Double helping of Law

Popular drama will air on both TNT and A&E for next 15 months to the detriment of neither

Detective Lenny Brisco and D.A. Jack McCoy are re-solving crimes on two cable networks these days, but it's not putting a crimp in anyone's ratings.

Since June 5, both TNT and A&E have been running off-net episodes of the New York police-and-prosecution drama Law & Order. The double-run ends in the fall of 2002 when TNT gets the whole package. Viewers won't find the same episodes, or even the same seasons, on both channels.

A&E has the first eight seasons of Law & Order, but its deal runs out in fall 2002. TNT has a new 10-year deal, ponying up about $800,000 each for the most recent episodes and $250,000 each for the ones A&E has already run. The show has been a tremendous bargain for A&E, which has paid just $155,000 per episode since September 1994.

TNT already has seasons nine and 10 and gets the 11th in September. After fall 2002, the Turner net will carry every season exclusively and plans to strip the series in prime time.

A&E runs Law & Order four times daily, twice in prime time, while TNT airs two episodes on Tuesday nights (TNT executives hint that more episodes might be added to the schedule soon). In June, A&E's 7 p.m. episodes averaged a 1.4 rating, and the 11 p.m. showing averaged a 1.8. Since debuting on TNT June 5, the Dick Wolf drama has averaged a 1.5 in its 8 p.m. slot and 1.7 at 10 p.m.

TNT executives regard Law & Order as a cornerstone of the network's new "We Know Drama" branding.

"If I were to sit with you and sketch the poster child for TV drama, it would be Law & Order. It's in its 11th season, it changes casts and has hundreds of stories, and the last episode [on NBC this season] was the highest-rated in its history," said TNT General Manager Steve Koonin. "Usually, shows atrophy over time, but this one just grows."

"[TNT] is trying to re-brand itself as a place for drama," noted TN Media's Stacey Lynn Koerner, "and landing one of the most prestigious and long-lasting quality dramas lends credence to that."

Research indicates that Law & Order skews older and more female, with adults 25-54 making up 54% of the audience.

A&E understands Law & Order's value, too. Although it's not a perfect fit for the high-brow network, the show has been a ratings workhorse. Since 1999, it has averaged a 1.8 rating/1.35 million households in its two A&E prime time slots.

Despite the new competition, A&E has sustained its ratings. June numbers are up 10% from May.