Few creators or executive producers have contributed and supported the procedural drama as much as Dick Wolf. He grew up in the television business; his father and mother both worked in the industry. Wolf started his career as a writer. In the late ’80s, he conceived of Law & Order, which premiered in 1990. The show’s first half illustrated the investigation of a crime, what Wolf described as a murder mystery. The second half depicted the work of the prosecution attempting to convict alleged criminals.
The “ripped from the headlines” series became an enormous hit, lasting 20 years and yielding several spin-offs. The most successful, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, debuted in 1999 and is still on the air today. The Law & Order franchise grew again last season, with Organized Crime featuring the much-anticipated return of SVU’s Detective Elliot Stabler.
Through his company, Wolf Entertainment, Wolf has also created three series set in the Windy City, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med, all airing on Wednesday nights on NBC. Over on CBS, Wolf has secured real estate with the FBI franchise: FBI, FBI: Most Wanted and FBI: International.
TV DRAMA: As a storyteller, through the decades, what has continued to appeal to you about procedurals and self-contained episodes?
WOLF: Procedurals and self-contained episodes have a start and a finish. They are complete stories. Viewers can come and go as they please and not miss serialized stories. And these episodes play very well globally.
TV DRAMA: What was the strategy and creative process in crafting Law & Order: Organized Crime, besides, of course, the return of Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler?
WOLF: I saw Organized Crime first as a vehicle for Detective Stabler, with story arcs that reflect the most dangerous and scintillating crimes of this genre. The first season showed the inner workings of a modern-day Mafia kingpin (Dylan McDermott as Richard Wheatley).
TV DRAMA: When you created Chicago Fire, did you already have in mind Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med? How did you develop the Chicago franchise? What is unique about it?
WOLF: When we were shooting the Chicago Fire pilot in 2012, I was standing on a bridge over the Chicago River with my COO Peter Jankowski. We were looking at the beautiful city, and I said to Peter, I can see spin-offs, police, medical, the sky is the limit. We have basically created Dickensian London with the Chicago shows. The characters are interchangeable, and you’ll never know when or where one will turn up. That was my plan all along.
TV DRAMA: How did you develop the FBI franchise?
WOLF: Growing up, my uncle was an FBI agent, so I have always had a fascination with the Bureau. So it was always something I wanted to do, and with CBS’s blessing, we have a very successful brand.
TV DRAMA: What is the enduring appeal to worldwide audiences of crime and medical dramas and, in particular, of Dick Wolf crime and medical dramas?
WOLF: Viewers have always been fascinated by real-life crime and medical stories. We dramatize them but try to keep them as realistic as possible. I cannot say enough about the writers on all my shows, how important it is for good storytelling. And the writers do just that. It starts on the page.