TNT howling at Wolf’s door

Cable network offers to take 'L&O' into custody

TNT has offered NBC Universal TV to take over the original “Law & Order” franchise and keep it in production if NBC decides not to renew the series this month.

It’s considered a longshot. Dick Wolf would have to dramatically reduce the costs and license fee on “L&O” to make it fiscally viable for TNT, which would likely pick up 13 episodes (rather than the standard broadcast 22).

Nonetheless, a TNT play for “L&O” isn’t out of the question. NBC is said to be interested in renewing just one of the two “L&O” shows (the mothership and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) , with most of the buzz surrounding the return of the younger “CI” edition (Daily Variety, April 19).

What’s more, Wolf has already been aggressively looking at cuts on the show to make a pickup more economically possible. Broadcasting & Cable first broke word of the TNT offer Tuesday morning.

“Negotiations are ongoing regarding ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ and, as always, we do not comment on negotiations,” Wolf said, through a spokeswoman.

It’s not the first time TNT has made a serious play for a “Law & Order” original. Late in 2005, TNT made an offer to NBC U to uproot the third “L&O” spinoff “Trial by Jury,” which was not pulling enough viewers on the Peacock in its rookie season, and transfer it to TNT.

TNT hoped a second season of “Trial by Jury” would complement the “L&O” reruns that had helped to propel TNT to No. 1 among all cable networks from 2003 through 2005.

But NBC finally nixed handing “Trial by Jury” off to TNT, unwilling to entrust the firstrun production of a Dick Wolf franchise to a competitor.

Fast-forward to May 2007: The ratings of reruns of “Law & Order” have softened in their last 18 months on TNT, which has lost its No. 1 spot in the Nielsens to USA and would love to revitalize those off-net “L&O” runs with highly promotable new episodes.

A rival cable exec said TNT’s attempts to score “Law & Order” make sense for the channel, particularly as it looks to expand its roster of originals beyond its hit “The Closer.”

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