Episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent to Debut on USA

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Already part of USA Network's encore lineup, fresh episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent will join the characters network this fall.

In a windows-changing move, the first plays of L&O: CI will migrate to USA -- which figures to fortify its position atop cable's primetime-ratings heap via the gambit -- during the new TV season with an encore play then set for NBC. Traditionally, broadcast has been the home for original series before the installments move to local stations and/or cable for the syndicated window.

For the past six seasons, L&O: CI has run first on NBC and then had its second window on USA. It was unclear at press time precisely when the new schedules for the networks, both of which are owned by NBC Universal, would commence, but USA will get 22 episodes of the show. The series’ move to USA will be accompanied by a lower license fee, according to several published reports.

"Law and Order: Criminal Intent is perfect for USA -- smart, character-driven programming that's already a proven hit with our viewers," said Bonnie Hammer, president of USA and Sci Fi Channel, in a prepared statement. "It's also a blockbuster procedural, a terrific complement to the award-winning Monk and last year's top-rated new show, Psych. Combined with the powerhouse WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] and the rest of the network's dynamic slate, it ensures that USA will continue to dominate the cable landscape and remain No. 1."

The news comes as NBC renewed the original L&O for an 18th season, joining the previously announced L&O: Special Victims Unit on the Peacock's primetime lineup.

The move keeps alive L&O creator/executive producer Dick Wolf's dream to have the original franchise surpass the 20-season run by Gunsmoke as TV longest-running drama. CBS aired the western from 1955-75.

There were myriad reports last week that TNT -- which has long ridden the ratings-rerun success of the original L&O -- was interested in picking up the show if NBC didn't renew it.

“With this innovative programming move, we have significantly strengthened the already-powerful USA Network, given NBC maximum flexibility and, in the process, changed the paradigm of primetime television," NBC U CEO Jeff Zucker said in a prepared statement. "By changing the traditional way programs are rolled out, we have reinforced NBC Universal’s forward thinking approach to new programming strategies and our willingness to embrace bold thinking.”

He continued, “In the end, it is all about our viewers. And this will allow our viewers continuing access to the finest programming across the premier networks of NBC Universal. We are thrilled to continue our successful business relationship with Dick Wolf and his team.” That relationship has been extended until 2012.

The L&O franchise claimed the top three off-network primetime series on basic cable through the first four months of 2007 among adults 25-54, with CI on USA (1.02 million of those viewers) SVU on USA (945,000) and L&O on TNT (864,000).

Starting this fall, CI will air on local broadcast stations weekdays, as well as continuing to air on USA and Bravo.

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