Law & Order, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and Sports Night made news this week

By Joe Flint
Updated April 02, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Double Ordering
Bruce Springsteen got it wrong. It’s not 57 channels and nothing on. It’s 57 channels and the same thing on.

For some time now, so-called media visionaries have been heralding TV’s bright, bold horizon: a 500-channel universe with unlimited viewing options — something for everyone! But as a recent, supposedly groundbreaking deal between NBC and Barry Diller’s USA Networks illustrates, the reality is much dimmer. To get the hit drama Law & Order for another three seasons (through the 2001-02 season), NBC is also committing to 13 episodes of a spin-off from creator Dick Wolf titled Law & Order’s Sex Crimes. The catch: After NBC airs an episode, it will run within two weeks on USA. Wolf says this deal lets him ”get two slices out of the same pie.”

Financially, this is one creative deal. The Peacock gets a new Wolf drama on the cheap (because of the agreement with USA), and USA, instead of airing old reruns, will air new reruns. But creatively speaking, it’s a dud. In effect, it proves (1) that there isn’t enough fresh programming for all the channels out there, and (2) that USA, one of the most successful cable nets around, would rather get a secondhand show than create something on its own. (Actually, with few exceptions, that’s about how the entire cable industry operates.)

As deals like this become more popular (and rest assured they will), the future of television won’t be 500 different shows on at the same time; it will be just 50 shows running over and over again on all 500 channels. ”It’s the wave of the future, good, bad, or otherwise,” says Bill Croasdale, of the media-buying firm Western Initiative. ”It’s a business, and this offers the most bang for the buck.”

And so on…
All those letters from irate Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman fans have paid off — sort of. CBS will resurrect the frontier doc during May sweeps, in a two-hour movie…. Sports Night and Felicity fans can breathe easy; ABC and The WB have picked up those critical faves for next season. Say goodbye, however, to CBS’ The Magnificent Seven. Somehow, we feel another letter-writing campaign coming on…