No decision on 2 'L&O' series

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After more than a month of negotiations, the future of Dick Wolf's crime dramas for NBC, "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," is still uncertain.

This week began with a flurry of rumors Monday about the cancellation of the mothership series. After an in-person meeting between reps for Wolf and NBC later that day, the fate of the show was moved back into the "undecided" column. Talks between the two sides are expected to stretch into early May before a final decision on the two series is made. (The franchise's third series, "L&O: SVU," was picked up for next season in January.)

"Talks have been taking place and continue to take place about the future of both 'Law & Order' and 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent,' " Wolf said Wednesday. "I think the discussions have reached a productive stage, and it's my finest hope that we will find a way to have both shows picked up. I feel that creatively they are remarkably strong.

" 'Criminal Intent' went through a major face-lift this fall, and I think it really worked. I also think that 'Law & Order' is still doing a great job of telling stories that very few other shows can tackle," Wolf said.

He declined further comment on the negotiations.

"We're in discussions with Dick to explore ways to bring back one or both shows, but no final decision has been made," an NBC spokeswoman said.

From the very beginning, it was made clear by both sides that a renewal for the shows would be a business decision; both "L&O," in its 17th season, and "L&O: CI," in its sixth, are expensive to produce, with ensemble casts and New York-based shoots, while their ratings have held steady but not near the levels from several years ago (HR 3/13).

But as negotiations have been going on, NBC's fortunes changed. With freshman hit "Heroes" still on the bench, the network posted its lowest weekly ratings among adults 18-49 for the past two weeks, with a number of series softening, including once-red-hot game show "Deal or No Deal."

It is understood that, from a financial standpoint, even with significant cost cuts, "Law & Order" won't be able continue in its current slot on the low-traffic, low-ad-revenue Friday night. Things look brighter if "Law & Order" moves to another night, with the Wednesday 10 p.m. period -- where the veteran drama spent 15 years -- as a potential candidate. All of the drama series NBC has put in the time slot since sending "L&O" to Fridays have fared worse than that long-running crime drama.

It is understood that the "L&O" camp also is hoping for a return of its other series on the bubble, "L&O: CI," to its old Sunday 9 p.m. period after football.

There has been speculation for months about potential casting changes on "L&O," including Fred Thompson and Milena Govich leaving, but sources stressed that no decisions on cast changes and/or reductions will be made until there is a license fee agreement.

While its future on the network is still in doubt, the "L&O" franchise is going strong for producers NBC Universal TV Studio and Wolf Films with international format sales and domestic syndication sales. Russian versions of "L&O: SVU" and "L&O: CI" already are on the air, and France is about to launch a local version of "L&O: CI," and "L&O: SVU" recently was sold in weekend syndication for the fall in the U.S.
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