TNT could be standing between "Law & Order" and a record-breaking 21st season on NBC.
The cable channel, which launched its "We Know Drama" brand partly on the strength of reruns of the venerable police franchise, is taking its time committing to a new season.
TNT has reason to be skittish. It recently took a $104 million write-off on losses stemming from its off-network run of another crime procedural, "Without a Trace," which fizzled after early success on CBS.
NBC is keen to make "Law & Order" the longest-running drama series, outpacing "Gunsmoke's" 20-season stint. But it relies on syndication fees from TNT to subsidize its production tab for the costly show, whose ratings have fallen sharply in recent years.
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"I'm a 'Law & Order' junkie," primetime entertainment president Angela Bromstad said in January. "I wouldn't want to be responsible for not having 'Law & Order' break the record."
TNT is reportedly not obligated to pick up additional seasons beyond the current No. 20 and can prevent NBC from taking it elsewhere, which gives the cable network a great amount of leverage.
Still, even at its current ratings levels, "Law & Order" has been such an integral part of the fabric at TNT, it would be hard for the cable network to deny the show a shot at history.
All parties involved declined comment.