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"Law & Order" faces an uncertain future

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Is Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy about to bark out his last closing argument? Could be. Surprisingly, Law & Order creator Dick Wolf has yet to hear whether NBC will continue airing his 17-year-old mainstay next fall, nor is Wolf certain what will happen to its six-year-old sibling, Criminal Intent. (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit — the most successful of the three with an average 12.4 million viewers — was renewed earlier this season.) ”My head is optimistic, but my gut is wary,” said Wolf on March 29, just minutes after being immortalized in Hollywood with a star on the Walk of Fame. ”Look at NBC’s schedule. Can you imagine it with just SVU?”

Not really, but that’s exactly the kind of scenario that NBC and Wolf are in the midst of discussing. So what’s hurting L&O‘s chances? The ratings: So far this season, viewership for the three shows is down an average of 15 percent. If NBC does bring both shows back, it’s likely that the network will ask Wolf to cut production costs — which could mean asking for a possible reduction in the licensing fees it pays to air the dramas. (The network reportedly did just that in 2005 before agreeing to final seasons of Will & Grace and The West Wing.) A decision on the renewals is expected by May 1, and Wolf says he’d prefer not to speculate on what will happen. ”Ask NBC,” he sniffs. So we did — but for now, the network is pleading the Fifth.

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