If broadcast network TV is supposed to be dead, no one told Dick Wolf. The procedural maven’s eight shows across NBC and CBS are proving to be a viewership powerhouse for the two networks as the new TV season gets underway, cementing Wolf’s expanding dominance in primetime.
It’s also perhaps why NBC felt the time was finally right to revive the “Law & Order” mothership, a show that Wolf has been eager to bring back from the moment it ended its initial run in 2010. As NBC announced last week, the return of the Emmy-winning drama — which initially aired for 20 seasons and 456 episodes — has been officially ordered, with showrunner Rick Eid at the helm.
“I never give up on things I believe in,” Wolf told Variety, echoing a similar statement he made last week. “It took a long time, but the journey was worth it.”
Wolf is mostly mum on details about the “L&O” rebirth, but did say not to expect any major changes to the show or its formula (although much of the casting will obviously have to be new). “This will be Season 21, so it’s the same ‘Law & Order’ everyone knows from the first 20 years,” he said. “So there’s really nothing to fix, we just want to continue telling great stories. Casting as always will be three cops and three D.A.s.”
Wolf is wise to follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra, as the expansion of his three major TV franchises has proven there’s an insatiable appetite for his team’s brand of narrative.
“We always approach storytelling the same way: Good writing, acting and production values, and give the viewers what they want,” he said. “That’s been our mantra from day one.”
Wolf now owns Tuesdays on CBS, where “FBI” (averaging 10 million viewers), “FBI: Most Wanted” (9.2 million) and newcomer “FBI: International” (8.5 million) help the Eye win the night in total viewers when time-shifted audiences are included.
On Wednesdays, NBC’s decision to stack all three “Chicago” shows as “One Chicago” continues to pay off for the Peacock, as all three shows opened the season on Sept. 22 to viewership over the 10 million mark. With time-shifted and digital viewership included, “Chicago Med” averaged 10.8 million, followed by “Chicago Fire” with 11.7 million and “Chicago P.D.” with 11.6 million.
Then, on Thursdays, there are “Law & Order” offerings: the Season 23 premiere of “Law & Order: SVU” drew 9.2 million viewers, including 7.8 million in linear and 1.4 million in digital. Companion series “Law & Order: Organized Crime” opened with 7.5 million viewers (6.4 million linear, 1.1 million digital).
All told, the eight Wolf shows combined to reach an unduplicated audience of 36.2 million viewers in week one of the fall 2021 TV season. According to NBCUniversal research, around 14% of all adults in the United States watched at least one of Wolf’s shows — of the “Law & Order,” “Chicago” or “FBI” variety — within the first three days of air.
And looking across broadcast in Live+3, Wolf had six out of the top 10 series for premiere week. Wolf especially enjoys touting the gross impressions across his eight series — which, with Live+7 data now in, comes out to 74.7 million viewers.
“What stands out is the predictable nature of getting viewers what they want,” Wolf said. “The last three seasons of the Wednesday ‘Chicago’ stack and now the Tuesday ‘FBIs’ and Thursday ‘Law & Orders’ prove that traditional television viewers will binge on the comfort food of our brands. The only number that matters now is total audience, and with L+3 and L+7 metrics, our shows pulled in over 74 million viewers last week.”
But even as he continues to embrace broadcast, Wolf noted that he has entered the streaming game as well, including the half-hour drama “On Call” at Amazon’s IMDb TV. He said he has other streaming series in development right now, and notes that digital platforms have been very good to his existing series.
“Our NBC series stream on Peacock and ‘FBI’ streams on Paramount Plus, so there are more options for viewing,” he said. “Our library has always flourished in syndication, international markets, cable and now streaming. Content is king to a degree never seen before.”
Last year, Wolf struck a deal with NBCU for the streaming rights to his catalog, which included the “L&O” and “Chicago” libraries. That was followed by a huge five-year deal extension with Universal TV, where he’s been based for nearly four decades, in a pact said to be worth nine figures.
“L&O” was a pioneer in franchising multiple series under the same umbrella title. As for other “Law & Order” editions, NBC had ordered “Law & Order: For the Defense” to air this season, but it was scrapped over the summer, and another edition, “Law & Order: Hate Crimes,” was initially announced in 2018 but put on hold. Other previous “L&O” series include 2017’s “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” which was originally slated to be an ongoing series focusing on different high-profile cases, but is also on hold for now.
“We are always open to exploring true crime options both in the scripted and non-scripted genres, using ‘Cold Justice’ [Wolf’s unscripted series for Oxygen] as an example. It is performing extraordinarily well. We don’t have another ‘True Crime’ in development right now, but we are still interested in that genre.”