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‘Law & Order’ faces early death sentence

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If “Law & Order” were a killer, it would have received the lethal injection years ago.

A report circulated Thursday that the NBC crime procedural famed for its “ripped-from-the-headlines” plots might finally be canceled at the end of its current 20th season, just one year short of replacing “Gunsmoke” as the longest-running drama in American primetime history.epatha

Fans were shocked. Even though the show can no longer get arrested in the ratings, the perceived wisdom was that no NBC executive would want to go down in history as the perp who denied “Law & Order” a chance to rewrite the record books. The show could still cop a plea, possibly relegated to cable like its spin-off “Criminal Intent.” Or, once again, its producers could bump off some expensive cast members in a bid to trim costs if NBC demands a lower license fee to air it.

Coincidentally or not, S. Epatha Merkerson (pictured below) said last month she would quit at the end of this season after 17 years. Her cancer-stricken character, Lt. Van Buren, is the show’s mainstay amid an accelerating revolving door of cops and litigators. Quick, name any of the other actors or characters from this season –¬†apart from 16-year veteran Sam Waterston’s sidelined D.A. character Jack McCoy, of course.

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