‘Law and Order’ may not be dead

Is NBC having second thoughts about axing the series?

Disorder in the court: “Law and Order” hasn’t been handed the death penalty just yet.

NBC and the Dick Wolf camp continue their renewal dance for a record 21st season, even though the music abruptly stopped on Thursday morning.

According to insiders, Wolf has not been officially told yet by NBC that “Law and Order” is dead. And that may be because the Peacock is having second thoughts about unceremoniously axing the show.

Neither side was talking late Thursday, but it appears that NBC and Wolf had agreed in principle to an abbreviated 21st season of “Law and Order” back in March. That also means that the Peacock may be required to pay a penalty to Wolf if the show doesn’t return.

As part of that arrangement, it was understood that TNT would be asked to take part in the deal, perhaps financing as many as half of the new episodes — in exchange for firstrun rights.

But ultimately, things unraveled when NBC asked Wolf to accept a reduced license fee and kick in some production costs — and the exec producer balked. The Peacock, in turn, was miffed that Wolf would back down from an order or help defray costs; both sides note that the other has made hundreds of millions of dollars on the franchise over the years.

Things got intense enough that folks inside the Wolf camp began assuming that the show wasn’t coming back to NBC — and made calls to cast and crew, relaying that news. Exec producer Fred Berner even told the New York Times that the show was dead.

It appeared that “Law and Order” would suffer a sudden and unremarkable demise.

The relationship between NBC Universal and Wolf has always been a bit tense, but both sides have indeed thrived from the partnership.

And that may be why calmer heads appeared to be prevailing by late Thursday.

“We hope and expect to be in business with Dick Wolf for years to come,” NBC U TV Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin said earlier this week. “We’re still working on some details.”

Gaspin also didn’t dismiss out of hand the idea of sharing the firstrun segs with a cable net.

“We’re trying to work out some possibilities with the Wolf camp,” he said.

NBC would probably want to milk the marketing opportunity of airing a final season of “Law and Order” and perhaps use the increased attention to help launch “Law and Order: Los Angeles” (which is still in script phase but expected to be ordered, likely for midseason).

Securing a 21st season of “Law and Order” (and beating “Gunsmoke’s” record) has been an important goal for Wolf, and he’s not likely to let that dream die so easily.

For its part, TNT took the unusual step of sending out a press release, distancing itself from the negotiations.

TNT made a big play for “Law and Order” in 2007. That year, the Peacock instead decided to renew the mothership at the 11th hour and instead shipped “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” to USA.

“‘Law and Order’ has been a valuable programming asset for TNT,” the Turner cabler said. “Currently, we have multiple seasons under license, up to and including season 20. With this series, TNT is the buyer and NBC is the seller. TNT is not in ongoing discussions about picking up the series for firstrun episodes.”

If NBC renews “Law and Order,” it’s more as a favor to Wolf than for the ratings; the onetime powerhouse hasn’t made much ratings noise in recent seasons.

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