Interview with Executive Producers Warren Leight (Law & Order: SVU) & Matt Olmstead (Chicago Fire & PD)

chicagosvucall1111smallLast week, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD Executive Producer, Matt Olmstead, along with Law and Order: SVU Executive Producer, Warren Leight, spoke to the press about the new crossover event between the three shows. There were some great questions and really interesting answers. Check out my question first and then read on to see the rest.

Based on the previous “crossovers” we’ve seen on not only these shows, but a lot of others on other networks, they aren’t usually real crossovers. They are one or two characters having one or two short scenes, just a couple of lines. (Take the recent Scorpion/NCIS: LA “crossover event”… Hetty was in two scenes on Scorpion, but no one from that show was on NCIS: LA, and none of the story lines crossed over at all.) So I had to ask if this was a more intensive, interactive, ACTUAL crossover.

Warren Leight: We have participated in disappointing crossovers where there is just one scene. We are guilty of that. But this is…it is so much the case that it made production and scheduling very difficult.

We had Kelly, Danny, and Mariska in Chicago for four days, four days, and two days. Which meant our next episode was a legal one just to allow for scheduling. And we had Halstead, Lindsey, and Voight here for, I guess, two days for Lindsey and four and four for Halstead and Voight. So I think this is less of a cheap tawdry gimmick than is usually the case. Matt?

Matt Olmstead: Yes, absolutely. You know, last season in the crossovers [you might be] referring to, we had a substantial amount of time with the Fin character and the Rollins character. There was a bit of…to kind of light the fuse, so to speak, we had our Lindsey character appear for one scene at the end of SVU the prior hour, which some people might have interpreted it as a crossover. We didn’t want to sell it that way, obviously, because it really wasn’t a true crossover. [Note from Jenny: Maybe they didn’t, but I seem to recall NBC touting it as such!]

But now the characters are really engrained in the storytelling throughout the whole hour.

Warren: I also think one thing very interesting about this is Lou Taylor Pucci is a guest star in both episodes and links it to also in a very interesting way. But to see one guest occur heavily in both episodes is an interesting way of linking them as well.
Jump with me to read more from Warren & Matt.


On who wrote what

Warren: Each show’s team wrote each show’s episode. Matt and I were on the phone in the initial plotting stages. One of our writers, Ed Zuckerman, who is the teleplay writer of the SVU part of the crossover, went out to LA for a few days.

And there is back and forth. It is very scary for a show runners. Show runners are all about control. Very scary for a show runner to let somebody else write their character’s lines. So we checked in with each other.

If there was something I felt was a little wrong for one of our characters in the PD part, I politely made my opinions known and vice versa, I would say. Matt?

Matt: Yes, and we had a…I guess a brief run-through last season when we were able to get some of the SVU actors over to Chicago PD for a little crossover, just kind of a one-way crossover, I guess.

And the same thing. It was actually pretty exhilarating to be able to kind of write for new characters. And so we wrote for the Fin character and the Rollins character, and of course we sent the script to Warren to check out and that he would know the characters better than we would.

It was kind of a respectful checking…vetting, I guess, of both material. And I could say that when I read the SVU script of three of our characters going over there, it sounded very true and there really wasn’t any notes.

So yes, high-level writers were dealing with these story lines. So it came across pretty sharp.

On how hard it was to integrate the characters into the various shows

Matt: Well I will back up a little bit. The point of actually integrating the characters in the storyline wasn’t that difficult. The most difficult part is actually locking down what the air dates are going to be and the logistics of when the actors can go over back and forth…which people in production, and they do it really well. And it requires a lot of moving around and the actors are very accommodating.

But once that is locked down and we knew that the kind of bones of what this crossover is going to be—because it kicks off at the end of Chicago Fire. And when Dick Wolf kind of laid out a version of what he was envisioning in terms of what the kind of balancing ball would be, essentially.

You know, you could spend a lot of time on meetings and follow-up meetings and logistics and trying to chart this whole thing. And I think what Warren and I both did was…let’s just jump in. I know what I am going to hand off to him at the end of Fire. And then he is telling me what he is going to hand off back over to me in Chicago PD, and let’s just get some drafts in. And then we can begin to fine tune and figure out the logistics from there.

So once the story was done and logistics and we were kind of mid-stream, writing towards those characters wasn’t really difficult any more so than it would be writing for the characters that we have on our show as principal actors. It was a pleasure to write for them.

Warren: Yes, it is fun for the actors to act with each other and they all come back refreshed. We have a smaller squad than Matt’s team does. We have only really four detectives. At first, we had to grapple with extra bodies in our squad room [and] which ones go where. It was a little…just a few more pieces on the board.

And always when we are writing for actors this good, you don’t want them to be in a three-page scene and just have one line. You want to make sure everybody gets something.

On where the idea for the crossover came from & if they had regrets

Warren: Well, it came from Dick Wolf. Dick sees the long game, and he knows it will be good for all three shows. I think my first reaction was anxiety. I know the fans will like it. I just know how much extra work is involved.

And as I said before, I get nervous letting go of my…there is a certain amount of letting go, which is exactly what show runners don’t do in terms of letting your characters go to another stage and set and not having as much say in what happens to them there as you are used to having.

And also legitimately I think there are two very different… PD and SVU are very different kinds of police shows, and I wasn’t sure how the cross pollination would work.

