'Chicago Fire' Co-Creator Looks Back on 100 Episodes: I "Thought We Were Dead in the Water"

Derek Haas talks to THR about the initial ratings, the most difficult departure, and his doubts about 'Chicago Med.'
NBC

Tuesday's winter finale of Chicago Fire also happens to mark the NBC drama's 100th episode. So it's no coincidence that Tuesday's episode which will also feature a celebration within the celebration for the 100th anniversary of the show's beloved fictional bar, Molly's.

"That way we could title the episode '100' and have Herrmann give this speech that we want to give to the cast and the crew and the fans," co-creator and the episode's co-writer Derek Haas tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Although the special moment could have also gone to Chief Boden (Eamonn Wallace), in the end, Haas and co-creator and co-writer Michael Brandt thought Herrmann (David Eigenberg) was the best man for the job.

"He really is the heart of the show in a lot of ways, ever since the very first episode, and has been so important," Haas says. "Eigenberg is so good at delivering those kinds of speeches, it was easy to write."

Ahead of the major milestone, Haas took a walk down memory lane with THR to reflect on the show's first season ratings struggle, the character that's changed the most and the surprising story behind the naming of Molly's. 

A Slow Start

Chicago Fire marked the first foray into television for both Haas and his longtime writing partner, Michael Brandt, after a string of box office successes like 2 Fast 2 Furious, Wanted and 3:10 to Yuma. Television turned out to be a whole different ballgame.

"We were having so much fun making the show that nobody told us we had to worry about ratings and all of these things," Haas says. "The first episode came out and it did OK. The second episode was way worse and I honestly thought we were dead in the water. We just thought, "Oh, OK, that was an interesting six months or year of our lives, but it was fun while it lasted. (Laughs.)"

Haas continues: "We knew the seventh episode was going to be a good one, it was a Thanksgiving episode and we were just thinking, 'Man, if we can make it to the seventh, I think we'll have caught on.' And then lucky for us, NBC stuck with it, kept promoting it while playing it on Saturdays also. They didn’t get discouraged and let it breathe and then it found its audience. It was about halfway though the fall that we thought, 'Oh, OK, maybe we've got something.'"

The Beginning of "Dawsey"

Well the first episode, the very end of the first episode, Dawson has definitely expressed her feelings about Casey but that, well, it's never going to work because he's engaged to Hallie. In the very end, when they're in the waiting room, she's looking out the window as he takes a phone call with Hallie and so I think when we saw that on film, even cutting the pilot together, we thought this will be an interesting triangle going forward. and then the more we got to know Monica and Jesse and watching them laugh together and interact together and do scenes together and just hang out together off-camera, we thought, wow this is really something worth exploring going forward on. Really, we built that whole season and really the five seasons with their relationship kind of two ships crossing, getting together, crossing again and it's just provided a great emotional arc for their two characters. From the pilot on, and then really just seeing the two actors come together throughout.

The Most Difficult Exit

While Teri Reeves' Hallie was the first series regular to get killed off the show at the end of the first season, the show has since parted ways with several regulars (Charlie Barnett, Dora Madison, Steven R. McQueen). However, Haas says paramedic Leslie Shay (played by Lauren German) still ranks as the toughest goodbye in the show's history.

"Brandt and I are gigantic fans of Lauren's and loved every minute of having Shay onscreen. She was always interesting, always fun to write, she could do it all: funny, dramatic, suspense, romance  everything that you could get out of a character," Haas recalls of the decision, which was made prior to Brandt directing the season two finale. "So when we ended season two with the big cliffhanger and we knew we were going to kill off a character, that was very hard to write. That was the first episode back in season three, Brandt and I wrote that one. Lauren was a total pro for doing the episode and she came back and did one more after that."

The Character That's Changed the Most

While some characters have come and gone, others have simply undergone major evolutions  remember that one time Severide (Taylor Kinney) was married?!

"I think probably Mouch has changed the most. If you go back and watch the pilot, his nickname was Mouch because he's half-man, half-couch. He sort of embarrasses himself at the initial call on the river and later he gets a talking-to from Casey on the ladder," Haas says. "We just thought of him as this lay-about, sort of old guy who's just trying to ride out his last couple of years in the firehouse."

However, casting Chicago theater vet Christian Stolte changed all that. "You get around Chris and he's hilarious and smart," Haas says. "Then, I think every TV show does this, you start writing the actors' personalities into the characters' so Mouch has definitely changed from the guy he was and originally conceived to now a very integral part of the house."

The True Story Behind Molly's

Firehouse 51 will always be home to the show's central ensemble, but Molly's bar has become the de facto home away from home ever since Herrmann, Otis (Yuri Sardarov) and Dawson went into business together to buy the bar after they saved it from a fire midway through the first season.

"That was Matt Olmstead's idea in season one and it was born out of, 'We need a place where we can gather our characters that's not at the firehouse," says Haas. That episode became, I guess its one of the most popular episodes we've ever done because it was the genesis of Molly's."

The episode also cemented that trio as a group even though they "had not been hanging out prior to that episode. It's always interesting when you cross characters that don't usually cross."

Since then, Molly's presence has increased dramatically and is now also a favorite spot of characters from Chicago P.D., Chicago Med and Chicago Justice. In addition to doing outdoor shots at the famed Lottie's bar in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago, there's a permanent Molly's set at the Fire stages. "I think the original name was going to be Lorraine's or something like that, but it didn't clear legal and then Matt, who's met my mom, was like, 'What if we named it Molly's?' Molly is my mom's name. So Molly's is named after my mom who is a total teetotaler Baptist from Texas and now she has a bar as her namesake."

The First Seeds of the #OneChicago Universe

It was likely only a matter of time before executive producer Dick Wolf  also the man responsible for Law & Order and its four spinoffs — begin pushing for an offshoot of Chicago Fire. However, the prolific producer wasted no time pitching a spinoff centered on recurring characters Hank Voight (Jason Beghe), i.e. Casey's nemesis, and Gabby's brother Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda) just midway through the first year.

"That was all Dick Wolf, I'll give him 100 percent credit," Haas recalls. "So, Dick started, around midseason, talking about, 'We should take those two characters and spin them off.' He's amazing at seeing things that nobody else would see and trying things that nobody else would try. If you would have told us, 'Oh, by the way, you can spin off a show from your first season,' I never in a million years would have thought we could do that."

NBC extended the drama's season-one order to 24 episodes, further helping matters. "So we wrote this gigantic 23rd episode that was kind of like the French Connection where we redeemed Voight and introduced this new team and then that became the backdoor pilot," Haas says. "When [Wolf] said we were going to do it again with the hospital, I thought, 'There's no way he can pull this off twice.' And then he did it again and then I stopped doubting him after that."

Chicago Fire's 100th episode airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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