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'Law & Order' creator Dick Wolf calls end of 10 p.m. dramas on NBC 'sad'

September 23, 2009 | 12:36 pm

With the 10 p.m. hour that was long “Law & Order’s” domain on NBC now in the hands of Jay Leno, the long-running crime procedural has been given the 8 p.m. slot on Fridays for its 20th season, which begins Sept. 25.

“I understand the economic thinking behind it, but it is sad,” creator Dick Wolf said of NBC's decision to do away with five hours of scripted drama a week.

Speaking at a midday celebration on the show's New York set to kick off the new season, Wolf said he’s confident that "Law & Order" will still draw an audience earlier in the night. “It’s been on cable in every time slot literally 3 in the morning to 8 at night,” he said. “I think people respond to storytelling. I would prefer to have it on a 10 o’clock because I think that’s when people for originals go. But that’s over for now, anyway.”

This season, the program reaches a key milestone -- it will tie “Gunsmoke” as the longest-running prime-time drama on television. Now Wolf is setting his sights on his next target.

“It’s been a great 20 years,” he told the cast and crew before slicing into one of three cakes that spelled out the "Law & Order" logo. “We’re looking forward to the next 20.”

Wolf said he’s not being facetious. “The stories are literally endless,” he said. “I feel the same way now as I felt 20 years ago: The show is arguably as good as it’s ever been, and I don’t know anything that’s any better.”

That said, if and when “Law & Order” does come to a conclusion, Wolf said he isn’t planning a grand finale. “I don’t care whether it’s hopefully 15 years from now, 10 years, two years – whatever it is, I don’t think there will be a final episode,” he said. “The show has never really dealt with the idea of people’s personal lives. It’s a workplace show. And when this goes off, the sun will come up the next morning and the NYPD will still be operating and people will still be killing each other. And that’s the way I’d like the show to go out.”

A dozen of the program’s current and former cast members -- including Sam Waterston, S. Epatha Merkerson, Benjamin Bratt, Jesse L. Martin, Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson and Linus Roach -- crammed into the jury box on the show's familiar courtroom set as Wolf received a certificate from the city commemorating the occasion.

“Oh, God bless him!” exclaimed Waterston later when asked if he was on board with Wolf’s desire to see the show continue for another two decades.

“I haven’t looked for myself beyond breaking the record,” he added. “We’re tied this year. I think having come this far, it would be really wonderful to set a new record. Then after that, I have no plans.”

-- Matea Gold

Photo credit: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images