Low ratings have put the fate of the original ''Law & Order'' in question, and TNT is ready to give the drama a new home if NBC cuts it loose

By Lynette Rice
Updated May 09, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Virginia Sherwood

The case may not be closed just yet on the future of Law & Order, Dick Wolf?s 17-year-old NBC mainstay that has yet to receive a full-season order for fall. While an NBC spokesman said, ”It’s premature to speculate,” published reports say TNT may offer L&O a new home should the Peacock say farewell to the drama that, at 8.9 million, is the second least-watched installment of the franchise (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which attracts 12 million, was renewed earlier this season while Criminal Intent, at only 8.8 million, has not received a pickup for fall).

L&O could make an easy transition into TNT, which already airs reruns of the drama. And it would keep the money flowing into the NBC-Universal coffers since L&O reruns generate millions — both domestically and overseas — for the company. Not surprisingly, uber-producer Dick Wolk was keeping mum Tuesday (May 8). ”Negotiations are ongoing regarding Law & Order and Criminal Intent, and as always, we do not comment on negotiations,” says his spokeswoman.

Of course, anything could happen in the days leading up to May 14, when NBC will announce its fall 2008 schedule to advertisers in New York. In fact, an NBC insider cautions that the network is not completely out of the negotiation yet and could keep the original for an 18th season, albeit in a much leaner and meaner form. Wolf is reportedly looking to cut $500,000 from the $4 million-per episode cost to produce L&O to assuage the bean counters at NBC. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether Criminal Intent will earn a spot on NBC’s fall schedule.