It's looking good for 'Criminal'

With less than a month to go before NBC unveils its new fall sked, the fates of “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” remain up in the air.

For some time now, there’s been increasing buzz surrounding the venerable Dick Wolf skeins, with industry insiders suggesting that cancellation of one or both is on the table (Daily Variety, March 13).

In recent days, the word in the agency community has been that NBC wants to bring back “Criminal Intent” but say farewell to the so-called Mothership. (“SVU” has already been renewed).

But people familiar with the situation insist that no final call has been made and that negotiations between NBC Universal and Wolf Films continue. Money will be the deciding factor, they say.

Wolf has been aggressive in presenting NBC plans to make the original “L&O” as financially attractive as possible. He’s come up with proposed budget cuts that would save $11 million over the course of a season, or about $500,000 per episode. As always, cast changes could be in the works should “L&O” return (including the potential departure of Fred Thompson, said to be seriously mulling a run for president).

Those savings may not be enough for NBC U brass, who may try to get Wolf to make further financial concessions, perhaps by making changes to his deal with the company. That seems unlikely, however, given Wolf’s well-documented statements regarding the sanctity of contracts.

Making matters even more complicated is that, while the “Law” skeins may be slipping in the ratings, they remain a huge source of syndie coin for NBC U. All three have taken in more than $1 billion over their lives.

NBC execs, however, are looking to seed new hits on the net’s schedule. If the Peacock’s new pilots turn out well — always a big if at any net — execs could argue that they’d rather use the money spent on “Law” skeins to take a gamble on something new.

Money aside, however, there’s plenty of room on the net’s sked for new fare, even if all three “Law”-branded skeins return. If the pilots don’t turn out well, NBC may end up wanting more proven fare on its bench, even at a lower rating.

Despite the behind-the-scenes drama, both NBC and the Wolf camp remain outwardly optimistic.

“We’re in discussions with Dick to explore ways to bring back one or both shows,” an NBC rep said.

And Wolf’s take?

“My sincerest hope is that once again all three shows will be picked up by NBC and one of the most productive business relationships in the history of television will continue unabated,” he told Daily Variety.

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