|Crime drama "Law & Order" will end its 20-year run later this month, as the NBC network aims for a fresh start after years of creative missteps.|
The series will air its last show on May 24, the network said, and be replaced next TV season with a new "Law & Order" drama, set in Los Angeles. The network said the new series would follow similar themes and stories as the New York-based original, albeit on a new coast.
A mainstay on broadcast television since its 1990 debut, "Law & Order" has spawned multiple spin-offs, the most popular of which is "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," which is set to return next season. All told, the franchise has generated billions of dollars in advertising and syndication revenue for NBC and for producer Dick Wolf.
The cancellation reflects the changing priorities of NBC, which General Electric Co. has agreed to sell to Comcast Corp. After years of aggressive cost-cutting left it with few new hits and a shrinking audience, executives decided last fall to sink more money into finding new prime-time shows.
NBC has already ordered 11 new programs for fall, including seven new hour-long dramas. The network could order one more show before it presents its fall schedule to advertisers Monday.
Mr. Wolf and NBC executives had engaged in last-minute back and forth this week aimed at extending the series, according to people familiar with the talks. NBC network chief Jeff Gaspin informed Mr. Wolf of its decision in a call early Friday morning, two of those people said.
"Never complain. Never explain," Mr. Wolf said in a statement provided by his spokeswoman, who said he declined to talk further.
One major point of contention was cost, including Mr. Wolf's hefty producer fees, as the show's popularity waned. Through May 9, the show has averaged 7.3 million viewers this season, down 52% from a decade ago, according to Nielsen Co.
Another complication was that cable network TNT's lucrative deal to syndicate the show had not yet been extended to cover a new season. People familiar with the matter said the Time Warner Inc. network hasn't committed to pick up the reruns in advance.
"Law & Order" could also be a casualty of changing tastes. The standalone storytelling employed in the show remains popular, accounting for about 20% of the shows on broadcast TV, according to TV analyst Steve Sternberg. But newer shows in that mold often include more humor and character development than was common two decades ago.
"Law & Order was really old fashioned in a sense," said Brad Adgate, an analyst at Horizon Media.