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LOS ANGELES - "Law & Order" is settling back into its longtime Wednesday home next month, paired with sister series "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," NBC announced Monday.

A two-hour episode will kick off the 9 p.m. EST Jan. 2 midseason return of "Law & Order," which will move to 10 p.m. EST the following week when spin-off "Criminal Intent" joins the schedule in the 9 p.m. EST slot.

"I'm delighted to be back in the time slot where `Law & Order' was the only show to watch for 15 years," series creator and executive producer Dick Wolf said Monday.

Earlier, NBC had said "Law & Order" would return at midseason on Sunday night, following the network's NFL telecasts. Last season, it aired on Friday.

With a screenwriters strike now in its fifth week, and with networks running through their stock of completed dramas and comedies, "Law & Order" represents a bonanza of unaired hours for NBC.

So does "Criminal Intent," which started showing earlier this season on USA Network, an NBC Universal cable channel, before beginning its broadcasting run.

Wolf declined to comment on how many scripts were completed before the walkout. But if the strike is not protracted, he said, he's optimistic the series will fulfill their 22-episode orders.

"Law & Order" is introducing new cast members in its 18th year. Jeremy Sisto ("Six Feet Under") is aboard as a detective, while Linus Roache plays an assistant district attorney who replaces Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) when McCoy steps up to New York district attorney.

McCoy is taking over from the D.A. played by Fred Thompson. The former U.S. senator asked to be released from the drama to pursue his bid for the Republican nomination for president.

The D.A.'s role, which usually called for brief appearances by Thompson, will be expanded with Waterston, Wolf said.

The English-born Roache starred last season in NBC's short-lived "Kidnapped" and appeared in the films "Batman Begins" and "The Chronicles of Riddick."

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