Will the criminal justice system be alive on "Law & Order" next fall? It's down to the wire whether the venerable cop drama will be nabbing more bad guys in a history-making run.
With the official announcement of NBC's 2010-11 schedule due Sunday, the network on Thursday still wasn't handing down a verdict on the show.
NBC refused to confirm multiple reports that the show was being canceled after 20 seasons on the air, one year short of an all-time record.
Meanwhile, a person close to the production said talks are still going on. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.
The show's season (or series) finale airs May 24, with no official closure. It will mark the departure of S. Epatha Merkerson, a cast member since 1993, but her leave-taking is unrelated to the show's future.
The series' other current stars include Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson, Linus Roache, Alana De La Garza and Sam Waterston.
Despite sagging ratings, "Law & Order" had been considered likely for renewal next season, when it would be poised to surpass "Gunsmoke" as TV's longest-running drama. That achievement has been an enduring dream of the series' powerful creator, Dick Wolf, who not only furnished NBC with this so-called "mother ship" but expanded it into two still-running "Law & Order" spinoffs.
Last September, a dozen past and present "Law & Order" stars gathered in the show's courtroom set to celebrate the start of the 20th year.
At the time, Wolf said he looked forward to the show continuing another year and beyond. Then he added, "I hope we'll see you here in 2013."