Looks as though "Law & Order" will not beat out "Gunsmoke" as the longest running American TV drama. According to Deadline and a number of other industry publications, NBC has decided to cancel the series, which is currently nearing the end of its 20th season. The "Law & Order" ratings have been dismal this year, but insiders were assuming that NBC would renew the series if only to let producer Dick Wolf break the "Gunsmoke" 20-season record. Still no official word from NBC. [Update below.]
The cancelation would not have an impact on the expected renewal of "Law & Order: SVU" and NBC's expected pickup of the new spinoff "Law & Order: Los Angeles." But it would represent NBC's effort to move into a new era next season, after the Jay Leno debacle. The network is trying to turn around its ratings depression, and has already picked up a new J.J. Abrams spy series, "Undercovers," as well as a conspiracy thriller called "The Event" starring Jason Ritter and Blair Underwood. NBC's official fall slate will be released in full next week, along with the lineups for all the other major networks.
"Law & Order" will always be notable not just for its long life, but for pioneering the cool procedural approach to crime drama that continues to thrive. Cops and lawyers who reveal little of their personal lives, a step-by-step advance through crimes of the week, bad guys who slip through the law on technicalities -- these and other "Law & Order" trademarks are now de rigueur.
According to E!, the "L&O" cast and crew were informed of the cancelation earlier today. The absence of the show will surely have an impact on New York actors, who have found plenty of work on all of the New York-filmed "L&O" series.
UPDATE at 1:15 p.m., Friday: NBC has confirmed the cancelation. The series finale will air on May 24. NBC chairman Jeff Gaspin 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." And NBC president Angela Bromstad said, "'Law & Order' has been one of the most successful franchises in the history of television, which is why it is so critical that we continue this important brand and our relationship with Dick Wolf and his team with 'LOLA' and 'Law & Order: SVU.'" "LOLA" is the Los Angeles spinoff.
To me, "Law & Order" has been riding on fumes for years, a weak imitation of its early self. The cases of the week are increasingly more predictable and repetitive, and the cast seems to be going through the motions under duress. It's time.
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