Chung-chung! Is that a body? Reports came in from several news outlets late this afternoon that NBC is canceling the original series of Law & Order after 20 seasons. TV Guide and Deadline.com have said it’s a done deal, and the New York Times’ Brian Stelter tweeted confirmation from a former producer.
[Update: Don't consider L&O dead, by the way, until there's an actual corpse. Some reports suggest there may be last-minute gamesmanship going on.]
The network announces its fall schedule next Monday and has been picking up several new series already. Still it’s a surprise if it comes to pass, though not for the show’s ratings, which have been anemic lately. But first, NBC still has a lot of holes to fill after Jay Leno’s ejection from primetime. And axing L&O would prevent it from breaking Gunsmoke’s record as longest-lived TV drama—presumably irking producer Dick Wolf, who still produces other shows for the network and is developing an L.A. spinoff too.
I’ll admit never having been a huge fan of the show. Not that I have anything against it; it’s generally been well-made over the decades, but I just don’t have the need for a regular cop procedural. So I don’t want to dance on its grave. But I will say that, if the only reason to keep it on the air was to set a record for Dick Wolf—and it wouldn’t have been for the ratings—then that’s the wrong reason. You’d be royally and rightfully pissed if you were a fan of the show that got killed so L&O could collect a record.
Still, I’m guessing that L&O is one of those shows that people will mourn out of proportion to the amount that they actually watch it. For one thing, it’s been on so long that there are a lot of people who had an L&O habit once and feel sentimental. And it’s so widely rerun (and spun off, etc.) that plenty of people watch it even if they never watch the original in its timeslot anymore. I suspect, though, that they like to know that it’s somewhere out there, churning out murders and efficient trial starring New York stage actors for them to watch, someday.
I also wonder, once the dust clears, whether it may be that L&O is simply “canceled,” but still has the chance to pick up new life—and go for that record—on cable, where it has a faithful following. A TNT deal had been talked about in the past before, for instance, and really the meat-and-potatoes cop drama is becoming more a staple of basic cable.
For those of you who have an L&O habit, it is for Original Flavor or one of the spin-offs? Network or cable? Let me know. In the meantime, I may now actually watch the season (or series?) finale episode I just got on DVD.