- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

‘L&O’ cable bound?

NBC Universal is considering a scenario in which original episodes of its low-rated but highly lucrative “Law & Order” would shift from NBC to TNT after this season, with production continuing at a drastically reduced price, Broadcasting and Cable magazine reports.

Multiple sources told B&C that TNT, which remains heavily reliant on the show’s reruns, first proposed the idea of picking up the originals to NBC Universal several months ago. The offer came after word surfaced that NBC was contemplating canceling the venerable 17-year-old drama, which has seen its ratings sink further this season after its shift to the Friday night graveyard.

NBCU, which produces the series in association with Wolf Films, has a vested interest in keeping the so-called “mothership” of the $3 billion-plus “L&O” franchise alive beyond this season. It has long-term commitments in place from TNT to pay $1 million per episode for “L&O” reruns as well as international territories, which are believed to kick in an additional guaranteed $800,000 for each show.

To continue, the production budget of “L&O” would have to be slashed far below its current $4 million per episode cost. Executive producer Dick Wolf was reported recently to be looking at making budget cuts of $11 million per season, or $500,000 per episode, to keep it on NBC.

Fewer new episodes would likely be produced for TNT because basic cable traditionally places smaller series orders than broadcast networks.

An NBC spokesman said it is “premature to speculate on what will happen at this point.” TNT declined to comment on “speculation,” B&C reports.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Wolf, who has said frequently that he would like to see “L&O” become the longest-running drama in TV history (“Gunsmoke” holds the record at 20 years), noted, “It is premature to speculate on any decisions regarding the future of ‘Law & Order and/or Law & Order: Criminal Intent’.”

Initially, it appeared that NBC would renew “L&O” at next week’s upfronts and scratch “L&O: Criminal Intent,” but sources say the thinking has shifted in recent days. Now, they say, “Criminal Intent” could return to the network in some form next season, but others still expect it to vanish.

NBC already has renewed “Special Victims Unit” — the third spoke in the “L&O” hub — for next season.

Though the “L&O” reruns are no longer generating the massive ratings that they once did for TNT, they continue to deliver for the cable network, which runs 28 hours of “L&O” episodes each week.

However, cable-exclusive originals of “L&O” airing on TNT could help breathe new life into the ratings of the reruns while boosting its slate of originals with a well-known brand name. After enjoying success with “The Closer,” TNT is introducing two new series this summer, “Heartland” and “Saving Grace,” along with the miniseries “The Company.”

Casting call

It should be easy to tell the “hotties” from the “notties” when casting directors from the CW’s “Beauty & the Geek” hold tryouts in the District this weekend.

Auditions for the fourth season of the popular reality show take place Sunday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. at WDCW-TV’s Georgetown studio (212 1 Wisconsin Ave. NW)

Produced by Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg of “Punk’d,” “Beauty & the Geek” pairs gorgeous but academically challenged women with brilliant yet socially impaired men to test intellect and social skills.

‘Tori’ in, ‘Ladies’ out

Oxygen has ordered a second season of its newcomer “Tori & Dean: Inn Love,” but its series “Campus Ladies” won’t be returning for a third go-around, Thefutoncritic.com notes.

The “Inn Love” pickup is for 10 episodes — two more than its current freshman run, which wrapped on Tuesday. Its new season is expected to roll out this fall.

As for “Ladies,” it’s understood the series couldn’t match its freshman numbers after being moved from Sundays at 10 p.m. to Tuesday nights at 11 for its sophomore year.

‘ER’ paging Mr. Tucci

Emmy winner Stanley Tucci returns to the scripted medical drama genre (after CBS’ short-lived “3 lbs.” last year) on tonight’s “ER” (10 p.m. on NBC). He plays Stephen Moretti, a brilliant hospital chief who sets a whole new tone in the ER.

According to the Palm Beach Post, the lowdown on Moretti is this: He’s cocky and arrogant, two traits Mr. Tucci plays with masterful precision. The actor will be back at “ER’s” fictional County General Hospital for the May 17 season finale, and look for him to return next season as part of a multiepisode story arc.

Selleck on ‘Vegas,’ baby

Tom Selleck, who reigned in Hawaii as “Magnum, P.I.,” is getting ready to take over “Las Vegas.”

He’ll join the cast of the NBC drama next season, playing a billionaire with a mysterious past who becomes the new owner of the show’s centerpiece hotel, the Montecito Resort & Casino, the network said yesterday.

On tap tonight …

The supersized 40-minute season finale of “My Name Is Earl” (8 p.m. on NBC) centers on Joy’s (Jamie Pressly) future as her long-awaited trial date finally arrives.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse and Kelly Jane Torrance from staff, wire and Web reports.

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