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'Law & Order' is over on NBC after 20 years [Updated]

May 14, 2010 | 10:32 am

There will still be lots of "Law & Order" on NBC's schedule next season, just not the "Law & Order."

Unable to strike a deal with the show's creator and executive producer, Dick Wolf, NBC pulled the plug on the 20-year-old show that spawned several spinoffs and became one of the most lucrative television franchises in history -- for both NBC and Wolf.

Talks had broken down over money and the number of episodes NBC was willing to commit to for what would've been the legal drama's 21st season, which would've broken the record it shared with "Gunsmoke" for the longest-running television drama.

"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. The legacy of his original ‘Law & Order’ series will continue to make an impact like no other series before," Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal television entertainment, said in a statement.

In his statement, Wolf said: "Never complain. Never explain."

At issue was the high cost of producing a drama whose best days in terms of ratings were long behind it. "Law & Order," whose cast over the years has included Jerry Orbach, Chris Noth and Michael Moriarty, saw its audience drop below 8 million this season. Although the current cast is relatively new (with the exception of Sam Waterson and S. Epatha Merkerson), the people behind the show were making a significant amount of money. 

NBC wanted to bring the show back but not for a full season. Wolf's camp had said a few weeks ago it thought the two sides would end up with a deal for 16 episodes, but NBC was never on board for that many, people close to the situation said.

The odds of finding another home for the flagship series seem long. TNT, which carries "Law & Order" reruns, said Thursday it was not in talks to pick up the series. It also has a heavy slate of original shows, and its parent company has spent heavily lately on both Conan O'Brien and the NCAA basketball tournament. 

Wolf will still be in business with NBC. The network is bringing back "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and has a new spinoff, "Law & Order: Los Angeles."

[Updated 11:30 a.m.: New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has weighed in on the impact of the show's departure: “Over the last 20 years, 'Law & Order' became a New York City institution. It began filming in the city at a time when few series did, and it helped pave the way for the more than 150 television shows based here today, including the 'Law & Order' spinoff 'Special Victims Unit,' which will continue.

'Law & Order' not only broke the record for New York City’s longest-running prime-time series, it set the record for the longest-running crime series in the nation, collecting numerous Emmy awards along the way. It also helped launch the careers of thousands of talented actors and featured many memorable performances – although my cameos are not among them. We’re grateful to Dick Wolf for choosing New York City as its location for all of these years, and for helping showcase the city’s depth and versatility as a setting and all of the advantages of filming here."]

-- Joe Flint