This much is known: Law & Order is on the brink of death after 20 seasons. One more, and it would have broken Gunsmoke's record for longest-running television drama. Right now, we're at the first part of the show where we see that Law & Order is on life-support after a brutal stabbing. [Law & Order sound] Who did it? Let's investigate!
Suspects: There are two key suspects: Dick Wolf, the show's producer, and NBC. Deadline Hollywood , pins the deed on NBC for "reneging" on a deal it made with Wolf back in March for a 21st season. As part of that deal, NBC was supposed to negotiate with TNT (which is pretty much all LNO re-runs and NBA games) for help financing this final season. But negotiations broke down, for some reason. With the TNT money gone, NBC came to Dick Wolf with a list of concessions he'd have to make to get the season made—fewer episodes, a lower budget, etc.—concessions a source tells Deadline were "ludicrous." LNO: Dead.
But New York's Joe Adalian thinks Dick Wolf might be to blame. Again, LNO's cause of death is connected to the financial limits NBC wants to put on the show. But in this version, Wolf is overly greedy. He played a dangerous game of chicken and lost; one insider said: "[Dick could] have his renewal... he just has to decide if he wants another Cadillac or another Rolls Royce."
Motive: It's clear why NBC would want to kill LNO. Not very many people watch it these days, and it is expensive to make. Last season, it averaged just 8 million viewers per episode—down by half from a decade ago. And NBC has been having a hard time with Wolf for years. The LA Times writes that "in recent years, falling ratings and rising expenses for 'Law & Order' have made clashes inevitable." The show had passed its prime, and NBC was sick of dealing with its ornery creator, so they "took care of it."
Why would Dick Wolf want LNO to die? New York floats the idea that Wolf might actually be faking LNO's death for his own gain: Sick of dealing with NBC, he would get them to kill the show so that TNT could jump in and take over production of the final season, as they did with the NBC cop show Southland. (TNT denies they're considering it. They would say that.) Of course, this could just be a case of pure human spite winning out over any business logic. The Wall Street Journal reported back in 2008 that Wolf has felt "cheated" for years by NBC. He believes they "both under-promoted and over-played his shows in reruns." What better revenge than to force NBC into a messy LNO cancellation, which would incur the ire of millions of diehard fans, reinforce the idea that NBC is clueless, and prove Wolf's ultimate worth to the network?
Evidence: There's not much hard evidence on either side, as of yet. We're about five minute post-credits here. What we have is hearsay and speculation: Deadline's sources blaming the thing on NBC's incompetence and New York's on Dick Wolf's intransigence. And, hey, while things look grim, there is still a possibility that LNO will be revived: The New York Times reports that NBC and LNO creator Dick Wolf "are still having conversations." NBC is planning on announcing its new line-up on Monday.
Probably by then a third suspect will have emerged and all the evidence will point to him, but then it turns out it was the first guy all along.