Dick Wolf has set a mammoth new pact with NBCUniversal that will keep him in the Peacock family through 2020 and includes renewals of “Law & Order: SVU” for season 18 and a sophomore season nod for “Chicago Med.”
The deal was finalized some nine months after the expiration of his previous overall agreement with NBCU. The sides worked on a series of month-to-month short-term extensions while Wolf’s lawyer hammered out myriad details, stemming from the success that Wolf Entertainment has had during the past four seasons with the Chicago-set procedurals. The run started in 2012 with “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.” in 2014. “Chicago Med” joined this year and a fourth, “Chicago Law,” is in the pipeline as a planted spinoff to air as an episode of “P.D.” later this season.
As a result, Wolf now boasts “the best deal and the best (profit) definition in all of television,” one knowledgable source said.
The fact that the deal took so long to work out reflects the complexity of TV programming options these days. The uber-producer’s reps, principally attorney Cliff Gilbert-Lurie of Ziffren Brittenham and WME TV topper Rick Rosen, forged templates and agreements for how the “Chicago” shows would be handled in their off-NBC lifecycle. That meant working out agreements covering SVOD platforms that weren’t even a factor at the time his last deal was completed five years ago.
Another sign of the times was that Wolf met with prospective partners from the private equity and investment arena about the possibility of bringing on private financing and going it alone without a studio deal for the first time in more than 20 years. He also fielded overtures from rival studios, but in the end decided that given all the business he has once again at NBC and the strength of his working relationship with NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt and NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, it made sense to renew.
“There were some very interesting discussions with a variety of people including some who were talking about investing in the company,” Wolf told Variety. “But in the abstract I enjoy not having partners. … Nobody knows what shape the business is going to be in five years from now. Those intervening years are fraught with uncertainty. For better or worse, not only is NBC a certainty but everybody is getting along. Bob and I have an incredibly strong partnership. And it’s working.”
Given the amount of real estate that Wolf’s shows are holding down on NBC’s schedule and the reliability of the procedural franchises, the producer has never been more valuable to the network. On top of the “Chicago” and “SVU” series he’s working, on an unscripted series “Law & Order: You the Jury,” in which audience members would decide the results of a live court case.
“Dick Wolf is without a doubt one of the greatest producers in the history of dramatic television,” said Greenblatt. “The ‘Law & Order’ legacy would have been enough to set him apart from all the rest, but the Chicago franchise now kicks him into the stratosphere. He has been a defining voice of NBC for over a generation, and he is most welcome at this company forever.”
Added Salke: “His brand is pure quality, and our continuing partnership is not only great for us but even better for broadcast television.”
Wolf’s “Chicago” shows are treading new ground for TV series with the high degree of connectivity among characters and storylines. Wolf sees the world of the “Chicago” shows as one big saga of cops, docs and firefighters — likely joined by lawyers soon — that plays over three hours each week.
“I have a very firm belief the ‘Chicago’ shows are really the first and last of this type of major integrated programming we’ll see,” Wolf said. “We hopefully in the future will come up with something else that spawns multiple shows, but I don’t think you’re going to have all four points on the compass covered with shows that interact this seamlessly with each other.”
Moreover, Wolf notes that at a time when TV viewing is becoming ever-more diffuse, the combined viewership of “Chicago” and “SVU” series combined is approaching some 50 million viewers a week when the L7 ratings are factored in.
“You can’t do that anywhere else but broadcast TV,” he said.