Is This the End of the Law & Order Era?

Law & Order, the crime franchise's mother ship, was canceled by NBC after 20 seasons last May. USA Network has announced that the final eight episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent will air in early 2011. Ratings for freshman series Law & Order: Los Angeles are middling. And finally, the reliable Special Victims Unit is losing longtime show runner Neal Baer in June, at the same time contracts are up for the series' invaluable leads, Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni, whose last contract negotiations in the summer of 2009 went down to the wire. Come September, is it possible that for the first time in 21 years there could be no Law & Order show on television?

Baer predicts a ratings bounce for SVU when the show moves from Wednesdays at 9pm back to 10pm come January 5; the sex-crimes show has consistently drawn better numbers in the later slot over the years. The drama currently averages 9.7 million viewers, down from its high of 15.2 million in the 2001-2002 season. "We're still doing compelling and memorable stories," Baer says, "and drawing great guest stars," including Drea de Matteo and Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, who will appear in 2011. "SVU can go on for a long time." According to a source close to the L&O franchise, no one on set or from the studio or network believes the show will end with Season 12.

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