NEW YORK (AP) – NBC’s top entertainment executive said Monday that he doesn’t expect actor and potential Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson back on “Law & Order” next season.

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly claimed no insider knowledge of Thompson’s political plans, but his statement indicated the seriousness of Thompson’s presidential musings. The former Tennessee senator has been making speaking appearances and blogging on issues in recent weeks as he considers a candidacy.

“It’s pretty clear that Fred is going to be leaving the cast of the show no matter what,” Reilly said at a news conference on NBC’s fall schedule.

He later left the door slightly ajar by saying it was “highly unlikely” Thompson would be back. Thompson certainly wouldn’t return to prime-time network television if he chooses to run, he said.

Thompson plays the district attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s ripped-from-the-headlines New York-set criminal-justice show. NBC has picked up the series for its 18th season, but new episodes won’t appear until next January after NBC’s Sunday-night football series ends.

A Thompson spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment on Monday.

Even if Thompson were to decide against a candidacy and wanted to stay on “Law & Order,” the timing may be tough. Many television series, including “Law & Order,” will be going into production earlier than usual in coming months to stockpile episodes in the event of a strike by writers later this fall, Reilly said.

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