Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Real Reason Law & Order: Trial By Jury Was Canceled

We all naturally know about Law & Order, the esteemed procedural crime drama that ran from 1990 to 2010. We also can easily recognize its spin-offs, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which aired for a decade before ending in 2011, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the wildly successful show that continues to run even into 2020 — with no signs of slowing down. What you may only just recall in the back of your mind from creator and executive producer Dick Wolf's halcyon days of 2005 is Law & Order: Trial by Jury. The spin-off received only one season, and didn't even get to air its final episode until it entered syndication on cable channels. That's how sudden and complete its cancellation was. Wolf was reportedly floored by the revelation, since he was by far the most important drama producer creating for NBC's line-up at that time. 

Over a decade on, Trial by Jury remains significant for being the first Law & Order spin-off to sputter and fail, especially when the rest of the franchise seemed to be at the top of television. It was an unlucky combination of inter- and intra-network competition, the post-90s-and-early-2000s sitcom landscape, and the tale as old as time — ratings — that did Trial by Jury in. 

Law & Order: Trial by Jury was accosted on all sides

In short, the world conspired against letting Dick Wolf have four franchise branches on television at once. 

At the time, it seemed like a simple enough slam-dunk to put another version Law & Order on deck for NBC. Trial by Jury was commissioned in 2004 just as the mammoth sitcom Friends was ending, and the network would need to ask more of its dramatic moneymakers to keep NBC riding high as number one on television overall. However, the viewership loss that came about after Friends wrapped proved to be more difficult to recoup than anticipated. To this day, Friends is still one of the most watched and talked-about series, so it's not surprising that NBC had trouble capturing the same magic Friends carried – with any sort of show.

Also stifling Trial by Jury's chances of success was NUMB3RS, the crime drama series that also premiered in 2005 on CBS. It aired directly opposite of Trial by Jury on NBC, and went on to dominate ratings in all the most important demographics. NBC quickly fell to ranking fourth overall among the broadcasters in 2005 — just a year after juggernaut Friends had its finale. This alone would have been a disappointment, since Trial by Jury represents a longtime successful franchise that was being counted on.

The last straw was probably NBC's acquisition of Sunday Night Football for what was then the upcoming 2006 season. This took away a significant portion of programming space for NBC, and the network simply couldn't make room for all of its Law & Order series. Kevin Reilly, NBC's brand-new president of entertainment at that time, put it to Entertainment Weekly simply: "Now that we have football [on Sundays, beginning in 2006], we only have five nights of entertainment programming. When we had six nights, we could accommodate four Law & Orders." 

There is indeed truth in perhaps too much of a good thing, and the freshman Law & Order entry just couldn't live up to extremely competitive snuff. We can see now with the benefit of hindsight that television would soon experience an incredible shift in tone, taste, and diversity of platform choices, but that expansion came too late for Trial by Jury.