This is from my “I told you so” department…I find it interesting that NBC is being really candid with Variety *and* the New York Times while Wolf is reserving his juicy stuff for the Times only. Thanks to a heads up from my best friend, I can now add this article to the weird ‘negotiation posturing in the press’ file for your perusal. Given that Wolf has the green light for a new series based on the book “The Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia,” by Guy Lawson and William Oldham, a cops and mafia story that will run on NBC next season and may or may not be shoved into the Law & Order brand (the full story is at http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117963289.html?categoryid=14&cs=1) to me things look just that much bleaker for CI.
Oh and I think my friend has called it beautifully when he says of Wolf in the email alerting me to the Times article that Wolf’s a “whiny egotistical sod”.
Here’s the NY Times article in question (original link at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/19/arts/television/19law.html?_r=2&ref=television&oref=slogin&oref=slogin Be sure to accept all the idiotic cookies the NY Times makes you take to read their stuff)
Crime Shows’ Last Verdict? These Are Their Stories
By BILL CARTER
Published: April 19, 2007
The future of “Law & Order,” one the most enduringly popular shows in television history, will be decided over the next few weeks as its network, NBC, and its creator, Dick Wolf, mull a wrenching decision:
Is it finally time to shut down production of a series that has churned out almost 400 episodes, fueled ratings for several cable channels with its voluminous repeats and spawned two successful spinoffs, all the while generating enormous profits for both NBC and Mr. Wolf?
The answer will come in the negotiations now going on between Mr. Wolf and NBC Universal, the corporate entity that includes the studio that produces the series. The talks involve not just the 17-year-old “Law & Order” but also its most recent offspring, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” now in its sixth season.
At least according to NBC executives, it’s possible that either or both “Law & Order” and “Criminal Intent” will be canceled.
Cancellation of the venerable original would mean the end of a dream that Mr. Wolf has pursued openly for several years: that his series would top the pre-cable “Gunsmoke” as the longest-running entertainment series in prime-time history.
That CBS western ran for 20 seasons; “Law & Order” is now three years short of that mark. At one time it seemed possible that the crime series would finally gun down Marshal Matt Dillon. Now with even one more season in doubt, the dream may be fading.
Not to Mr. Wolf, however, whose success as a producer has always been matched only by his fierce loyalty to his shows. “Of course I want ‘L&O’ to reach 21 years,” Mr. Wolf said in a telephone interview. “How could you get this close and not want that to happen?”
Both sides easily concede the central issue in the negotiations: money. With ratings for both “Law & Order” and “Criminal Intent” having faded (the third of the franchise, “Special Victims Unit,” remains a hit and has already been renewed for another season), NBC argues that the shows are not financially viable anymore, at least at their present costs.
NBC concedes that “Law & Order” still generates more than $40 million in profits every year from sales of its episodes to the cable channel TNT and to international networks, but it argues that those profits are wiped out by the costs of the show.
Mr. Wolf was able to negotiate one of television’s richest producer deals ever in 2004, when NBC completed his contract just before it closed its deal to acquire the Universal studio that produced his shows.
Mr. Wolf does not dispute that the shows are costly. He said he was considering ways to lower costs, especially on the original “Law & Order,” perhaps by replacing some current cast members. “Creative people come up with creative solutions,” he said.
But NBC doesn’t believe any change in weekly production costs alone will resolve the financial dilemma.
Mr. Wolf said the the possible cancellations are both unfair and short-sighted. He said it was unfair because NBC moved the original “Law & Order” out of its longtime home on Wednesday nights at 10 and exiled it to a desert location Fridays at 10. He said he noticed that the shows NBC tried to replace “Law & Order” with on Wednesdays — “Heist” and “Kidnapped” — collapsed quickly.
The cancellation talk is short-sighted, he argued, because the television business is in economic upheaval, with no one understanding how the switch to running shows on multiple platforms on the Internet, instead of saving the reruns for future use — so-called back-end profits — will pay off.
Of the move toward Web-based replays of shows, Mr. Wolf said: “There is absolutely no back end. I don’t know where the money is.” He added, “There are very few ways to open new revenue streams.”
But he pointed to a new revenue stream he himself has opened recently. Mr. Wolf has begun selling the format rights to both “SVU” and “Criminal Intent” to international production companies. In Russia, for example, “SVU” and “Criminal Intent” have become top-rated series, using almost word for word translations of the scripts of the American version. A French version of “Criminal Intent” is about to start in that country.
“The revenue is a trickle right now, but it could become a steady revenue stream,” Mr. Wolf said. He also questioned how NBC was going to get by without his shows given the problems the network has on many of its nights of prime time, not to mention the heavy dependence that NBC Universal continues to have on repeats of Mr. Wolf’s shows. These fill hours of time on both the USA and Bravo cable networks, both owned by NBC Universal, as well as almost every Saturday night on NBC.
But NBC’s concerns about the ratings performance of the shows seem to trump all those considerations. For one thing, the network’s research department notes that “Law & Order” has been losing about the same number of viewers every year over the last four, a drop-off that has not been especially exacerbated by the shift to Fridays.
Marc Graboff, president of NBC’s West Coast division, said that while NBC Universal still uses repeats of the shows widely, there is no reason it needs new episodes to continue to do so. “There are enough episodes in the bank” to fulfill the needs of the USA and Bravo channels, he said.
The bottom line for NBC Universal is that it owns the “Law & Order” shows, not Mr. Wolf, and the ultimate decision of what to do with the series rests with the company, not the producer. That does not take into account the long and fruitful relationship between NBC and Mr. Wolf, however, and that will surely come into play.
It already has, with Mr. Wolf saying he continues to talk on friendly terms with the top NBC Universal executives, Mr. Graboff and the company president, Jeff Zucker.
“Jeff and I speak all the time,” Mr. Wolf said. “Marc and I speak all the time. It’s a long-term Catholic marriage. There’s some stuff being thrown around in the kitchen, but everybody’s being rational.”
What Mr. Wolf most wants is a deal that will bring back all three of his series. “Jeff knows my aim is to keep the brand as healthy as it can possibly be,” Mr. Wolf said of Mr. Zucker. “To me the health of the brand is extended when all three shows are on the network.”
How likely is that to happen? Mr. Graboff seemed to indicate that the continuation of the threesome is a long shot, with either “Law & Order” or “Criminal Intent” seemingly headed for closure between now and early next month, before NBC announces its new fall lineup.
With “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” already on that lineup, Mr. Graboff said of the others, “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to make a deal to bring one of the two shows back on the air. ”