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Is NBC set to cancel 'Law & Order' after 20 seasons?

May 13, 2010 |  3:44 pm

The long and stormy marriage between NBC and mega-producer Dick Wolf may have suffered another setback Thursday, with both sides refusing to comment on a report that the network will cancel "Law & Order" after 20 seasons. 

NBC will announce its fall schedule next week in New York, and that lineup will likely include "Law & Order: SVU" as well as a new spinoff set in Los Angeles. But curtains for the "L&O" mothership would mean the end of an era, especially since Wolf has said for years he would like to best "Gunsmoke's" 20-year run on network TV. Looks like he might have to settle for a tie.

A spokeswoman for Wolf referred calls to NBC, which declined to comment. A source close to the situation says that talks are continuing, even though it sounds as if the two sides remain far apart on money. But as the clock ticks down and networks reshuffle their lineups before presenting them to advertisers, anything can happen. 

NBC and Wolf have been locked for years in a grudging relationship built on mutual need and distrust. A Wall Street Journal story in 2008 estimated the producer made $18 million a year just off original episodes of his series, without counting lucrative syndication fees. But Wolf has still complained the network has stiffed him out of millions of dollars, and in 2005 he pursued an unsuccessful arbitration against the network over cable syndication deals. In recent years, falling ratings and rising expenses for "Law & Order" have made clashes inevitable. 

Since its premiere in September 1990, "Law & Order" has been a staple of the NBC lineup. So far this season, the show has averaged a modest tally of about 8 million viewers, according to the Nielsen Co. The show began the season airing on Friday nights at 8 p.m. When Jay Leno moved out of prime time, NBC moved "Law & Order" to the Monday 10 p.m. time slot.

— Scott Collins and Joe Flint (follow us on Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT and @JBFlint)