NBC cancels "Law & Order"

The bid for Law and Order to surpass Gunsmoke as the longest-running television drama in history in the United States has fallen short. The network has pulled the plug on Dick Wolf’s crime drama after twenty seasons.

Law and Order premiered on September 13, 1990, and won numerous Emmy Awards, and spun-off three series, with a fourth one coming up this fall (Law and Order: Los Angeles.)

The move comes as the major networks are pulling the plug on the deadweight (see post below) as Upfront Week approaches – the week new shows and schedule changes are announced to advertisers in New York City.

In addition, NBC pulled the plug on three other series: Mercy, Trauma (which becomes the first series since Family Guy to be canceled twice – NBC initially canceled Trauma late last fall but changed its mind and brought it back), and Heroes.

There are several reasons why Law & Order was canceled by NBC – one, ratings for the show hit historical lows recently in the adult 18-49 demo – an 1.0 rating for a recent Monday airing. Many procedural dramas have been losing young viewers this past season, and Law & Order was not an exception.  Second, ad rates for Order were falling sharply – this season, a thirty second spot on the show went for only $60,000 – down from an average of around $136,000 during the 2008-09 season.

Law & Order was also hurt from the decision to hand the last hour of prime-time to Jay Leno and his talk show, which bombed after a little more than four months on the air.

And yet another reason may be an unlikely suspect: TNT. The cable network – who has stripped Law & Order reruns since 1994 – balked at picking up reruns of any season beyond its twentieth. With a significant amount of episodes (456 to be exact), the series may have been getting too expensive for TNT, whose commitment to air reruns of the crime drama expires soon. In fact, TNT was offered the chance to continue the show into its twenty-first season by airing new episodes, but turned it down claiming it would not make financial sense to do so.

With the sudden cancellation, Law & Order will not have a final episode to wrap-up storylines or to close out the series. Then again, Gunsmoke – which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1975 – didn’t get a chance to do so, either.