‘Law & Order’: Why Was the Original Series Canceled?

by Suzanne Halliburton

We’re seeing all sorts of hoopla promoting the reboot of Law & Order, the OG of crime procedurals. And it all begs this question. Why was the show canceled in the first place?

It churned along for two decades, tying Gunsmoke for longest-running scripted series on prime-time TV. The main spinoff — Law & Order: SVU — now has broken the primetime record with the series in its 23rd season.

What happened in 2010 that NBC decided to dump a show that everybody had watched either first on network or in syndication?

There were two reasons. And honestly, those two reasons usually will kill a show. It was expensive to produce. And the ratings were dropping. By season 20, Law & Order averaged 7.2 million viewers per episode. That’s a terrific number for today’s splintered TV landscape. But cord-cutting wasn’t a significant threat in 2010. And Netflix still was three years away from releasing House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, two shows that introduced us to binge-watching.

Dick Wolf, the show creator, tried to shop the series around to other networks. But the licensing fee was too big of an ask. He also tried again in 2015.

Fernando Leon/Getty Images

NBC, Rather Than Sticking with Original Law & Order, Switched Coasts

Plus, NBC wanted something new. So the network went with Law & Order: Los Angeles. Switching coasts for a crime procedural certainly would light some more interest, right? After all, NCIS did it with NCIS: Los Angeles in 2009.

But Law & Order: LA, which premiered in September 2010, was put on hold four months later. After it burned through its first season of episodes, NBC pulled the plug. The network then decided to stick with SVU, which made Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson one of the most well-known TV stars, ever.

Now comes Law & Order, again. Two of the six stars of the revival were with the show when it first ended in May, 2010. Sam Waterston, who played District Attorney Jack McCoy, for 16 years, is back. So is Anthony Anderson, who portrayed Detective Kevin Bernard for the series final two seasons.

“There are very few things in life that are literally dreams come true. This is mine,” said Wolf, the Law & Order guru, in a statement to Deadline.

Show Joins Its Two Spinoffs Feb 24

Circle this date. Law & Order premieres Feb. 24 as it faces the TV world with its oldest and newest spinoffs — Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime. The OC features Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler, who rose in popularity next to Hargitay on SVU.

Waterston was the final, and possibly the most significant cast announcement.

“I wasn’t at all expecting to be bowled over, and I was,” Waterston told TV Insider this week. “I was amazed at how great—and strange—it felt to step onto what looked exactly like the old sets, all brand-new, with dear old friends and cool new people.”

There are four new cast members for the 21st season. Hugh Dancy as Nathan Price and Odelya Halevi as Samantha Maroun will be with Waterston in the DA’s office. Meanwhile, Anderson will investigate crimes with fellow detectives Jeffrey Donovan as Frank Cosgrove and Camryn Manheim as Kate Dixon.