The creator of the 'Law & Order,' 'Chicago' and 'FBI' franchises opens up to ET about making must-see TV.
Dick Wolf, the prolific TV producer, is no stranger to success. In fact, he has over 30 years of experience at it. And with the recent return of fall’s biggest TV shows, three nights a week are now dedicated to his Wolf Entertainment creations, with the FBI franchise airing Tuesdays on CBS, the Chicago series on Wednesdays and the recently expanded Law & Order franchise taking over Thursdays on NBC.
“It’s a very rare thing,” Wolf tells ET’s Rachel Smith, explaining that “these three show stacks are basically a subsidiary of normal programming. It's not what’s ever existed before. There weren't shows this closely [related] before that you could do it with.”
While he says that having these shows run back-to-back each night simulate a binge-watching experience on network TV, what keeps viewers coming back is the writing. “It’s always the writing,” Wolf says. “There are a lot of really great actors out there but they don't make up the words, and the words are what people are initially attracted to. And it’s what keeps them around for long, long periods of time.”
In the case of the Law & Order franchise, it started with the titular crime procedural about New York City cops, which premiered in 1990 before running 20 seasons and producing several spinoffs, including Special Victims Unit and Organized Crime. “Law & Order was a six-person ensemble and over the 20 years there were 29 actors on the show. So, I’ve always seen change as an opportunity,” Wolf says of the franchise's ever-evolving cast.
Of course, every series needs a moral center, and in the case of Law & Order it was Sam Waterston, who played District Attorney Jack McCoy for most of its run. And with Special Victims Unit, which is approaching its 500th episode and is currently amid its historic 23rd season, that is Mariska Hargitay, who has portrayed Captain Olivia Benson since day one.
When it comes to the newest spinoff, Organized Crime, that morality is a little grayer. But that’s because Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) has always toed the line when he was first on SVU as Benson’s longtime partner.
While he made a welcome return to the Law & Order universe, it has also sparked an intense urge among fans to see Stabler and Benson engage in a romantic relationship, especially now that the two have reunited after a decade apart. Since the premiere of Organized Crime, Stabler has professed his love to Benson and even given her a letter confessing a history of complicated feelings for his former partner, giving fans hope.
But Wolf doesn’t see it happening anytime soon. “I don’t anticipate them running off and living together as much as the audience would like that,” he says. “Anticipation is the most exciting part of most relationships... the chase is always better.”
“The shows are good and having them onscreen together I think is enough. I don’t think you have to push it to the next level,” he says, content with their new dynamic now. “At least not this year. I mean, as I said, you never know what the future holds.”
As for the FBI franchise, September saw the launch of its second spinoff and third series overall, FBI: International. Starring Luke Kleintank as Scott Forrester, FBI Supervisory Special Agent and head of the International Fly Team, and Heida Reed as Jamie Kellett, his second in command, the series follows elite operatives working out of Budapest as they try to neutralize threats against America.
The major difference between International and FBI and FBI: Most Wanted, Wolf says, is that it is not shot in America, giving the series an authentic feel while also being one of the first U.S. productions shot in Europe since the 1960s. “There was a lot of exploration of where would be the most compatible,” he says of choosing a location. But they settled on the Hungarian capital because “there are a lot of older buildings and modern buildings.”
"Each show has a unique perspective that makes it stand out from the rest,” Wolf says. “They are vastly different in storytelling, techniques, and location. And I think it's an incredibly good mix.”
At the end of the day, the longtime TV producer sees FBI: International just like Law & Order: Organized Crime: “An opportunity to tell stories,” Wolf says. “This is still the biggest canvas in the history of the world... and that’s very satisfying.”