NBC confirmed this morning it has canceled Law & Order, the legal procedural that came this close to becoming the longest-running primetime drama in television history. The final episode will air May 24, leaving Gunsmoke, with its 21 seasons, as the reigning record-holder -- a title it has clung to for 35 years.
Reports emerged yesterday that NBC would ax the 20-year-old series, but there were indications the network and Law & Order Executive Producer Dick Wolf could strike a deal before Monday's upfront presentation. Renewal apparently hinged on TNT's willingness to extend its syndication agreement.
Vulture reported yesterday afternoon that despite Law & Order's low ratings in recent years, NBC was willing to bring the series back for a record-breaking 21st season, but with fewer episodes -- in the neighborhood of six to 10 -- and a lower budget. Apparently, though, Wolf wouldn't agree to the terms, even as discussions continued into last night.
Cancellation won't only be a blow to fans of the series (which, of course, will live on in syndication at TNT). Media Decoder estimates that Law & Order and its spinoffs Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent employee some 8,000 people in New York City directly and indirectly. The shows regularly feature appearances by Broadway and Off Broadway actors.
Law & Order's cancellation doesn't mean the network is finished with the $1-billion franchise: NBC has renewed Special Victims Unit for a 12th season and picked up the new spin-off Law & Order: Los Angeles (aka LOLA) for this fall. Criminal Intent continues to air on sibling network USA, where it moved in 2007.