The Negotiations Renewal Saga: Will Some Other Channel Intervene on Behalf Of CI?

Well yesterday the net became chock full of stories saying essentially that TNT, home of current reruns of the original Law & Order series may intervene to save the mothership

The latest in this saga comes from Variety

“TNT howling at Wolf’s door
Cable network offers to take ‘L&O’ into custody
By JOHN DEMPSEY, MICHAEL SCHNEIDER

TNT has offered NBC Universal TV to take over the original “Law & Order” franchise and keep it in production if NBC decides not to renew the series this month.

It’s considered a longshot. Dick Wolf would have to dramatically reduce the costs and license fee on “L&O” to make it fiscally viable for TNT, which would likely pick up 13 episodes (rather than the standard broadcast 22).

Nonetheless, a TNT play for “L&O” isn’t out of the question. NBC is said to be interested in renewing just one of the two “L&O” shows (the mothership and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) , with most of the buzz surrounding the return of the younger “CI” edition (Daily Variety, April 19).

What’s more, Wolf has already been aggressively looking at cuts on the show to make a pickup more economically possible. Broadcasting & Cable first broke word of the TNT offer Tuesday morning.

“Negotiations are ongoing regarding ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ and, as always, we do not comment on negotiations,” Wolf said, through a spokeswoman.

It’s not the first time TNT has made a serious play for a “Law & Order” original. Late in 2005, TNT made an offer to NBC U to uproot the third “L&O” spinoff “Trial by Jury,” which was not pulling enough viewers on the Peacock in its rookie season, and transfer it to TNT.

TNT hoped a second season of “Trial by Jury” would complement the “L&O” reruns that had helped to propel TNT to No. 1 among all cable networks from 2003 through 2005.

But NBC finally nixed handing “Trial by Jury” off to TNT, unwilling to entrust the firstrun production of a Dick Wolf franchise to a competitor.

Fast-forward to May 2007: The ratings of reruns of “Law & Order” have softened in their last 18 months on TNT, which has lost its No. 1 spot in the Nielsens to USA and would love to revitalize those off-net “L&O” runs with highly promotable new episodes.

A rival cable exec said TNT’s attempts to score “Law & Order” make sense for the channel, particularly as it looks to expand its roster of originals beyond its hit “The Closer.” ”

While this may or may not be good news for the mothership, there is not one single story save this one that implies that NBC is really all that excited about saving CI. In fact I see a lot of signs that say the opposite.

From the article above we have seen that NBC killed off TNT’s ability to keep ‘Trial By Jury’ alive last year. So if NBC’s contracts with Wolf for CI and the mothership are similiarly structured, they could easily nix any other network’s willingness to keep CI and/or the mothership alive and in production.

I also note that both shows are already expensive to produce…while I don’t think CI costs quite as much to produce per episode as the mothership does, I’m going to have to revise my figures to reflect that CI may cost more like $3 million plus per episode to produce rather than the $2-3 I had guesstimated before. Sources like this New York Times article underscore just how costly the mothership is (and what a great deal Wolf has with NBC…for now).

Also I learned from this L.A. Times article that CI’s ratings are down 18% and the mothership’s 20%

“‘Law & Order’ may move to cable
The long-running cops-and-laywers show may appear on TNT in the fall.
By Matea Gold, Times Staff Writer
May 9, 2007

NEW YORK — “Law & Order,” the crime procedural that has been a fixture of NBC’s schedule for 17 seasons, may move to cable next fall in an effort to stretch out the run of the ratings-poor but profitable show.

TNT, which already airs repeats of the drama, is in negotiations with NBC Universal Television Studio to broadcast new episodes of “Law & Order” if NBC decides not to renew it for another season, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The cable network and studio declined to comment, as did Dick Wolf, the show’s creator and executive producer.

The move would help extend the life of Wolf’s iconic program, which spawned several spin-offs and is close to matching “Gunsmoke’s” 20-year record as the longest-running drama in prime time. Sales of “Law & Order” reruns to TNT and foreign markets generate about $40 million in profit a year for NBC Universal.

But the program has faltered since its shift from Wednesday to Friday nights this season, shedding about one-fifth of its audience to an average of 9 million viewers.

In the last few months, NBC executives have been contemplating whether to renew “Law & Order” and its “Criminal Intent” spin-off, which is down 18% compared with last season. (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” the most popular of the three, has been guaranteed a place on next season’s schedule.)

Shifting the drama to TNT would be a natural fit, as the basic cable channel already offers a steady stream of “Law & Order” repeats, sometimes as many as eight a day. But the move could require Wolf to dramatically scale back production costs to meet a cable budget.”

That’s a lot of money and effort to put forth for another network to get shows whose ratings are slipping not skyrocketing.

As it is, NBC still believes in dramas, but it’s looking for newer cheaper shows and some value for its money According to this Hollywood Reporter article there are 4-7 candidates that look good to NBC in terms of getting decent ratings for not so much money as all the old Wolf series. And NBC already has a new Wolf series in the wings (which I’m sure because of its newness is cheaper)

The truly interesting thing to note for CI fans is that there may not be an angel network that will swoop in to pick up production because the show has already been sold into syndication for next year to 97% of the Fox affiliates and will air 5 days a week on your local Fox station. The only likely buyers for CI would be USA and Bravo who already air CI reruns and they’re all subsidiaries of the GE/NBC Universal company so that doesn’t make much sense for one division of a company to buy out the other division’s expensive product, especially not when you would be competing with yet other outlets for the same product.

So it looks like Wolf might possibly have found a way to keep the quest for the Gunsmoke record alive, but I wouldn’t bet on NBC blessing a move to TNT without TNT and/or Wolf ponying up a lot of money for the privilege…my prediction is that the same thing that happened with ‘Trial By Jury’ will happen again and Wolf will have to sacrifice all kinds of stuff to keep the mothership alive (including possibly sacrificing CI)

I’ll do a separate ratings post for last night’s episode in a few minutes…there was enough show publicity on it that it merits separate coverage.

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