “Law & Order” dismissal is a dramatic loss for New York, one that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg even acknowledged in a statement on Friday.
“It began filming in the city at a time when few series did, and it helped pave the way for the more than 150 television shows based here today,” Mr. Bloomberg said.
Actors and producers on the show were told on Thursday that the series had been canceled, but NBC and Mr. Wolf remained in conversations through Thursday evening in an unsuccessful attempt to make a deal for a 21st season.
There were no indications on Friday that another network or cable channel would pick up the show. But NBC is also quietly exploring the possibility that Mr. Wolf would produce some kind of movie or extended retrospective next season to give the series a more fitting send-off, according to people with knowledge of the talks.
Jeff Gaspin, the chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, said in a statement: “The full measure of the collective contributions made by Dick Wolf and his ‘Law & Order’ franchise over the last two decades to the success of NBC and Universal Media Studios cannot be overstated. The legacy of his original ‘Law & Order’ series will continue to make an impact like no other series before.”
A total of 456 “Law & Order” episodes have been produced since the series had its premiere in 1990. Spotting the cast and crew filming on the city streets is almost a rite of passage for New Yorkers.
Fred Berner, an executive producer of the show, called the cancellation “a devastating blow to the New York City production community.”
Thousands of people are believed to be employed, albeit many indirectly, by the series and its two spinoffs. The series has been especially important to the many Broadway and Off Broadway actors who make appearances as guest stars.
Mr. Berner was standing outside a Broadway theater when he was reached on his cellphone on Thursday evening. “I guarantee you, every name in the playbill will have appeared on ‘Law & Order,’ one of the three shows,” he said.
The streets and courtrooms of New York were stages for series regulars like Sam Waterston, Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach, as well as untold thousands of guest stars, including Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ellen Pompeo and Martin Short.
In a telephone interview Mr. Noth said the series was a “great thing for our city.”
“It created a lot of work for a lot of actors,” he said. “But 20 years is a grand run. The show told a lot of great stories.”
A senior executive involved in the production of the show, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to appear publicly critical of the series, said that while its quality had held up, its ratings in recent years had not.
“There’s no bigger ‘Law & Order’ junkie than I am,” the executive said, “but we’ve been in almost every Upper East Side apartment in New York and explored all those stories.”
This season the original “Law & Order” had averaged a 1.8 rating among viewers 18 to 49, hardly a number that would guarantee another season, especially when NBC is aggressively retooling its prime-time schedule. (It will formally announce that schedule on Monday.)
Still, the cancellation came as somewhat of a surprise, given Mr. Wolf’s well-known desire to beat the “Gunsmoke” record.
Ed Zuckerman, a former co-executive producer of the series, described himself as stunned by the news of the cancellation. “It’s been such a pillar of the television world we all live in,” he said on Thursday.
Analysts say “Law & Order” redefined the crime genre on television by juxtaposing the stories of police officers and prosecutors. An off-screen narrator explained the premise of the series at the start of each self-contained hourlong episode:
“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
Kerry McCluggage, who was the president of Universal TV when “Law & Order” had its premiere in 1990, said the series had “influenced all the procedural dramas that have come in its wake.”
The series specialized in so-called “ripped from the headlines” plots that reminded viewers of real-life crimes and trials. “Dick always said the bible for the show is the front page of The New York Post,” Mr. Zuckerman said.
By some trade estimates, “Law & Order” and its spinoffs represent a $1 billion industry for the many companies involved. Repeats of the series have been all but ubiquitous on multiple channels for more than a decade, and have generated bidding wars among cable outlets. After the A&E channel made it the signature part of its prime-time schedule in the late 1990s, TNT bought the rights to the show in 2000 in what was then a record deal, worth about $150 million.
Versions of the show have been produced in Russia and France, and last year a London variation made its debut on ITV in Britain.
NBC said on Friday that the themes and story lines of “Law & Order” would be evident in the Los Angeles series. The network said in a news release that “casting and preproduction work are continuing.”
Mr. Zuckerman noted that the crime rate in New York had declined markedly in the 20 years that “Law & Order” has fictionalized the city’s seedy underbelly.
“I think there are literally more murders on those three shows in Manhattan each year than there are real murders in Manhattan,” he said.