When Dick Wolf kicked off the “One Chicago” world on NBC in 2012 with “Chicago Fire” — a spinoff of the “Law & Order” universe — it was a bit of a boys’ club.
Derek Haas, Matt Olmstead and Michael Brandt led “Fire” as showrunners; less than two years later, “Chicago P.D.” premiered with Olmstead at the head. In 2015 came the third leg of the franchise with “Chicago Med” under Andrew Dettmann, Andrew Schneider and Diane Frolov. Dettmann exited after Season 1 and Schneider and Frolov, a married couple, have led it ever since.
Now, women are at the helm of all three shows.
For many years, Frolov was the first female showrunner on the franchise. Although they’d never met Wolf before, when they first sat down together, they pitched a pilot idea and he set up a meeting with the network.
“The next day, we got a call from our agent, which we assumed would be about the pilot,” she says. “Instead, our agent told us Dick would like us to come and run ‘Chicago Med.’ That was seven years ago.”
Little did she know that by 2022 all three “Chicago” series would have a woman in the top spot, but all three have very different experiences in how they got there.
Writer Gwen Sigan began with the “old school climb the ladder” method at Wolf Entertainment, starting off as Olmstead’s assistant when he was running both “P.D.” and “Fire.”
“He’s one of my favorite writers to this day, and he’s also kind and was a great mentor — he staffed me on ‘P.D.’ and gave me nothing but opportunity. And I’ve been here since,” says Sigan, who took over Rick Eid’s role as showrunner at the beginning of Season 9 of the police procedural in 2021. “It’s never lost on me how insane it is to be working with this many people who are this good. Between Matt and Rick alone, I think I’ve gotten to write with the best of the best — but I could also list a dozen other writers from previous staffs and our current staff who are wonderful to write with.
“I think Dick Wolf attracts writers’ writers, who want to write a lot and do it as well as possible,” she adds. “Getting to write this much, with these people, is definitely the best part of the job and the reason I’ve been here so long.”
Andrea Newman has also been part of the family for years but didn’t step into the leader role until Season 10 in 2021, becoming co-showrunners with Haas as he shifted focus to another spinoff, “FBI: International.”
Her start with the Wolf Entertainment team was like many: she was a viewer.
“When I moved out to L.A., one of my first meetings was with Dick. I’m still shocked I managed to say a word at that meeting, because I’ve always been such a huge fan — ‘Law & Order’ was one of the shows that inspired me to shift from plays to TV, the story- telling was so masterful, and the characters so compelling,” she tells Variety.
The duo met about another project that never got off the ground. So, when she received the script for the “Chicago Fire” pilot years later and was “blown away” by the storytelling, she jumped at the chance to be a part of it.
“These characters popped off the page, plus, it had soap, which is catnip to me,” says Newman. “I was lucky enough to get a meeting with Derek and Michael Brandt and ended up on the show that first season.”
As the years passed, her working relationship with Haas, who co-created “Fire,” only became stronger. In fact, Haas jokes that she’s been co-showrunning for years, it just became official on paper this year.
“The bad part of working with Derek is that he makes writing look easy,” she says. “He loves doing it and it doesn’t seem to take any toll on him, which makes the rest of us want to kill him.”
Haas can’t help but rave over his counterpart: “Andrea Newman is the most talented writer I’ve been lucky enough to work with in Hollywood. She’s like a five-tool athlete — effortlessly writes hilarious comedy and then heartfelt drama, sometimes within the same scene. Plus, she’s brilliant and cares deeply about the show.”
Many years before “One Chicago” was even a thought in Wolf ’s mind, he was focused on a different franchise: “Law & Order.” That’s where Julie Martin came in.
The pair met in the ’80s when he was working on “Hill Street Blues,” and she was toiling on “St. Elsewhere.” She went on to join “Homicide: Life on the Street” and collaborated with Wolf in 1995 when there was a crossover episode with “Law & Order.” She took her official job on his show “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” in 2006.
“It’s always felt like a family organization,” Martin tells Variety. After two years on “Criminal Intent,” she went on to work on the mothership “Law & Order” and the short-lived “Law & Order: L.A.” She joined “SVU” in Season 13 and has since produced more than 200 episodes of the Mariska Hargitay-led series. Since then, she’s learned that working for the Wolf Entertainment team is all about trust.
“I feel valued and appreciated and not micromanaging,” Martin says. “They’re putting our teams in place and trust that they’re going to do the right thing. It’s incredibly collaborative and supportive and really, mostly hands-off.”
While you “don’t want to get the phone call” from Wolf himself, when it does happen, it’s because he cares so much about the storyline, never because he doesn’t believe in the team he has built. Martin laughs, “Dick’s favorite phrase is, ‘You’ve got this. Don’t fuck it up.’”
Martin also wrote on Season 20 of “Law & Order” in 2010 — and was as shocked as the rest of the team when NBC pulled the plug, mostly because of its impact.
“There’s no other show on the air that’s taking the real issues of the day, dramatizing them and putting a spin on it. The opportunity to tell those kinds of stories just doesn’t exist in any other medium than ‘Law & Order,’” she says, noting that every now and then, she still finds herself ripping stories out of a newspaper and thinking it’d be a good storyline.
Last year, NBC announced the mothership was returning with some of its original cast. It’s already been renewed for Season 22.
“I’m so happy that it’s back. I’m happy for Dick. I’m happy for the audience that they get to watch it.”