Überproducer Dick Wolf turned Law & Order into a franchise that ultimately spawned four spin-offs and several international adaptations. Now he's hoping to do it again, this time in the Windy City. His sophomore NBC drama Chicago Fire will get a companion cop series when Chicago PD premieres Jan. 8. Wolf shares his Chicago game plan.
TV Guide Magazine: Compare launching the Chicago franchise to the Law & Order shows.
Dick Wolf: The real kicker in the plan is that they're not all cop shows. One fire show, one cop show. They augment each other as opposed to making it very difficult to cross over. Which is how it was with the Law & Order mother ship and SVU. Those shows were not structured for crossovers. [The Chicago shows] are structured to exist literally a block and a half away from each other.
TV Guide Magazine: Why Chicago?
Wolf: It's the heart of the country. The values that you can put in people's mouths in Chicago, if you put them in New York or L.A., people would go, "Come on!" The city wears its heart on its sleeve. That's the strength of these shows. When we made the Chicago Fire pilot, I remember thinking, "It's just like a World War II platoon movie." They can all fight internally but if anyone comes in from the outside and causes trouble, everyone's got each other's back. That's the same in CPD. And it's set up structurally a little bit differently than any cop show that we've done, because it really is about this unit, the same way Fire is about the house.
TV Guide Magazine: Is CPD a hybrid procedural and serialized drama like Chicago Fire?
Wolf: Yeah, it's got a good strong procedural spine every week. They're solving cases, but it is more of a group activity. It was a perfect meld of wanting to do a cop show a little differently and having a model right next door that enables us to do serialized storytelling that's slightly darker.
TV Guide Magazine: Isn't it unusual to spin off a show so early in its run?
Wolf: Look, I don't walk under ladders. I don't try to invoke the wrath of the gods. It's an incredible situation to be in. First of all, CPD is debuting in the timeslot [Wednesdays, 10/9c] where Chicago Fire started and that's where SVU did very well for a few years. That's where Law & Order was for 16 years. I'm rather fond of the timeslot.
TV Guide Magazine: Where did the idea first come from to spin off Fire?
Wolf: Me. I pitched it, and [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob [Greenblatt] reacted very positively. It is obviously a very planned evolution, which I desperately hope works. The shows, the scripts are as good as Chicago Fire. The cast is, I think, as good as Chicago Fire. The people in it are really quite extraordinary. Jason Beghe is a known quantity from last season. Jesse Lee Soffer hasn't made a bad entrance on Fire. Sophia Bush is absolutely delightful and incredible as a cop. It's an A+ cast. You never know what's going to happen. I'm optimistic and hopeful.
TV Guide Magazine: Can you keep expanding the franchise? Perhaps a Chicago Med or a Chicago Public? Do you see this becoming a three- or four-pronged franchise?
Wolf: Who knows what the future holds. I would love nothing more. But let's see how CPD does.
TV Guide Magazine: Law & Order was about closed-ended storytelling. Talk about your embrace of serialized storytelling on Fire.
Wolf: I think if I have any ability, it's to smell the coffee. Things have changed. The business is not going to be the same, and I think that these shows can have a strong off-network life, especially if after five years there are 200 episodes of them.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you make of Netflix and how viewers now consume TV?
Wolf: Whether it's Netflix or YouTube or whatever the new kid on the block will be, this is the way I think programming is going to be consumed. In big blocks. I do think the traditional shows have been around a long time. So there's going to be a need for new inventory. There aren't many dramas that are building the kind of inventory that you need to get a critical mass that sets the shows apart for somebody like a Netflix or YouTube, or even a traditional cable buyer.
TV Guide Magazine: The success of first-run cable shows also seems to have given broadcast TV a little more wiggle room to push the boundaries of content. You have a lesbian kiss in Fire and no one bats an eye anymore.
Wolf: The first episode of SVU this year was by far the strongest episode of that show in 15 years, in terms of the graphic nature of what was being put on. And nobody blinked. The culture has changed. Lucy and Ricky slept in twin beds with a night table between them. The first lesbian kiss was a long time ago now. But the business is changing.
TV Guide Magazine: You must be pleased that content restrictions are more relaxed now.
Wolf: Oh yeah. But I've never felt constrained or constricted by what we've been able to do. In 25 years on Law & Order, nobody ever said, "No, you can't do that story," ever. You can't say "f---," and that's about it.
TV Guide Magazine: Any chance for a Law & Order revival?
Wolf: Never say never. I think the show is as valid today as it ever was. And there's nothing like it on. That format is still bulletproof. I'd love to, but no one's calling to say, "We want to order more." But you never know.