Since its debut in 1990, Law and Order has become nothing short of a television classic. In its twenty seasons on the air, it has featured such talented actors as Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, and S. Epatha Merkerson; aired over 450 episodes, and spawned several spin-off series, including the upcoming Law and Order: Los Angeles, set to air in the fall. No one could have foreseen when the show’s run would end, and certainly few people, if anyone, could have expected that the series would end in the worst way possible…abruptly, and without any proper closure. Yet that is exactly what will happen come May 24th, as NBC has announced that Law and Order will not be back for the 2010-2011 season. This announcement comes too late for the writers to come up with a fitting finale to such a long-running series. A lot of fans are surely saddened and horrified by this cancellation, and so I am here to explain why pulling the plug on the series this way is tragic and unfortunate.
The cancellation could not have come at a worst time, as Law and Order was set to make television history. Had it lasted for at least one more season, it would have surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest running drama series in the history of television. Indeed, Law and Order has thrived while many other shows have come and gone. Few shows have lasted a decade or more, and fewer still have come anywhere close to being on the air for as long as Law and Order has. The cancellation, and the decision to not have the series run on another network, means that the record for the longest-running television drama series will now be tied, and it will be a long time before it can be broken, or it may end up lasting forever.
The series has long been shown at 10:00 PM Eastern Time on various nights, but in the early months of the 2009-2010 season, it became the victim of the debacle that was NBC’s decision to have Jay Leno host his own series every night at that same time. Consequently, it moved to 8:00 PM on Friday nights, where it stayed until Jay moved back to The Tonight Show. Then, it returned to its original time, airing on Monday nights. Moving the show around like this may have sealed its fate, as it had already been in a decline in recent years, but the moves may have hurt its ratings even more. I have always felt that NBC’s move to have Jay Leno on every night at 10:00 PM was incredibly foolish, and if Law and Order is being canceled in part because of this action, it only emphasizes just how poor of a decision it truly was.
Canceling Law and Order in general is tragic, but what makes it especially sad is that it is ending without any kind of closure. I have long despised the action of ending shows without giving them any sense of closure, especially if they have been on the air for a long time. People can get hooked on a show for years and watch it to see what ultimately happens with its characters and how various plot points are resolved. Then the show gets abruptly canceled, leaving plot threads dangling and characters’ fates unknown. Needless to say, loyal fans will feel as if they had been robbed all this time, and I would not be surprised if Law and Order fans are feeling the same way. They may have been expecting the series to end with at least some closure, and while it has been hinted that said closure may come about in the form of characters from the original series appearing on its spin-offs, not having it on the first series is a bad idea, and leaves viewers feeling cheated and angry.
The best way to have avoided this problem was to have the cancellation announced in advance, giving the writers enough time to create an episode that would bring closure and make the viewers feel that the last twenty years of watching Law and Order was worthwhile. Indeed, other shows that are not coming back next season have been lucky enough to be given proper endings. The current season of Lost was intended to be the last one even before it started, so its writers had ample time to create a finale that will wrap up the story in a more-or-less fitting fashion. Ugly Betty ended its season in April, with its cancellation being announced in late January, but it still gave its writers enough time to create a true ending to the series. In March, 24 was announced as not returning next season, but that was a decision of that show’s team, and Jack Bauer’s adventures may continue on the big screen. These shows have not lasted nearly as long as Law and Order, but the fact that they have been given fitting finales while Law and Order has not is another reason why canceling the show this way is quite sad.
With the end of Law and Order, NBC is continuing a downward spiral that it has experienced in recent years. Once a venerable network that was home to such beloved classics as The Cosby Show, Friends, and ER, it has languished while the other networks continue to thrive. In my opinion, NBC got themselves into this mess in a variety of ways. The aforementioned Jay Leno debacle led to declining ratings and having Conan O’Brien being forced out as host of The Tonight Show. Series that start out decently enough can go downhill fast and become among the worst shows on television. Some of the better shows are either canceled or just barely rescued, and shows that few people seem to care about are left on, leaving more quality shows off the air. Canceling Law and Order when they did, and the way they did, may be the final nail in the coffin (or pretty close to it) for NBC, and if things remain as they are, I would not be surprised if even The CW gets consistently better ratings than the once respectable network.
Overall, it is sad when a series is abruptly canceled after such a long and legendary run, and Law and Order fans are surely feeling the pain as a result of its sudden cancellation. While its spin-offs will remain for a while, the truth remains that viewers have been robbed of seeing the original series end on a high note. Had things worked out differently, Law and Order would have lasted at least long enough to become the longest running drama series of all time, and the writers could have given it the proper ending that it deserved. Indeed, the series, and its loyal fans, deserved much better than NBC’s half-hearted decision to end its run the way that they did.