Dick Wolf has been around forever on NBC, since 1990 to be exact. He started with “Law and Order.” Which went for twenty years and then a host of spin offs. The take of the show was fast paced and gritty. But very formulaic, the first thirty minutes was dedicated the police part of the story. The final half was the court part of it, do things move this fast in real life. No! but that was what made the show so popular. Also, the revolving cast of characters that made the show what it was.
Dick Wolf’s Television Universe
Nobody ever overstayed their welcome, the only character to stay the entire time and became a staple was Anita Van Buren. Her arch in the end was positive. She was diagnosed with cancer and in remission by the end of the series. For a show that saw many grim ends, this was a nice change and a show of respect for the actress and the character that had come to define the show. With success comes spin offs and there were six from this franchise alone.
It is very rare that a spin-off is more successful than the original, but I think “Law and Order: SVU” has done that. Defined by Olivia Benson who has gone from a detective to the head of the unit. Fans are still waiting to see the reunion of Elliot Stable to the franchise where he is beloved. The other spin-offs just did not have the same feel for fans and only lasted one to two seasons. There is something about the connection with that formula and the characters that endure.
Perfecting the Formula
However, no matter how good the “Law and Order” shows have been it is his Chicago universe that may be his best work ever. Technically every show is in the dick wolf universe because they have all crossed over now. But to keep everything in sync with three shows and a revolving door of talent is hard and almost impossible to do. When I first started watching Chicago PD it was only because of the pandemic and I was bored. But after the first episode I was hooked.
This was different from his other shows. Still emotionally charged, still fast paced. In the first episode alone a key member of the team dies. Right then and there I knew something was different about this show. The lead with the raspy voice and intense disposition is perfect for the city of Chicago. The intelligence team is a revolving door, but you come to find out that is by design. We get to know two partners that are patrolman Burgess and Atwater. They will eventually join the intelligence team.
This was great storytelling that we had not seen from the dick wolf universe before. We are seeing their journey and becoming invested in them and their friendship and family lives. Not just a team already together, we can see the flaws in each character and how they must gel together and become a cohesive unit. Under a very disturbed and flawed leader that does not play by the rules all the time. But as the show has gone on, you have seen an evolution in each character including the main one.
The Blue Wall
The first few seasons it was his way or the highway, but because the unit is full of honest cops and good people. Voight has had to change; one scene is when Atwater who is the only black cop on the unit is going through some growing pains. Atwater tells the truth about a racist cop, essentially breaking the code of the blue wall. For months Atwater is harassed, beaten up and even almost framed. Finally, this comes to a head, when Atwater says to his boss “this cannot happen anymore things have to change.”
Watching all seven seasons and change you get to know Atwater and his struggles to be a black cop in a gray world. He is a leader and a soldier so for him to stand up to his boss is a big deal. This also leads to a moment where Voight, who would normally do something underhanded to get his man. Decides that he cannot do it because it is not right. This is monumental, this is the same man that killed his son’s murderer with no second thoughts.
Stuggles Come with the Job
This just proves that his teams influence on him is just as big as his on them. the “Law and Order” shows can only show you so much of a person’s personal life. So, in the rare times we see their families there is no reason to really care. We do not know them or their family life, we may hear dialogue that the character cheated on his wife but why do we care? We do not know her enough to care. This show is different, we get to know Atwater’s brother and sister.
So, when his brother is on video and it looks like he killed someone you are invested and worried what a good cop would do to protect his family. Burgess and Rusev the on again off again romance and friendship. You see the blossom and the bloom come off, once again because we have seen their journeys from the beginning it helps so much more to want to see all these characters succeed in a dangerous city that they want to protect.
What Dick Wolf started in 1990, still lives on to this day, and if NBC is around. So will his presence, for good and for bad. What he started he has now perfected, and I do not see how these shows do not last until fifteen to twenty seasons. Not saying that overstaying your welcome is always smart. But the storytelling in each season of “Chicago PD” is fresh. The characters are not stale or feel forced fed, this is the formula Wolf has been waiting on and boy is it entertaining.