×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Upfronts 2016: Dick Wolf Cements His Integrated ‘Chicago’ Empire with ‘Justice’ Pickup

Dick Wolf has set the fourth leg of his “Chicago” table with NBC’s order for “Chicago Justice,” the third spinoff of the procedural franchise that bowed in 2012 with “Chicago Fire.”

The “Justice” pickup means that the Wolf Entertainment banner will produce some 110 hours of scripted drama for NBC in the coming season, with 22 episodes apiece for the “Chicago” quartet plus the workhorse “Law & Order: SVU.”

In addition, NBC has a backdoor pilot for an unscripted series, “Law & Order: You the Jury,” planned to air as a special. And there’s another extension of the “Law & Order” brand in the works as a miniseries, “Law & Order: True Crime,” which will revisit the sordid story of the murderous Menendez brothers. Outside of the NBCU family, he’s also producing the unscripted series “Nightwatch” for A&E Network.

Having five scripted drama series on NBC is a personal best for Wolf. In the 2005-06 season he had four shows on the Peacock: the mothership “Law & Order,” plus “SVU,” “Criminal Intent” and the one-season-and-out “Law & Order: Trial By Jury.”

Jerry Bruckheimer still holds the producer’s record for most scripted series in a single season. His prolific shop fielded 10 dramas in the 2005-06 season, anchored by the “CSI” franchise (which is now out of active production for the first time since 2000 with CBS’ cancellation this week of “CSI: Cyber”).

But the primetime landscape has changed enormously in the past decade. Wolf’s achievement with the “Chicago” shows is notable because of the shrinking supply of sturdy procedurals that are a vital part of the vertebrae of any network schedule — shows that can run the marathon of 22 (or more) episodes a season and repeat well (at least decently) when need be.

“Chicago Fire” ranks as NBC’s second most-watched scripted series this season, behind “Blindspot,” with an average of 11.6 million viewers and 2.9 rating in the adults 18-49 demo in Nielsen’s live-plus-7 ratings. This season’s new addition, “Chicago Med,” has averaged 10.7 million viewers and 2.6 in the demo, followed by “Chicago P.D.” with 10.5 million viewers and 2.7 in L7 ratings.

By any measure, those are impressive numbers in a world of 400-plus scripted series, and the “Chicago” shows have been a crucial part of NBC’s rebound to No. 1 in adults 18-49 during the past three seasons. Wolf, who was down to one primetime drama in 2011 after “Criminal Intent” was cancelled, is once again a force to be reckoned with at NBC.

“I have ludicrously high hopes that (the ‘Chicago’ shows) will be on for a long time because they have settled in,” Wolf said in January.

From the start, the “Chicago” shows were conceived in an unusually expansive way, designed to function as modular elements of a single world. There’s much more emphasis on integrating characters and themes than was ever woven in to the “Law & Order” world.

Most of the “Chicago” episodes end with some of their hard-working firefighters, cops, doctors and nurses (and soon lawyers and such) mingling at the city’s famed Molly’s watering hole. That’s not by accident. Wolf envisions a time when the shows run as one large block in syndication (NBCUniversal’s USA Network seems a logical home for “Chicago” reruns but there’s no such deal at present). He has also talked about wanting to submit the shows en masse for industry awards such as the SAG Awards.

“Nobody else is making television like this,” Wolf said in January.

Wolf acknowledges that the material mined on the “Chicago” shows is generally less heady than the “Law & Order” franchise at its best. The formula that caught fire for “Fire” is pretty simple: “Hot guys who take their shirts off a lot,” he quipped. But in this day and age, 30 million-plus viewers a week (more than half of whom watch the shows on a time-shifted basis) can’t be wrong.

” ‘Fire’ is really a blue-collar soap opera,” he said. “And god knows soap operas have been running for 50 years.”

More TV

  • Super Bowl LII - Tom Brady,

    Verizon Plans Multiple Ad Plays Leading to Super Bowl Commercial

    If Verizon gets its way, its Super Bowl advertising plans will include a 60-second commercial during the game – and a half-hour documentary that gives viewers even more of what will be discussed in the ad. The telecommunications giant is often scrutinized for the communications resources it provides its customers, but its Super Bowl campaign [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized by the [...]

  • Naomi Watts

    Naomi Watts to Star in Jason Blum-Produced Quibi Series 'Wolves and Villagers' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Naomi Watts has been cast in the lead role in the upcoming Quibi series “Wolves and Villagers,” Variety has learned exclusively. The exact plot of the short-form series is being kept under wraps, but Quibi co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg has previously described the show as “Fatal Attraction 2.0.” Jason Blum is executive producing the series, with [...]

  • HBO's 'Breslin And Hamill' Documentary Drops

    HBO's 'Breslin And Hamill' Documentary Drops Trailer

    “Revolutionary,” “superstars,” “the voice of true New Yorkers” — that’s how Spike Lee and other influential figures describe journalists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill in the trailer released for HBO’s “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists” documentary. The film, which premieres Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, follows the two newspaper columnists whose dedication and wit [...]

  • Riverdale Chapter Twenty-Six

    TV News Roundup: 'Riverdale' Sets 'Heathers' Musical Episode

    In Thursday’s roundup, “Riverdale” is set to tackle “Heathers: The Musical,” and Freeform has announced its second annual summit. DATES  The musical episode of the CW’s “Riverdale,” featuring nine songs, will air Wednesday, March 20 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. On the show, Riverdale High School takes on “Heathers: The Musical,” with queen bees Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content