Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

the industry

Vulture Exclusive: NBC Offered to Renew Law & Order, But Did Dick Wolf Play Chicken?

Is Law & Order really over? After multiple reports suggesting that the iconic New York-based crime procedural would definitely be back for a 21st season next fall β€” allowing Dick Wolf his life-long dream of laying claim to having created the longest-running drama in TV history (suck it, Gunsmoke!) β€” the word now appears to be that NBC has pulled the plug on the show. But if this deal is indeed dead (and in the case of Wolf vs. NBC, you can never be sure) don't blame the network: Sources tell Vulture that Wolf refused an opportunity to extend the show and earn his record.

Here's the story behind the drama: NBC had told Wolf it would be fine with bringing the original recipe L&O back for one more go-round — this despite the fact that even by NBC's low performance bar, the show barely registers in the ratings these days; it's been attracting around 6 million viewers this spring in its 10 p.m. timeslot. But NBC has made so many gazillions of dollars from the L&O franchise (a syndication jackpot) that even the cold-hearted GE execs didn't want to stand in the way of Wolf's unfurling a "Mission Accomplished" banner across the entrance to his Upper West Side villa.

But NBC's benevolence has some limits. It told Wolf it wanted a 21st season of L&O to be limited to somewhere between six and 10 episodes, and it wanted him to find a way to bring down the budget, or at the very least find a way to use some of his share of the L&O profits to help make another season more cost-effective. "[Dick could] have his renewal," one industry insider told us before word of the alleged cancellation of L&O leaked out. "He just has to decide if he wants another Cadillac or another Rolls Royce."

This was not the biggest financial sacrifice: The Peacock has been planning to move forward on a new, L.A.-based spinoff of the franchise, though there's no pilot script or stars attached yet. Yet our sources indicate Wolf had been balking at the idea of making any concessions.

Then again, maybe it really is curtains for L&O, and NBC is simply calling Wolf's bluff and moving on, wanting to demonstrate that its potentially good development season means it doesn't need to cling to dwindling shows like L&O or Heroes. NBC, TNT, and Team Dick aren't talking, of course.

Then again, maybe it really is curtains for L&O, and NBC is simply calling Wolf's bluff and moving on, wanting to demonstrate that its potentially good development season means it doesn't need to cling to dwindling shows like L&O or Heroes. NBC, TNT, and Team Dick aren't talking, of course.

We're not going to pretend to know how this drama will turn out…even if NBC actually issues a release saying it's over for L&O. Wolf has played similarly public games of chicken with the network this long, and his show has lasted 20 years. But this much we do know: In the Hollywood production system, all sides are represented by two separate but equally powerful motivations: Greed, and more greed. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: One conspiracy theory down! TNT has emailed us the following statement: "Law & Order has been a valuable programming asset for TNT. Currently, we have multiple seasons under license, up to and including season 20. With this series, TNT is the buyer and NBC is the seller. TNT is not in ongoing discussions about picking up the series for first-run episodes."

Photo: NBC