In the Crosshairs

As audiences flee, Law & Order takes a hit

NBC sharpshooter Law & Order
is misfiring.

The revered crime drama is in a fall ratings slide, and spinoff Law & Order: Criminal Intent
is wounded, too. The culprit: a mix of stiff competition and fickle viewers, who may have overdosed on Law & Order
on NBC and cable reruns on TNT and USA.

Season-to-date, Law & Order's
viewership is off 26%, while delivery to the three key adult demographics (18-34, 18-49 and 25-54) has tumbled about 25% compared with a year ago, per Nielsen. Law & Order: Criminal Intent
is off 22% in viewers and some 20% in both 18-49s and 25-54s.

Other shows have clicked with viewers—at Law & Order's

On Wednesday nights, CBS's sizzling freshman drama CSI: N.Y.
is encroaching. "There is some curiosity with CSI: N.Y. It's a sexier show," says Starcom Entertainment Senior Vice President and Director Laura Caraccioli-Davis. Meanwhile, Law & Order: CI
took a major hit Oct. 3, when ABC premiered new prime time soap Desperate Housewives—the night's most-watched TV show.

The only Dick Wolf creation still posting growth is Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. On Tuesday nights, it's up 11% in viewers and posting high single-digit gains in the key demos.

Of course, the jury is still out, as viewing patterns take time to settle down. "CSI
is a hot franchise right now, but Law & Order
remains one of the most dependable shows on TV," says a network rep, adding the ratings are "up to our internal expectations."

And just in case three Law & Orders
isn't enough, one more is coming. The fourth incarnation, Law &Order: Trial by Jury, is slated for midseason.