NEW YORK (AP) — Hours before last week’s premiere of his new series, “Chicago P.D.,” Dick Wolf acknowledged he was nervous.
Actually, “terrified” was the word he used.
This from a TV impresario whose credits include the hydra-headed “Law Order” franchise and whose shows have been a prime-time mainstay every season for a quarter-century – a feat likely unmatched by any other producer.
Wolf’s “Law Order: Special Victims Unit” is in its 15th season, airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST on NBC.
“Cold Justice,” a reality series where a former prosecutor and a former crime-scene investigator bring fresh eyes to moribund cases, returns on TNT for its second season on Friday at 8 p.m. EST. (This debut episode revisits the 2001 disappearance of an Altus, Okla., woman whose ex-husband, long a suspect, was arrested only last month with help from the show, then led officials to the woman’s buried remains.)
“Chicago Fire,” an action drama about big-city firefighters, is midway through its second robust season on NBC, airing Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST.
And now on NBC at 10 p.m. EST on Wednesdays is “Chicago P.D.,” a “Fire” spinoff that could spark a new franchise for Wolf: a “Chicago”-branded portfolio.
Why not? The morning after it premiered, Wolf would learn that a solid 8.6 million viewers had tuned in.
Centered on the Chicago Police Department’s scrappy Intelligence Unit, the series pits Detective Sgt. Hank Voight and his team against the worst killers, drug traffickers and mobsters the Windy City can deliver.
A righteous cop who plays dirty when he needs to, Voight is in good hands with series star Jason Beghe in a portrayal that began on last season’s “Chicago Fire.”
Invoking Detective Sipowicz from “NYPD Blue,” Wolf hailed Beghe as “the most interesting cop since Dennis Franz.”
At 67, Wolf is a veteran producer whose resume reaches back to “Miami Vice” in the mid-1980s, and who, through much of the past two decades, kept the lights on at NBC when it had little else anybody would watch.
His metier is the full-scale broadcast network drama spanning a season of two dozen self-contained episodes, and with it he prospers, even now in an era when edgy cable fare in serialized gulps of a dozen or fewer hours commands much of TV’s buzz and critical acclaim.
Wolf drew an analogy between the indie-film model of these cable-TV series as compared with broadcast networks’ mainstream-movie paradigm in describing “Chicago P.D.” as “a big, old-time television top-drawer series production. Is it retro? Not to me. I just think it’s a really good cop show.”
But during an interview last Wednesday, there was more on Wolf’s mind than his new show. He was also marking the publication of his latest novel.
“The Execution” brings back NYPD Detective Jeremy Fisk, whom Wolf introduced in his first novel, “The Intercept.” Now Fisk’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is back on high alert as an elusive assassin heads to Manhattan for United Nations Week, when the world’s most powerful leaders will be gathered – and vulnerable.
“There are stories that are just too big for a series episode or even an arc,” said Wolf when asked what prompted his literary ventures.
But how did Wolf, with his TV empire to tend, find time to be an author?
“I’ve got small kids,” he replied with a laugh before sharing iPhone photos of his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. “I have a very pleasant existence in Montecito (Calif.). I’m on a school schedule now, home in the morning 90 percent of the time. So writing became a routine.”
What he called “my quiet hope” is that these thrillers and their hero might inspire an annual Jeremy Fisk miniseries.
But weekly, scripted drama remains Wolf’s true forte. He considers himself a businessman generating inventory with a lucrative afterlife as cable repeats.
“The stakes are so huge for the next decade!” he said, picturing the same happy prospect for his “Chicago” shows.
Meanwhile, he’s thinking internationally. He produces a “Law Order” edition for the United Kingdom, “Law Order: Criminal Intent” in France and Russian versions of “CI” and “SVU,” among other global iterations.
“I’d really like that to happen with `Fire’ and `P.D.,'” he said. “Every big city on the planet has a police department and a fire department. How about `Paris Fire’?”
And all the better if, back home, this domestic duo spawns a third “Chicago” series. How about “Chicago Justice”?
“From your lips to Mr. Nielsen’s ears,” Wolf replied. “But there’s no possibility of that happening unless `P.D.’ succeeds. So believe me when I say that our entire focus is getting this one to work.”
EDITOR’S NOTE – Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier .