Dick Wolf finds filming here ‘unbelievably positive’

Dick Wolf (center), Mayor Emanuel and “Chicago Fire” costar Taylor Kinney

Back in the day, before “Law & Order” and multiple other Dick Wolf police dramas became household names, Wolf was in advertising.  He was a copywriter on National Airlines, an account his agency was about to lose.  His boss ordered him to “go try to sell them something new.” 

Wolf flew to Florida to meet with National’s owner, Bud Maytag, wearing swim trunks and a Hawaiian shirt, and a roomful of men in gray flannel suits, and pitched the tagline, “Fly Me.”

The suits were shocked, although the stewardesses wore miniskirts and were forbidden to bend over. “But Maytag bought it,” Wolf told an audience of 300 at Sunday’s Film Summit. 

“Shouldn’t it be, ‘Fly with Me?’” Maytag asked Wolf.  “No, just the two words will work fine,” Wolf assured the client.

Wearing a cordial smile, orange socks, fine leather shoes and drinking a can of Perrier on stage, Wolf was pleasantly candid.  He talked his two NBC shows, “Chicago Fire” and spinoff “Chicago PD,” which will debut on NBC Jan. 8 at 9 p.m. Wednesdays – “my lucky time slot,” he said.

“‘Chicago PD’ is darker than ‘Chicago Fire’ and more challenging and the characters will transfer back and forth between the shows, like a repertoire company in the same town.”

Shooting “Chicago PD” exteriors at the Maxwell Street police station, he said, “is a direct homage to ‘Hill Street Blues,’ the ‘80s Chicago set-and-shot police procedural on which Wolf wrote and produced “that was truly groundbreaking television,”  

Filming in Chicago has been “unbelievably positive, with great cooperation from the mayor all the way down,” he said.  “We don’t have a problem shooting here because all the below-the-line people are first class.”

As a bonus, the show employs actual city firemen as extras, “and they make the show technically sound,” he added.

Great writing the key to a show’s success

The key to great television drama is “great writing,” he said.  Towards that end, Wolf has worked with the same cadre of gray-haired writers for 25 years, who are valued for their experience. “Twenty three year-olds don’t have much mileage on the odometer. They should write comedies at 23.”

Asked why he doesn’t use local writers on his Chicago shows, he explained: “There is a creative reason not to have writing staffs in the city of production. There’s a natural, creative push and pull when they’re not in the same place.”

He added that writers who come up with the storylines and those who execute them can become “a bit too supportive of each other” if they’re next door. A little bit of a creative cauldron is a good thing.” 

Wolf has no reason to post outside of New York

Dick WolfMultiple Emmy winning Wolf said he’s worked with a team of the best production people for 25 years. “They all work at 110% capacity, 10 months a year.” “Law and Order,” at the 20 mark is tied with “Gunsmoke” as TV’s longest running show, said Wolf a 30-year TV veteran.

Asked during Q&A why he doesn’t edit here, “To be blunt,” he answered, “it’s been working for me for a long time,” said Wolf, a 30-year TV veteran. It’s a not broke-don’t fix it kind of thing.  To set up a new modality for us doesn’t make sense.”

Wolf announced that TNT renewed his reality show, “Cold Justice” and he’s moving ahead on another reality series about first responders in New York.  Complaining about reality TV, “is like complaining about the weather,” he said. 

He admitted his favorite TV reality show is “Naked and Afraid,” a jungle-survival show with naked contestants on the Discovery Channel.