*For over two decades, many have dedicated hours of their lives getting lost in Dick Wolf’s captivating programming. With his ripped from the headlines style of storytelling – that is reimagined by actors who bring new inspiration to a character’s overall qualities – it’s no wonder Wolf is a renowned Emmy Award-winning executive producer, whose work resonates with viewers worldwide. His magic touch continues to translate with the success of NBC’s hit crossover shows, “Chicago Fire” and Chicago P.D..
EUR chatted with Wolf about his creative process during NBC’s Chicago Press Day, and he explained why he chose the Windy City to host usually New York based narrative. Like his “Law & Order” brand, Wolf’s Chicago shows will often explore controversial topics ripped straight from the headlines, including his newest series, “Chicago Med.”
Do you have a team specifically dedicated to scouring news feeds for storyline inspiration?
Dick Wolf: No. Everybody obsessively reads papers, watches the news and we’ve been doing the same thing for 25 years now. We take the headlines and not the copy. The thing on “Law & Order” was that, the first suspect never did it. So you have to change everything in the story but the headline is in tact.
Writers know that locations are just as important as characters, so why did you select Chicago as the backdrop for these shows?
Dick Wolf: Anything that is considered true blue All-American, it’s believable in Chicago more than on the coast. This is literally the heart of the country and all those Midwestern values are understandable to the country. I’ve described it as cleaner, politer New York with slightly heavier people.
The king of crossovers explained how it’s a style he and executive producer Tom Fontana invented with the first true crossover occurring between “Law & Order” and “Homicide.”
“We did it two years in a row, and they were the two highest rated episodes of both shows, both years.” he said.
“First Responders do the jobs that you can’t pay people to do,” Wolf explained about his Chicago crossovers. “You can not pay people to run into burning buildings. It’s either, that’s what they want to do, or they don’t take the job. What drives people to put everybody else ahead of themselves is interesting drama.”
Wolf and his team are serving up Chicago style drama from the world of First Responders, so we asked his EP, Matt Olmstead, if a Chicago political drama is in the works.
Matt: That’s an interesting idea. We have a storyline on “Fire” where there’s a fire call, and they’re looking to help out people displaced by this fire. Casey realizes the money went somewhere else, and he goes to see the Alderman and isn’t having it. We’re kicking the tires on, does Casey get into being an Alderman? It’s certainly a storyline that we’re exploring and he’s just the right guy for it. So, yes, potentially.
Thank you for taking Oliver Benson to Chicago, cause (this writer) is a die-hard fan of “SVU,” and we followed her and became fans of the Chicago shows.
Dick Wolf: (laughs) I’m no fool. The interesting thing is, 35%-40% of the audience watches both shows, but when we do the crossovers, usually it goes up a little bit. Somebody said, ‘Really, Chicago Med?,’ and I said, ‘Well, where do you think the paramedics take all those people?’
As a producer, what’s your take on the changing way people experience television – with Live-Plus-Three and Live-Plus-Seven?
Dick Wolf: The most important number now is the L7 number because that shows how many people are really watching the shows. We go up more than 50% every week. It’s a very factionalized audience and it’s getting worse not better.
How does this affect TV producers?
Dick Wolf: Economically, it’s not the same game that it was 5-10 years ago. Nobody knows what anything is worth anymore. Personally, I’m convinced whoever dies with the most good content, wins, and I think we’re gonna have the most content out there in four or five years.
S. Epatha Merkerson plays the Head of the Hospital on ” Chicago Med,” but is perhaps best known for her role as NYPD Lieutenant Anita Van Buren from 1993 to 2010 on Wolf’s long-running police procedural drama, “Law & Order.” She appeared in 391 episodes, more than any other cast member.
We asked the award-winning actress what has been the greatest piece of advice given to her by Mr. Wolf.
“To keep my mouth shut,” she laughs. “I think that’s probably it. He’d appreciate it if he heard that.”