|NBC finally confirmed Friday afternoon that it will put "Law & Order" out of our misery when it airs its now-series finale episode on Monday, May 24.|
On the bright side, NBC also announced that a new "Law & Order" spinoff, "Law & Order: Los Angeles" - "LOLA" to its friends - has sprung like the phoenix from the ashes of the dead parent show.
And, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" will be back for the 2010-11 season.
"The full measure of the collective contributions made by Dick Wolf and his 'Law & Order' franchise over the last two decades to the success of NBC and Universal Media Studios cannot be overstated," NBC Universal Television Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin in a statement, adding "The legacy of his original 'Law & Order' series will continue to make an impact like no other series before."
Gaspin's the guy who got to stand in front of a couple hundred reporters and TV critics in January and announce the network was going to move Jay Leno back to late night and would bump Conan by half an hour. We hope he's well paid for all the cleaning up he's having to do since getting his job less than a year ago.
Friday's announcement gives closure to The Reporters Who Cover TV, who'd been all a'gog since Thursday after hearing word NBC might cancel its long-in-the-tooth drama crime/courtroom drama.
"Law & Order" has been staggering along on the network's primetime schedule the past few years because it seemed important to break "Gunsmoke's" record of 20 seasons on the air - and, since NBC bought out Universal to create NBC/Universal, the company has also owned the series.
Which, yes, means NBC Universal had been holding its own feet to the flame as it negotiated the fate of "Law & Order."
On Thursday, NBC suits played coy in response to a Deadline.com report the network had definitely cancelled the show. "Law & Order" staffers got whiplash that afternoon from all the conflicting information being thrown at them by various parties. Everyone was in a doodah, and continued in that condition until NBC finally coughed up the news mid-day Friday.
In its heyday, "Law & Order" was an important tentpole on NBC's primetime lineup, averaging about 19 million viewers each week. These days, it's averaging around 7.3 million viewers. More problematic: the show's audience is very old. About 64 percent of the show's audience -- 4.7 million people -- are aged 50 and older.
This is important because NBC executives have steadfastly maintained for years that they do all their ad sales business according to how many 18-49 year olds their shows can deliver to advertisers. The network does not include in its sales pitches any viewer who is over the age of 49. Which means the "sellable" audience of "Law & Order" amount to about 2.6 million viewers, though that number probably also includes the few kids and teens who are watching the show and who, we assume, advertisers don't mind reaching.
NBC is going to make its sales pitch for its new 2010-11 TV season primetime plans to those advertisers, in New York City, on Monday (it will unveil its new schedule to the press late Sunday afternoon.)
The show's creator, Dick Wolf, had had his heart set on breaking "Gunsmoke's record. That venerable cowboy drama aired on CBS from September of 1955 through March of 1975; it, starred James Arness as the super-honest and utterly un-sexy Marhsall Matt Dillon, and Amanda Blake as beauty-spotted Kitty Russell, the "saloon owner" with a heart of gold and a thing for Marshall Dillon.
This is probably a good place to note that a "season" doesn't mean the same thing nowadays as it did back in "Gunsmoke's" day, when men were men and a broadcast network was a broadcast network At the end of its 20 seasons, "Gunsmoke" has churned out 635 episodes. At the end of its 20-year-run, "Law & Order" will have produced a paltry 456 episodes. We rest our case.