Casting is an area of television production that is of great importance to uber-producer Dick Wolf, and he makes sure that he has the last word on that, he tells Variety at the Monte Carlo TV Festival, which is paying tribute to the career of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” star Mariska Hargitay, and also hosting “Chicago P.D.’s” Jon Seda, “Chicago Med’s” S. Epatha Merkerson, and “Law & Order: SVU’s” Philip Winchester.
“Casting is the most subjective area of TV production — one man’s meat is another man’s poison — and frankly, if I’m going to go all in on a new member of an ensemble, or when you are starting a show, if it is not the right choice I want it to be my wrong choice [than for me to say] to a third party, a showrunner or a network, ‘OK, so you choose,’” Wolf says.
He adds: “It’s the one thing that I’ve managed to maintain my independence on for 35 years. You have got to trust somebody’s gut and I’d prefer to trust mine than other people’s.”
Another skill that Wolf values very highly, of course, is writing, but he doesn’t feel the industry values it enough when it comes to judging procedurals. He says the thing “that has made me craziest over the years” is that “Law & Order” still has the record for 11 best drama Emmy nominations in a row, but the show’s writers only picked up one nomination in that time. “How do you think [the show] got that good?” he asks. “It’s the writing, stupid,” he adds, referring to a message on a card he once delivered to all the network chiefs.
Wolf is comfortable with his relationship with NBCUniversal, but he’ll be open to all options, including going it alone without a studio deal, when his present pact with the studio ends in 2020. “It’s always a free-floating decision,” he says.
Wolf has strong relationships all over Hollywood, of course, a fact emphasized when CBS gave Wolf’s drama “FBI” a 13-episode order back in September. “I’ve known [CBS CEO] Leslie Moonves for 35 years or so, and it is very comfortable,” he says.
He concedes that Amazon Studios, where former NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke has made her home, is one potential partner for his new shows, but, he adds: “I would be much happier if somebody came along and bought the entire library of all the ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Chicago’ shows, and there are several companies that can do that, and I hope one of them does.”
He underscores the importance of creative independence to him when he decides where to place his shingle, but he says NBCU has always respected that. “They’ve never interfered on any story we’ve wanted to do, on any show. There is no censorship. There is no feeling that ‘oh, you are not listening to us,” he says.
Whatever he decides to do in 2020 there is one option that is off the table: retirement. When asked if he wouldn’t want to spend the rest of his life relaxing and enjoying his money, he retorts: “Yeah, that sounds pretty boring.” He says that he had “a moment of insight” at a school reunion when he noticed a “five to seven year visual difference between the retirees and the people who were still working.” So, work keeps him young? “Oh, I hope so,” he says, with a laugh.