Once we got into it, as is usually the case… Anxiety mounts until you actually have to do the work and then there was a such a burst of energy from these guys coming here and [Jason] Beghe [Voight[ and then Sophia [Lindsey] and Jesse [Halstead] coming here. It seemed more natural once shooting began. I understood the reasons for doing it, but I had anxiety going into it.

Matt: I believe [it was] the great Sammy David Jr. who said that if you don’t have butterflies before you go on stage, then you should get out of the business.

And you can get into a routine and it is nice to get into a groove and a rhythm. And then you are thrown a curve ball like this and initially absolutely you are like this is going to require a lot and there is going to be things we have to take on and unexpected stuff and there are butterflies.

But in creative endeavors often times that is when you do your best work because you are kind of pushed outside your comfort zone. So yes same thing. I got the butterflies. But then I also kind of recognized the fact that this might be a good thing. And having seen the three episodes crossover I am glad we did it for sure.

On dealing with an audience who may be unfamiliar with one or more of the shows/characters

Warren: Yes, I mean…one of your big fears is… In the Dick Wolf universe, at the end of the day, each episode has to stand alone and yet link to the one—in my case, the one before and the one after. They have to link. So that is a particular challenge and you want to make sure… You don’t want to have at the beginning of SVU a three-minute “previously on Chicago Fire.” You want that to be as short and clear as possible.

But part of the challenge of these things is to make sure that our episode is self-sufficient as a standalone yet the baton passes and there are enough unresolved parts to allow PD to get another hour out of it.

So I found out that that kind of challenge I enjoy. That is an interesting writing challenge. But how much to reveal when and how to stage the investigation and the information over 80 minutes.

One good thing that we have I think is our episode goes right into PD. So presumably people will stay with it, one hopes. And that it is good that they are on the same night and not separated by two or three days.

Our hope is that the audience that night comes in and stays for both hours and that we have made it compelling enough for them to do that.

On what it’s like for Severide (from Chicago Fire) & Lindsey (from Chicago PD) to meet up again

Warren: They cross at the end of the Chicago Fire, the first hour on Tuesday. And it is an amicable cross, because as we have always designed for those two characters, they are brought together in a somewhat accelerated fashion because they are both cut from the same cloth.

And no expectations and no drama and they are kind of brought together and it is like the most while it is here and when it is not, it is not. Who knows if it could be rekindled down the road? So it is not like when Lindsey crosses, he is rolling his eyes like, “Oh Christ, I have to deal with my ex-girlfriend.”

She is perfectly agreeable and good seeing you and she has got her own thing going on. So it is an interesting cross, but it is not one that is fraught with disappointment and betrayal and like that because who knows down the line if they are going to pick it back up again.

On the chemistry/fireworks between Benson (from SVU) & Voight (from Chicago PD)

Warren: Well, it depends on what kind of fireworks you mean. There are two kinds of fireworks, I think, that we could be talking about here. They have two very different approaches to interrogation, right?

The two shows have different approaches. I think we all know Voight can be a little more physical and Olivia [Benson] is in general a more empathic detective. And that is two different schools of how you work in interrogation.

And those kind of fireworks take place in both episodes. And I think they are among the most fun scenes in both PD and SVU.

And then the question is at the end of the day, at the end of the case do these two probably have more in common than any of the other people in their squadron?

What did you think of that, Matt?

Matt: I totally agree. It is interesting talking to Jason Beghe [Voight] about it because the chemistry and the dynamic of the two characters in both shows was reinforced how the two actors felt [about] each other.

In terms of Voight, he rolls over most people. There are not a lot of people who can go toe to toe with him. So here comes this equal whom he respects. Is formidable. He knows he can’t run a game on her. And even though they have different policing styles he…there is a mutual respect. They are both coming from the same place. They both want to protect their cities so they may have different tactics going about it.

They do lock horns. And they do so equally but then when it is over it is over. But there is a real—in the PD side of it, when the Benson character shows up for the first time and in the midst of a pretty grim investigation with grim details. When Voight sees her with a smile on his face he is happy to see her.

Because there is this immediate chemistry, immediate kind of shared affection between two very similar characters. Ironically, though they may have different backgrounds and different approaches to it.

And then when they have their kind of private moment in the episode on PD… What is funny is that there was a point when I was talking to Jason he was asking [whether or not] Voight [was] ever going to have a love interest. I said I don’t know. I mean, we have always portrayed that he has done some dirty stuff. He has [had his] one true love, which is his wife, who is no longer in his life, but that was it and he has become married to the job.

I said but you know, there is a scene coming up with Mariska and he said, “Don’t say another word. I know exactly how to play it.” I was like…okay, I will let you do your actor thing. I will back off from here.

So who knows what else in the character’s mind he feels about the Benson character. But there is a real bond right away between those two characters.

Warren: And I think also as actors…they are two actors that take their respective shows very, very seriously. A lot of times the number ones on the [show] should get a little complacent or whatever. These guys care enormously about their show. Care enormously about every scene they are in.

And so the characters have a lot in common and the actors at the end of the day have a lot in common. So there is nice chemistry there.
Thanks to Warren & Matt for taking the time to speak to everyone. They’re obviously both very busy guys!

Don’t forget to tune in tonight, Tuesday, November 11, for Chicago Fire, at 10/9c, and then tomorrow night, Wednesday, November 12, for Law & Order: SVU at 9/8c, followed by the conclusion on Chicago PD at 10/9c.

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