Lot of buzz today about the demise of NBC‘s long-running courtroom drama Law & Order. After promises were apparently made to keep it on the air another half season or so, NBC pulled the plug. Its 20 season run ties it with CBS oater Gunsmoke for TV‘s longest-running drama.
L&O boss Dick Wolf apparently isn‘t happy about sharing the record. He‘s lobbied for years to have his baby lurch into a 21st season.
Thing is, L&O hasn‘t been a Top 10 show for seven seasons. In 2008-2009 it ranked #62. It probably now ranks in the 80s. A new episode of the law drama drew an overnight, estimated 6.17 million on NBC Tuesday night. At its peak, in its 12th season, it averaged 18.7 million viewers. You can‘t lose two-thirds of your audience and expect to win renewal for a 21st season.
Wolf still has Law & Order: SVU on NBC and Law & Order: Criminal Intent on U.S. cable. A new brand extension (Wolf hated it when critics referred to new L&O‘s as spinoffs), Law & Order: Los Angeles (already nicknames LoLa), has been awarded a berth on NBC‘s schedule next season.
A staggering 453 episodes of Law & Order will have “cha-chunged“ into existence. Still, that falls far short of the 635 Gunsmoke managed to crank out between 1955 and 1975, back in the day when a TV season ran 30 or more episodes. Both shows survived cast changes to endure and even grow in later years, but it is hard to overestimate how dominant TV‘s first adult western was in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Gunsmoke finished the 1957-58 season with a 43.1 rating. Law & Order‘s rating last Tuesday: 5.
Wolf should take his share of the record and be proud. Kelsey Grammer was smart enough to tell critics he was just honoured to tie Gunsmoke star James Arness (above with Dennis Weaver) for most consecutive seasons as one character on TV. (Grammer played Dr. Frasier Crane for 20 straight years on both Cheers and Frasier.)
Ditching L&O is just one of the tough decisions NBC is reportedly set to officially announce Monday. They also put Heroes out of its misery, but renewed another bubble show, Chuck.