What If 'American Idol,' '24' Matched The 20-Season Record Of 'Law & Order'?

By Eric Ditzian

"Law & Order" debuted on NBC when I was still in elementary school. Almost two decades later, the show's detectives and district attorneys are still telling their stories about gunfights, grisly stranglings and murderous spouses. Now the Hollywood Reporter brings word that "L&O" has been renewed for a 20th season, tying "Gunsmoke" for the record of longest-running drama in television history.

"L&O" has survived this long because its crime-procedural format assures there's always a salacious news story that can be be ripped from the headlines and adapted into an hour-long episode. Other programs don't get to restart their plotlines each week, which means the longer they run, the more creative — and absurd — the shows often become. So what might other TV shows look like if they managed to survive until their 20th season? Let's gaze into the boob-tube future to find out.

"American Idol": When Simon Cowell finally left the show in season 16 to marry longtime flame Paula Abdul, no one thought the show would survive. But the producers regrouped, hired Tyra Banks and Carrot Top, and the show's been chugging along ever since. Ratings might be down, but I think everyone can agree that doing three months worth of cringe-inducing auditions and then cutting right to an epic final-two showdown was a brilliant programming move. By the way, y'all remember when that nutty Kara lady was a judge that one season? Me neither.

"Lost": It's a good thing ABC convinced producers to scrap their plan to end the show in 2010. In last year's 19th season finale, we found out the Island is actually trapped in a black hole, which is encased in a snow globe, which is stuck in a box of Cheez-Its, which is sitting on a bookshelf in Bin Laden's cave. That hasn't stopped Sawyer from sprouting wings and time-traveling through history to make millions betting on sporting events. Spoiler alert: Expect to see Kate leave longtime beau Hurley and take up residence with the Smoke Monster. They'll be expecting twins by season 36.

"24": Do you think having no legs stops Jack Bauer from saving American lives? Do you think a mild case of flesh-eating bacteria prevents Jack Bauer from raining hellfire on terror-loving terrorists? Calamity-prone Kim Bauer will be pushing her dad around Los Angeles in a wheelchair as Jack once again attempts to save the city from nuclear disaster. Perhaps with Kim by daddy's side, she won't keep getting herself into mission-jeopardizing circumstances. Or, perhaps not.

"How I Met Your Mother": The new season certainly got off to an awkward start, as future Ted's wife died before he could get around to telling his kids the story of how he actually met their mother. And in last night's episode, the kids were all grief-stricken and like, "Dad dude, just tell us the %@#%ing story already!!" Where does "HIMYM" go from here? Trust that if the writers found their way out of a bizarre season 18 plotline involving Barney and President Sasha Obama, they'll find their way out of this one.

"The Real Housewives of New York City": If you were worried that the cast's move into an Upper East Side retirement home would put a damper on this catty bitchfest, you'll be happy to know these septuagenarians are just as petty, vindictive and embarrassing as they were in their prime. Who wasn't invited to the weekend bingo tourney? Who badmouthed whom in the local newsletter? Who got caught playing hanky-panky in the infirmary? Stay tuned! They may be old and wrinkly, but they're still primed to act like infants.