'Law & Order: SVU' | Jennifer Hudson | Ahmet Ertegun

'Law & Order: SVU' May Be Over

You wouldn’t think that NBC could afford to lose a hit show right now, but that’s what may happen.

Sources tell me that NBC is playing hardball with stars Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni, not wanting to pay them big increases if they stay for a ninth season next fall.

“It’s not Dick Wolf,” my source says of the notoriously capricious producer. Wolf is infamous for constantly replacing and substituting actors on the original “Law & Order.” But so far the cast has remained stable for “SVU” since it launched eight years ago.

NBC, however, according to insiders, doesn’t seem to care whether the show returns or not. “They’re acting like they want Chris and Mariska out of there,” says my source.

Negotiations, which have gone on this week, are said to have been brutal.

One thing NBC probably didn’t count on was Emmy nominations for both stars and a win last year for Hargitay. The awards and kudos have come toward the end of the series’ run and are considered surprising for a “cop” show.

The awards attention, coupled with consistently high ratings, would ordinarily give actors leverage with the network. But with cost-cutting and layoffs going on, NBC is said to feel that they don’t mind losing the show or starting over with new, less expensive actors.

The ratings for 'Law & Order SVU' are what make this news all the more perplexing. The show wins its Tuesday night time slot easily every week, with an average 9.4 rating and a 16 share.

Ironically, the ratings have only gone up as the fall season has plodded along, making “SVU” one of the lone shining lights in the otherwise dimmed NBC firmament.

Either way, Meloni and Hargitay would leave “SVU” well-off financially but even better off career-wise. They are each a hot property and would likely be snapped up rival networks to star in their own series immediately. Stay tuned.

Jennifer Hudson: Supreme Dedication?

Jennifer Hudson is considering dedicating any awards she wins for “Dreamgirls” to the memory of Florence Ballard.

Ballard was the member of the singing Supremes who was fired by Motown’s Berry Gordy in 1967. She died a few years later in poverty. Ballard has always been considered the inspiration for Effie White, the character Hudson plays in 'Dreamgirls.'

Last night, after getting her Golden Globe nomination, and more importantly, her Best Supporting Actress award from the New York Film Critics — a real award — Hudson made one final stop at a party in her honor following a screening of 'Dreamgirls.' Tomorrow the movie starts a 10-day run in select cities in really nice theaters for $20 a pop.

Hudson, who is quite tall and has a real presence, remains unaffected so far by all this acclaim. She told me that stories of fighting or bad blood between her and Beyonce are just that: stories.

“I wish people would just concentrate on the movie,” Hudson said. And even though everyone wants a piece of her, she’s staying put in Chicago, her hometown.

While we were talking at the Soho Grand Hotel penthouse, lots of New York celebs stopped by to congratulate the newly minted star, including Chazz Palminteri, Martha Stewart and Candace Bushnell.

Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden came and brought her whole staff, including her twins’ nanny, who loved the movie.

Who was watching the kids? “My husband,” Marcia said. “They’re sleeping now,” added the nanny, with a laugh.

And everyone loved "Dreamgirls" despite today’s rather off-base review in The New York Times. One of the security guys working the party told me when I arrived, “There was cheering in the theater. I’ve never heard that before!”

Death of a Legend

As I told you a while ago and again the other day, Ahmet Ertegun had been in a coma on and off since falling at the Rolling Stones’ show on Oct. 29. Yesterday, he died in a New York hospital. He was 83.

There are going to be reams of stories about Ahmet today as his legacy becomes legend. He founded Atlantic Records with his brother Nesuhi and Herb Abramson in the early 1950s. Not too long after that Jerry Wexler joined him.

The rest was history, from Ruth Brown, who just died, to LaVern Baker, Ray Charles and ultimately to Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and a mind-blowing array of groups and acts.

Ahmet and Jerry (who’s alive and well in Sarasota, Fla.) created what we call soul music. They annexed Memphis’s Stax Records and had hits with Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Rufus and Carla Thomas and so on.

When Stax had had enough of their poaching, they moved further south to Muscle Shoals, Ala., and continued churning out hits with all of their artists.

Over the years, Ahmet worked with some heavy producers. Strangely, two of them — Arif Mardin and Phil Walden — also died this year.

It’s just terrible, very sad, because these guys and what they did can’t replaced. Their work isn’t really even being emulated. All of them, along with Wexler and very importantly producer Tom Dowd, also gone, were pioneers, mad geniuses, glorious inventors. It’s not an overstatement to say that fully half of the entire pop music catalog can be attributed to them (the other half divided among the Beatles and Motown).

How important was Ertegun? Every year, Clive Davis gives him the best table at his pre-Grammy dinner.

Davis’s deference to Ahmet — always calling him out from the stage and eliciting a standing ovation — speaks volumes. While other record execs have come and gone, none has had the impact or influence. His memorial service, which should be held during Grammy week in Los Angeles, will go on for hours with testimonials, reminisces and performances.

But Ertegun was not an angel. The Rhythm and Blues Foundation, for example, was started with a $1.5 million endowment after it was discovered that Ruth Brown, as well as most Atlantic R&B artists, hadn’t been paid royalties for years and years.

Atlantic also didn’t report proper royalties to AFTRA, resulting in low pension fees for its artists. A federal lawsuit was filed and is still being pursued.

A few years ago, Ertegun was thought to have been disloyal to Mardin, a fellow Turk and lifelong friend, letting him leave Atlantic unceremoniously. Mardin responded by producing Norah Jones’ best-selling, Grammy-winning debut album.

But the good stuff, the fun stuff, the loyal stuff is what I am thinking about now: Ertegun was always with two pretty young ladies at his side, for instance, at most parties and events until recently, when his elegant wife Mica began appearing with him.

At one Clive Davis party, one of these ladies was seated between Ertegun and myself. As she and I chatted, he suddenly thrust his cane across her lap and poked me.

“Are you making time with my date?” he asked, with a straight face. No matter that she was younger than I.

Back in February 2004, I had a memorable experience with Ahmet. He turned up for the funeral of Doris Troy, the pop singer who’d had a seminal hit for him in 1968 with “Just One Look.”

Troy’s family had asked him to come and speak at the Harlem service, and he agreed, not knowing he’d be last after a long series of eulogists and singers. He stayed and spoke at the end, giving Troy’s passing meaning for her family.

I sat with him while he waited patiently for almost three hours. He could have been at Le Cirque or someplace fancy. But he wanted to be there for Doris.

He told the mourners, “She had one of the greatest voices of all time ... she was one of the heroes of the Atlantic family, whose voice had a rich, high register that blended gospel, blues, and rock 'n' roll.” It was like a benediction.

This past summer, he arrived solo on West 27th St. at a listening party for another of his former artists, Sam Moore. It was for Sam’s album, “Overnight Sensational,” the first album Moore had made off of Atlantic. The two men hadn’t seen each other in many years. Again Ertegun remained, transfixed, and listened to each cut over a P.A. system. He wasn’t going to miss this chance to give his blessing.

He might have lived forever had it not been for that fall on Oct. 29. There had been a lot of health issues in recent years, and at least one lengthy hospitalization. But the fact that he was even backstage at all on that night was amazing.

Ertegun had brought the Rolling Stones to Atlantic in 1971 when their long deal with London Records ended. It was a smart decision. He had a hugely successful run with them, starting with "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main Street" and right through until "Tattoo You" a decade later.

It was his rock era after his soul era, and like everything else he touched, it was a masterful success. Maybe there’s some poetry in going out, as they say, with your boots on. But we would have liked to have him around a while longer.

Ahmet, rest in peace. To say you’ll be missed is just a terrible understatement.