Other Factors: Will ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ Be Renewed?

So in my latest series of posts, I’ve tried to divine what NBC’s powers that be are thinking about in making the decisions on whether to renew CI and/or the mothership. So what else should we be considering?

I mentioned that NBC is finishing poorly in the ratings…they are consistently coming in fourth every week…the only network they have beaten every week is the CW, the network that will air just about anything really so that’s not something that NBC should be proud of. NBC has been fourth for three years straight now so things there have to change or you can bet GE’s shareholders will be changing who runs the network.

Also consider this…GE actually has 3 networks that for the purposes of our discussion matter…NBC the broadcast network and the two cable networks Bravo and USA.

Unlike NBC, USA is *first* in the cable channel ratings. USA gets great ratings out of *reruns* of SVU and CI (and for that matter also Fox’s ‘House’ whose new episodes run against new CI episodes on NBC and basically eats NBC’s lunch. Geez if I were programming NBC I *would NOT* have moved CI from running against ‘The Sopranos’ a smart sophisticated audience that might watch CI if it weren’t on at the same time as another crime oriented show like ‘The Sopranos’ and (later) ‘Desperate Housewives’ to running against a show starring Hugh Laurie, who had a following among Americans for his many brilliant Britcoms, the same smart sophisticated audience that is into CI, but I digress and am frankly outsnarked by Dr. House so let me get back on point here…). Granted USA and Bravo together paid a lot for the rights to air CI and SVU (close to $2 million per episode if I recall correctly) but both shows get them a lot of ratings. And USA and Bravo have reasonably popular other original shows (‘Monk’ and ‘The Dead Zone’ on USA, a bunch of popular reality shows on Bravo) so they’re doing great.

Now as far as GE is concerned (and also Dick Wolf), if you tune into Bravo, USA, or NBC, you’re consuming a GE (or Wolf) product so it doesn’t matter so much to them which one you watch so long as you’re watching one of them. Think of this like the intersection of 2 busy streets which ironically has 3 Starbucks on 3 of the available 4 corners. It doesn’t matter to Starbucks whether you go to the original coffeehouse, the Safeway supermarket with the mini Starbucks and a huge variety of yummy snacks to buy and eat or the Barnes & Noble with the Starbucks and the big comfy chairs and the books for browsing…as long as you buy something from a Starbucks, Starbucks is happy. But if you’re the original Starbucks you’re going to be ticked as all get out as you’ve got 2 competitors with exactly the same stuff to sell as you do. NBC is in the position of the original coffeehouse and the viewers choosing Starbucks plus more variety of snacks and/or book browsing (Bravo and USA) are probably choosing to watch CI and SVU at times that better suit them (more evidence that NBC has never run CI in the right time slot). GE is happy to be in the position of Starbucks while Wolf is their coffee supplier (currently supplying a couple of blends in L&O, SVU and CI).

But what happens when a fourth Starbucks goes in on the last corner? Well as far as NBC is concerned, that is happening with CI. Starting next year 97% of Fox stations will be running CI reruns 5 days a week. They are going to run either in the late afternoon when the Dr. Phil/Oprah/Judge Judy type shows are on or after the late night Fox news broadcast. So for sure Dick Wolf wins again, also Universal (which is partnered up with Wolf in making CI and is a subsidiary of GE) wins.

The danger for NBC is that CI will be extremely overbroadcast and that CI on NBC will lose more viewers. If you add in DVR/TiVo users who are timeshifting CI for later viewing, people who download CI from an online store for watching or DVD watchers (and I plead utterly guilty to the last charge…bring on CI Seasons 4 & 5 already!) CI is practically freaking everywhere. So renewing CI makes less and less sense when NBC has so much competition.

