'Law & Order' in the Balance

Dick Wolf, the prolific producer behind NBC’s valuable Law & Order franchise, may not get his record-setting 21st season.Wolf’s camp apparently told Deadline Hollywood and The Wrap that NBC had passed on renewing the series, which is produced by Wolf’s shingle and NBC’s Universal Media Studios (UMS). But NBC sources said Thursday that the situation is still fluid and there was no final decision on the fate of Law & Order.

A renewal would make Law & Order the longest running drama on television, breaking a long-standing record set by classic Western Gunsmoke. But UMS and NBC hit a snag when Turner’s TNT, which airs re-runs of Law & Order, would not commit to picking up season 21. Turner contributes $1 million per episode for Law & Order, which is a considerable payment.

UMS was looking at financing the show without Turner, but with multiple high-priced dramas already green-lighted for next season — including J.J. Abrams’ Undercovers and Jerry Bruckheimer’s Chase — the decision comes down to money. Law & Order has bounced around the NBC schedule of late and this year is averaging about 8 million viewers, not bad but hardly a hit either.

Even if the flagship is decommissioned, NBC still will have two Law & Order spin-offs on the schedule next season, with Law & Order: SVU and the new Law & Order: Los Angeles.