LAW & ORDER cast

NBC Photo: Virginia Sherwood

Get ready to bid bye-bye to the bum-bum.

NBC has canceled Law & Order. The cast and crew of the mothership procedural were informed of the show's fate Thursday.

The upcoming season of Dick Wolf's brainchild would have been its 21st, passing Gunsmoke as the longest-running TV drama series in history. (The Simpsons holds the longevity record for any scripted series.)

"Never complain, never explain," Wolf said of the cancelation.

NBC also mourned the passing of the flagship franchise...

"The full measure of the collective contributions made by Dick Wolf and his Law & Order franchise over the last two decades to the success of NBC and Universal Media Studios cannot be overstated," NBC Universal Television Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin said.

"The legacy of his original Law & Order series will continue to make an impact like no other series before."

The series finale, which has already been shot, will air on May 24. But it's not the end for the franchise.

Law & Order: SVU has been renewed for another season and NBC has ordered another offshoot of the franchise, Law & Order: Los Angeles.

As the series finale won't provide much closure for the characters, it's possible they will make appearances on the new West Coast arm of the show or get some kind of separate TV movie to say their goodbyes.

Over the past two decades, the stalwart drama became known for its myriad cast changes, as no less than a zillion familiar faces who either boasted a big name at the time (e.g. Julia Roberts and Edie Falco in the late '90s) or who went on to boast a big name (e.g. Michelle Trachtenberg in 1991 and Sam Rockwell in 1992) have guest-starred.

The series premiered Sept. 13, 1990, starring The Deer Hunter buddy George Dzundza and none other than the future Mr. Big, Chris Noth, as "The Two Detectives"; Dann Florek as "The Captain"; Michael Moriarty and Richard Brooks as "The ADA Duo" and Steven Hill as "The D.A."

All of those roles have been refilled multiple times since except for Florek's, who was replaced as head of the Law portion of the series by S. Epatha Merkerson—and she's still there, although she previously confirmed that the current season would be her last.

Over the past 20 years, Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt, Paul Sorvino, Jesse L. Martin, Dennis Farina, Milena Govich, Michael Imperioli and, most recently, Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson have worn out plenty of shoe leather walking the beat as members of New York's Finest.

Sam Waterston replaced Moriarty in 1994 and has since been joined at the prosecutors' table by Jill Hennessy, Carey Lowell, Angie Harmon, Elisabeth Röhm, Annie Parisse and Alana de la Garza. He then followed in the footsteps of Hill, Dianne Wiest and Fred Dalton Thompson to take over as D.A. and was replaced as Assistant District Attorney in 2008 by Linus Roache.

Law & Order has been spun off five times, including the U.K. version, which stars Battlestar Galactica hero Jamie Bamber, and the upcoming Law & Order: Los Angeles, which NBC has ordered 13 episodes of for the fall.

The venerable series won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama in 1997.

(Originally published May 13, 2010, at 2:10 p.m. PT)

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