I said a little about Wolf previously and his preferences among his creations, but I’ll say a little more. In the long out of print Unofficial Law & Order Companion, which I think was published about ten years ago, Wolf first stated his desire to have the mothership run for 21 seasons. Right now he’s 4 seasons away from that goal. If Wolf gets 3 more seasons for the mothership, he ties the 20 season record that ‘Gunsmoke’ holds for longest running primetime drama. If Wolf has to make a choice between something he’s been thinking about for the last ten years, something that he gave birth to back in 1990 and a show that in truth was Rene Balcer and VDO’s brainchild, which show do you think Wolf will abandon? Also as a reminder, for which show was Balcer brought on as a consultant to fix up its scripts? I’ll give you a hint: it was *NOT CI*.

Finally let’s look at some lesser evidence which has raised much hubub amongst the fangurls. There were 2 mainstream media articles in the press…one from Australia revealing that VDO would not be coming back for a seventh season of CI

http://www.news.com.au/perthnow/story/0,21598,21301033-5005382,00.html

quickly followed by a TV Guide article stating the VDO had every intention of fulfilling his contractual obligations to CI

http://community.tvguide.com/blog-entry/TVGuide-Editors-Blog/Ausiello-Report/Vincent-Donofrio-Leaving/800010256

These two articles are not utterly irreconcilable … note the first half of the TV Guide quote

“I am not leaving Law & Order: Criminal Intent and have every intention of fulfilling my contractual obligations on the show”

VDO may not have to ever shoot another CI episode after this May and yet he’d still fulfill his contractual obligation. How? If NBC cancels CI, VDO is a free agent. Also if there is a step up in VDO’s salary provided for in his contract in consideration for VDO doing a Season 7 and either Wolf or NBC fails to grant the increase (or worse they threaten to cut his current salary) VDO is also free of the contract. As I recall the structuring of this contract, the terms become reviewable at the end of this season and it would not surprise me in the least to learn that VDO either doesn’t get a raise or is asked to take a pay cut. NBC made ‘Las Vegas’ fire two costly actors (Nikki Cox and unbelievably to me, James Caan, the only reason why I would ever bother watching that show, which I don’t) in order to get renewed, they could easily do the same to CI and/or the mothership.

I also note with some interest the reported sale of VDO’s Manhattan area home back in February but that could just as easily be due to VDO’s realization that now is an excellent time to capitalize on a wise investment (Manhattan real estate has never been pricier) as due to some impending notion that CI will not be renewed or that NBC and/or Wolf may not meet VDO’s future contractual requirements, whatever they may be.

So on balance I think the prospects for a CI renewal are poor. But more importantly, I am psychologically and emotionally ready to let CI go. I am mostly unsatisfied with the direction Season 6 has gone with Goren and Eames. The new producers/writers are doing fine with Nicholson and Noth, but in my opinion they have wrecked what made Goren and Eames work in their zeal to please NBC and to chase ratings points. Moreover, to me VDO’s performances are not up to par this season and I suspect that there’s something off-camera that is affecting his performances. Perhaps he is unhappy that Balcer and so many other of the old guard producers and writers are gone, perhaps he misses Jamey Sheridan and Courtney Vance (as much as I like Eric Bogosian, I would not have traded Courtney or Jamey for Eric), perhaps working on the TV schedule is still too much (even with alternate weeks off), or perhaps there is something else wrong in his life other than something to do with his professional situation (in which case it is none of my business). But I am not going to fight to keep CI alive (in fact where I have been able I have voted in viewer polls to let CI go) and if CI does end production this May, I will not be too upset. Moreover, if the Aussie article is correct in stating that VDO wants “to do some directing now, stay away from acting just a little while”, well then I’m ready and eager to see him make the change…I really think he’ll make an excellent director given how well he understands acting and his ability to break that down for others. I also suspect he might be able to do some decent screenwriting or pretty much anything relating to the interpretive side of filmmaking (or TV production).

So other than posting new evidence of what NBC or Wolf does in the next few days and how I think that will affect the renewal decisions, I’ve said my peace and made my best educated guesses. It will be interesting to see how accurate I am.

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