|One day, we'll all work for McDonald's. Until then, we'll have to make do with Law & Order. |
NBC marked its first day as the newly vast NBC Universal Wednesday by ensuring that the already vast Law & Order franchise will keep cranking out the fries on its network through 2006.
The Peacock issued two-year pickups to Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Additionally, it formally announced the fourth Law & Order series, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, to bow in the fall.
"I've been on the air at NBC continuously for the past 20 years and this new deal means that I could be as lucky for the next 20," franchise founder Dick Wolf, who worked as a writer on the network's Hill Street Blues and as a producer on Miami Vice in the 1980s, said in a statement.
Wolf launched his own golden-arches empire with the premiere of original-recipe Law & Order in 1990.
Come the 2004-05 season, nearly 20 percent of NBC's prime-time lineup will be devoted to hand-held shots of New York actors trying to crack the cases that just turn their stomachs.
Add to that tally the Law & Order reruns that air on seemingly endless loops on cable networks TNT and USA, and TV historian Tim Brooks said the "beginning of the end of the franchise" may be at hand.
"You certainly have a great deal of Law & Order to choose from. It's a recipe for decline," said Brooks, coauthor of The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows: 1946-Present.
It also doesn't help, Brooks said, that CBS has proved equally adept at cloning its own crime franchise. Contemplating a fall lineup with four Law & Orders on NBC and three CSIs on CBS (CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York), Brooks said: "You can certainly have one a night, but when you have two a night...."
Renewed through June 2006, Law & Order is now ensured of a 15th and 16th season, which will move it past the likes of Knots Landing (1979-93) on the list of TV's all-time longest-running network dramas and comedies. It'll have to last into the next decade to catch prime-time's ultimate marathon runner: Gunsmoke (1955-75). It'll also have to take out Fox's still going The Simpsons, which has one year seniority.
Law & Order: SVU, meanwhile, is locked in through season seven; Law & Order: Criminal Intent, through season five. Law & Order: Trial by Jury apparently will have to get some ratings before NBC renews it through the 22nd century.
Attracting ratings hasn't proved too difficult for the existing Law & Orders. All three are among this season's 25 most watched shows. Law & Order remains the standard-bearer, averaging 15.9 million viewers. Law & Order: Criminal Intent, aka the one with Vincent D'Onofrio, is booking 13.3 million; Law & Order: SVU, aka the one with Mariska Hargitay, is drawing 12.6 million.
While Wolf's series have prided themselves on staying fresh and budget-conscious with revolving-door casts, Brooks warned that this month's departure of Jerry Orbach after 12 Law & Order seasons was a "major, major change" from which the drama may not recover.
Orbach is expected to pop up on Law & Order: Trial by Jury, although no cast has been announced.
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