NBC lays down ‘Law’

Some question whether Wolf's brand is being diluted by back-to-back reruns on Peacock

Without much fanfare, a new network launched last week devoted to nothing but “Law & Order.” Its name? NBC.

OK, so that’s a stretch.

But the Peacock did air some incarnation of Dick Wolf’s “L&O” brand a whopping 12 times last week, a staggering stat by any measure. And you don’t need to be Detective Munch to figure out why.

“They’re down 25% (in the sweeps) even with ‘Law & Order.’ What choice do you think they have?” asks one TV vet.

Indeed, with its regular primetime lineup filled with holes left by failed frosh such as “LAX” and “Hawaii,” NBC programmers have been turning to Wolf’s drama series megabrand like never before. Consider:

  • A repeat or original episode of “L&O” ran every night last week (save for Feb. 28), while two nights — Feb. 27 and March 5 — featured nothing but “L&O” from 8-11 p.m.

  • The 12 hours of “L&O” repped more than 50% of NBC’s 22-hour primetime sked and were spread among four shows, including the latest offering of the franchise, “Trial by Jury.”

  • NBC has already aired 103 hours of various “L&O” programming this season and — assuming the net continues its Saturday stack of all “L&O” — is well on its way to airing nearly 200 hours by the time the season ends in three months. That compares to 100 hours of “L&O” in the entire 2001-02 season.

Not surprisingly, the “L&O”-a-palooza has sparked plenty of criticism from Peacock rivals, who claim the network’s dependency on the show is a sign of just how bad a season NBC is experiencing.

What’s more, with dozens of repeats of various “L&O” skeins also plastered all over TNT and USA Network, some wags wonder whether NBC risks diluting the impact of firstrun episodes on the broadcast net — not to mention the Peacock’s own rep as a premier destination for top entertainment.

“NBC always sold its specialness, that it was unique and a cut above,” one longtime network observer says. “But when you’re basically stripping ‘Law & Order’ the same way TNT does, you’re not nearly as special anymore.”

Peacock Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly has heard the arguments — and he’s not buying them.

“I don’t see any evidence that the usage of the show (outside its regular timeslots) has diminished the brand in the least,” he says, pointing to the “consistent and strong performance of the brand.”

In fact, the original Wednesday night edition of “L&O” scored its best numbers in three months last week. And while two of the three “L&O” skeins are suffering ratings declines this season (see chart), the falloff probably is due more to tough competition than to too many repeats.

It’s also worth noting the only returning NBC show to actually experience growth over last season is “Law & Order: SVU” on Tuesday nights. Rival CBS also regularly uses repeats of “CSI” and its other Jerry Bruckheimer-produced crime dramas to fill holes in its sked — though the Eye has far fewer holes to fill.

Still, there are signs the net is pulling back from trying to use “L&O” as a cure-all.

Just last week, the net pulled scheduled 8 p.m. Tuesday repeats of “L&O” in favor of comedy reruns. Reilly says the use of “L&O” to fill troubled timeslots was never meant to be a long-term strategy.

Exec won’t discuss whether Wolf has been in favor of the extreme usage of his skeins, and Wolf, through a rep, declined comment.

Reilly does say he and other Peacock execs “talk to Dick Wolf five times a week” and admits the producer “doesn’t love all the moves.” But he calls Wolf the “ultimate team player,” particularly since the NBC-Universal merger made Wolf an inhouse supplier to the Peacock.

“There really is nothing more important to the company than this brand,” Reilly says, dismissing any suggestion that the Peacock’s use of “L&O” skeins has been anything but deliberate and planned.

“A network has to utilize the assets it has the best way it can,” he says. “Whether you agree or disagree with our strategy, ‘Law & Order’ is an asset any network would love to have.”

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