Law & Order will remain on NBC for an 18th season while companion L&O: Criminal Intent will become the first series to get a full-season order of 22 episodes to air first on cable.
CI originals will play on NBC Universal’s USA Network, with a repurposed run coming later on the broadcast network.
NBCU also announced Sunday that Dick Wolf, the creator and executive producer of the L&O franchise, will remain anchored to the company at least until 2012.
But the series commitments are only for next season, with Wolf’s deal extending just to overall initiatives between NBCU and Wolf Films. That means Wolf will have to go through the renewal process again as he strives to get L&O past 20 years to break the record now held by Gunsmoke.
TNT had made a run at original episodes of L&O (B&C, May 8), but NBCU ultimately decided to keep the franchise in-house.
NBCU West Coast President Marc Graboff said the deal allowing “premiere” episodes of CI to move to USA would create “maximum scheduling flexibility” for NBC, but he declined to indicate whether NBC would run the repurposed episodes the same week, or even if it would carry all 22. He noted NBC will also have “flexibility” in the scheduling of L&O.
“My main objective throughout this was to see if there is a way that it is financially feasible to bring back all three shows,” said Wolf, who declined to comment on deal specifics. “We have found a way to make them financially feasible.”
Wolf emphasized the intense negotiations were the result of economics rather than creative issues, though L&O and CI have seen ratings declines this season.
He emphasized the changes brought about by reduced costs would not be visible to viewers and that there were no major casting changes—at least yet.
NBCU had been paying $7 million per episode for L&O--$4 million in production cost and another $3 million in license fees—and $6 million apiece for Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit.
It is estimated to generate around $1.8 million per episode of L&O through domestic syndication on TNT and international licensing deals, on top of the $1 billion-plus the show has already generated. TNT will continue to get the off-net episodes.
Criminal Intent, meanwhile, runs on USA Network and, starting this fall, will air in broadcast syndication (with the Fox O&Os as the lead station group) on an all-barter basis.
The shows have also performed well internationally with localized versions performing well in Russia and France, and Wolf hinted at new undertakings in other territories in the months ahead.
Wolf’s Special Victims Unit, which already got picked up, was the first series to be repurposed nine years ago. USA has previously aired Monk before the network run on ABC, but that was for a shortened summer order.
"With this innovative programming move, we have significantly strengthened the already powerful USA network, given NBC maximum flexibility, and in the process have changed the paradigm of prime time television," said Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal's President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement.
"By changing the traditional way programs are rolled out, we have reinforced NBC Universal's forward thinking approach to new programming strategies and our willingness to embrace bold thinking,” Zucker added. “In the end, it is all about our viewers. And this will allow our viewers continuing access to the finest programming across the premier networks of NBC Universal. We are thrilled to continue our successful business relationship with Dick Wolf and his team."