NBC has secured the services of "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf through 2008, the network announced yesterday.

Plus, it has ordered "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" through 2006.

And, NBC has officially ordered a fourth "L&O" edition, "Law & Order: Trial by Jury."

The announcement was made during a news conference heralding the finalized merger of NBC and Vivendi Universal. Wolf's series are produced at the studio's Universal TV division -- now called NBC Universal TV -- which also secured Wolf through 2008 in the new pact.

"We considered it, but we decided that NBC-Universal-Wolf was just too much," Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of the new company, joked in making the announcement at NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters.

"It's the most important deal we've done in years," Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, said at the news conference. Which is similar to what he said when NBC struck its deal to return "Friends" for one last season, ditto the deal to return "Frasier." But as of tonight, both those series will be gone from the NBC lineup (though they will live on a few more days in reruns) so it doesn't really matter. Going forward, Zucker's right.

Wright also joked that the new media conglomerate was mulling whether to add a Wolf Crime Channel to its properties.

They don't need to; they already have one. It's called NBC.

During the May ratings sweeps, NBC scheduled six hours of "Law & Order," seven hours of "Law & Order: SVU" and five hours of "Law & Order: CI," adding up to 18 hours, or six full days of prime-time viewing.

In the fall, NBC will have four hour-long Dick Wolf series on its slate, accounting for 18 percent of its prime-time lineup. And that's before NBC starts rerunning "L&O" episodes on Saturday night and to plug other holes in its schedule.

Though the audience for all three of its current "Law & Order" series is down compared with last season, they are still major contenders on the prime-time landscape.

The original "Law & Order," now in its 14th year, ranks No. 14 for the season among viewers of all ages, with an average of just under 16 million, and is one of the top four dramas among 18- to 49-year-olds on any network for the fourth consecutive season.

"Law & Order" has been on the air as long as "Bonanza" and "Dallas" and next season will become the second-longest-running drama on TV, behind "Gunsmoke," which lasted 20 seasons.

Wolf noted in NBC's announcement that he's been with the network for 20 years; before creating "Law & Order," he worked on "Hill Street Blues."

Speaking of NBC long-timers, Tom Brokaw has signed up for another 10 years at the network, keeping him there through 2014.

Yes, Brokaw's still scheduled to step down as anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News" on Dec. 1; after that he will anchor and produce documentaries for the network and other NBC properties, NBC announced during yesterday's news conference.

Brokaw also will be called upon to contribute analysis to NBC's coverage of major news events.

Brokaw already has been at NBC News for 38 years, starting as a reporter and anchor for NBC-owned KNBC in Los Angeles in 1966. From 1973 to '76 he was NBC News's White House correspondent and from '76 to '81 he anchored "Today." In 1982 Brokaw co-anchored "Nightly News" with Roger Mudd; the following year he became its sole anchor.

"Tom has been with us nearly 40 years and has been the public face of NBC News for more than half that time," Wright said yesterday. "Much of what makes NBC News great can be traced directly to Tom's influence."

"American Idol," no longer a singing competition, turned into a high school popularity contest last night when two of the best singers the franchise has ever seen received the fewest votes from viewers, while another who forgot the words to a song during Tuesday night's competition apparently won viewers' sympathy because the judges had made her cry.

Heck, if Jasmine Trias can keep the tears coming, she'll win this thing.

LaToya London, who Elton John said he'd give a recording contract to tomorrow, who Barry Manilow said made him proud to be a songwriter, who "Idol" judge Simon Cowell repeatedly declared the best singer in this competition, received the fewest votes and is out.

How does a show like "Idol" recover when, for the second time in just a few weeks, two of the best performers ever, LaToya and Fantasia Barrino, find themselves at the bottom of the heap, while Diana DeGarmo, who has a strong voice but is way too Up With People, and Jasmine Trias, about whom judges had nothing good to say on Tuesday for good reason, receive more votes?

It probably says something about who's doing most of the voting: DeGarmo and Trias are giggly teener chicks, while Fantasia and LaToya are young mothers. And, because the subject is going to come up today on talk radio shows and on "Idol" fan site chats, Fantasia and LaToya are African American; the other two are not. Last time LaToya and Fantasia landed at the bottom in the voting, critics and talk radio hosts declared the voters racist.

Things got pretty ugly on the show last night; the live audience booed and jeered when Jasmine was declared "safe" to compete another week and LaToya was told to join Fantasia on stage for having received the fewest votes. Simon, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson seemed pretty bummed as they came to grips with the fact they were under contract to be "judges" on a high school prom queen competition.

Me, I've already done my time in high school. I didn't like it. I'm outta here.

The chairman and CEO of newly created NBC Universal TV, Bob Wright, left, with "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf and Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group.