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Virginia Sherwood, NBC
Chris Noth and Julianne Nicholson star in "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

Reports of the death of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" that cropped up in recent weeks were premature.

The show will return for its eighth season this fall on the USA Network — albeit a somewhat abbreviated season. Instead of the normal 22-episode order, "Criminal Intent" will produce 16 episodes.

While both "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" remain on NBC (for their 19th and 10th seasons, respectively), "Criminal Intent" will continue as a cable series for its second season (following six years on NBC).

It's all part of the same media conglomerate — both USA and NBC are subsidiaries of NBC Universal. And the "Law & Order" series are produced by Universal Media Studios, another part of the company.

As was the case this season, episodes of "Criminal Intent" will probably air on NBC after they've been on USA. That's a little bit funny because the reason the show switched from NBC to USA was that the broadcast network didn't have room for it.

The way things have been going at NBC for the past few years, it would have hardly seemed that the network could afford to let go of even a moderate hit.

Like so many shows this season, "Criminal Intent's" run was interrupted by the writers' strike. The last new episode aired back on Dec. 13; the next new episode airs Sunday, June 8, on USA.

(That's part of Season 7, not Season 8.)

Dick Wolf, the executive producer/creator/godfather of all things "Law & Order," issued a statement expressing his belief that "Criminal Intent" will continue to thrive on USA "for years to come."

Given the track record of the three shows in the franchise, that would hardly be a surprise.

FOR THE SECOND YEAR in a row, "Law & Order" is on NBC's schedule, but it's not on NBC's fall schedule. Once again, the show is scheduled to return in January as a midseason replacement.

Not that that bothers Wolf in the least.

"Are you kidding?" he said. "We're guaranteed 22 episodes in a row (without repeats) and we're up against 60 percent repeats? That's like (shooting) fish in a barrel."

And, with the 19th season on the way, he's already looking ahead to the 20th. And the, um, 40th?

Wolf said it is "absolutely" still his dream to knock off "Gunsmoke" as the longest-running drama in TV history.

"I would say the reality is — one to tie, two to win," he said, looking at the Western's 20-year run. "Yes, it's absolutely priority one."

And, after that?

"I don't know," Wolf said. "Go another 20?"

BY THE TIME "HEROES" returns for its third season, 9 1/2 months will have passed since the end of its abbreviated second season.

(That pesky writers' strike is the explanation for this, of course.)

So NBC is planning an all-"Heroes" night for Monday, Sept. 22. Before the big two-hour season premiere at 8 p.m., the network will air a one-hour "Heroes" recap at 7 p.m.

Hopefully, it will serve not only to remind "Heroes" fans of what happened in the first 34 episodes, but it will be an easy entry point for people who don't watch the show — a one-hour introduction that will leave them feeling like they know what's going on.

It's certainly worth the effort to bring new viewers to what has been a great show to this point.

WHEN NBC ANNOUNCED its fall, winter and spring schedules back at the beginning of April, I warned you not to write any of it down in ink.

That it would be a huge surprise if "everything NBC Entertainment co-chairmen Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff announced actually happens the way they announced it."

So it's no surprise at all that they've already tinkered with the fall schedule, making the following changes:

• The new sitcom "Kath & Kim" will air on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. instead of Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.

• "The Biggest Loser" (Tuesdays, 7 p.m.) expands from 90 minutes to two hours to fill the gap left by "Kath & Kim's" move.

• The half-hour, prime-time "Saturday Night Live" election specials move from Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. to Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.

• That delays the season premiere of "30 Rock" until Thursday, Oct. 30.

• The reality show "America's Toughest Jobs," which had been announced for the summer of 2009, will instead premiere on Friday, Sept. 12.

I'm guessing that by the time we actually get to the summer of 2009, almost nothing will look like what was announced back in April.

Of course, by the summer of 2009 it's entirely possible somebody else will be running NBC.

NBC'S FALL PREMIERE DATES, which remain subject to change, are:

• Friday, Sept. 12: "America's Toughest Jobs" (new reality show)

• Monday, Sept. 22: "Heroes"

• Tuesday, Sept. 23: "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

• Wednesday, Sept. 24: "Knight Rider" (new action show) and "Lipstick Jungle"

• Thursday, Sept. 25: "My Name Is Earl," "The Office" and "ER"

• Monday, Sept. 29: "Chuck" and "My Own Worst Enemy" (new drama)

• Friday, Oct. 3: "Life"

• Thursday, Oct. 9: "Kath & Kim" (new sitcom)

• Friday, Oct. 17: "Crusoe" (new drama)

• Thursday, Oct. 30: "30 Rock"


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com