Why NBC Is Killing 'Law & Order'

A perfect storm of dwindling ratings, an aging audience and a new parent company

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When it first premiered in 1990, Law & Order was a groundbreaking crime drama. It deftly narrated both ends of the American legal system: law enforcement and prosecution. Now, in its 20th season, the series is one season away from being the longest-running drama in television history. Unfortunately for creator Dick Wolf, NBC has canceled it. Reflecting on the show's performance, television columnists explain what forced NBC's hand. Fans, the comment section below is yours for laments.

  • Its Time Had Come, writes Michael Starr at the New York Post: "The New York-based show, once a ratings powerhouse, has struggled for viewers, and in the last few years had been saved from the chopping block only by 11th-hour reprieves."
  • Blame Comcast, writes Jon Friedman at MarketWatch: "What this tells us is that NBC, currently a unit of General Electric, is trying to show its owner-to-be Comcast that it can play hardball and not give in to sentimentality."
  • Blame Its Audience, writes Lisa de Moraes at the Washington Post: "The show's audience is very old. About 64 percent of the show's audience -- 4.7 million people -- are aged 50 and older. This is important because NBC executives have steadfastly maintained for years that they do all their ad sales business according to how many 18-49 year olds their shows can deliver to advertisers. The network does not include in its sales pitches any viewer who is over the age of 49. Which means the 'sellable' audience of 'Law & Order' amounts to about 2.6 million viewers."
  • Blame Ratings, writes Lacey Rose at Forbes: "While unpopular--and to some, borderline cruel--a decision to end the show before it reaches the historic 21-season mark would indicate NBC executives are thinking with their wallets rather than their hearts. And perhaps wisely so. For a network in turnaround mode, there's little room for programming that is costly and modestly rated--and in recent years, that's what the franchise's flagship series has become. The reality: with little buzz and a hefty price-tag (the cast may be interchangeable, but Wolf doesn't come cheap), a 1.8 rating in the advertiser-beloved 18 to 49 demographic and 7.3 million total viewers may not be enough."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.