'Chicago Fire' and 'Chicago P.D.' Executive Producers Talk Crossover Pressure, Potential 4-Show Event

Tuesday's two-hour event will have a "big ripple effect" going forward, exec producers Derek Haas and Matt Olmstead tell THR.
Matt Dinerstein/NBC

Crossovers are old hat for the Chicago shows. While The CW's growing slate of superheroes or the many crime solvers on Fox may only cross-pollinate for an episode or two during sweeps, Chicago franchise fans know it's nearly (if not actually) a weekly occurrence on Dick Wolf's ever-expanding empire of Windy City-set shows. When a victim from Chicago Fire is brought to the hospital, one of Chicago Med's regular residents is usually there to greet the person. When the police or an ambulance brings in a patient to Chicago Med, it's usually someone from P.D. or Fire, respectively, who is breaking open the doors of the ER.

So when the Chicago shows tout a very special crossover, notice is taken. After the winter hiatus, Chicago Fire — returning at a special time, Tuesday at 9 p.m. — paired with Chicago P.D. for what both series' executive producers Derek Haas and Matt Olmstead promise to be a "character-driven" story that puts Severide (Taylor Kinney) in the hot seat after his car is found to have caused a deadly crash. The two-part event, the executive producers say, will have a "big ripple effect" on the Intelligence Unit. 

In advance of the crossover, and with fourth spinoff Chicago Justice officially on the books for a March premiere, THR jumped on the phone with Haas and Olmstead to talk crossover "pressure" from network brass, the decision to shine the light on Severide and advance talks about an ultimate four-show event.

These bigger crossover ratings tend to draw strong ratings but they're also much more difficult to plan. How much pressure do you get from the network to do these bigger event-type crossovers?

Derek Haas: I think we pressure them more than they pressure us. (Laughs.) We start thinking about crossovers at the beginning of the year in terms of what point in the season does it feel right and organic to goose one of these episodes by not knocking it into the next one. We've always come back from winter finales and it seems like we're the first shows NBC has back in January and people are ready for the shows to come back so soon and we're always ramping up storylines. It was Matt's idea: Why don't we do a Severide-centric storyline that crosses from Fire right into P.D. and that's the first episode back from the winter finale. So that came from our end.

Why did you decide to focus this crossover so heavily on Severide specifically?

Matt Olmstead: It was a great script and we were looking for that little extra something to put to it since we're coming back from the fall-finale break. As we tend to do, we just looked at who else — we really have a luxury here, having multiple shows, in that you can pull someone from another show to help get an emotional reaction or a nice crossover appearance — and we had intentionally been going very light on Severide to not ruin the specialness of when he does appear on the other shows. So when we were going through who could be really jammed up from one of the other shows, and we realized what we had — at the risk of sounding immodest — we smartly didn't overplay our hand with Taylor so this could be the time really to bring him back and have it really mean something, because the last time we really had him for a meaningful arc was when he was dating Lindsay, which now only informs him more when he's appearing on the hot seat in this one. So it came together pretty quickly. So there's adjustments obviously on Fire and there's adjustments in weaving in this investigation into P.D., but it was kind of looking at the board and seeing that is probably the right time to bring Taylor's character over and hopefully we were right.

The Severide-Lindsay dynamic plays heavily into the episode, but you could have just as easily ignored that. Why the decision to lean into that prior relationship?

Olmstead: We knew that would be the money. Not only do you have Severide coming into the interview room where we've seen a lot of suspects and offenders, and we knew that if it's Lindsay, that he would trust Lindsay so he has a different reaction with her. But is she cutting him too much slack? Is she in a hurry to believe that he didn't do anything? Voight is having to keep an eye on her, but also use her in that he knows that if Severide's going to talk to anybody, he's going to talk to her because he wants to keep a guy talking who's a suspect. Then, it rolls over to Halstead because on the other end of it, he's probably in a little bit of a hurry to convict Severide because, though he won't admit it, knowing this guy used to date his girlfriend, and maybe when he sees them look at each other, is there still a little twinkle that they can't deny, which only makes him want to more see Severide walk away in cuffs? So it really has a big ripple effect through the whole intelligence unit and with Lindsay in particular having to defend this guy, to manage her boyfriend's feelings who is also investigating the case and then hopefully go the extra mile to prove Severide's innocence.

Severide started doing some soul-searching in the 100th episode. How will the events of this crossover impact him going forward?

Haas: We definitely started this arc with him looking in the mirror a lot in the 100th episode and being introspective and self-reflective and seeing a future for himself that looked a lot like Benny, who he does not admire. So you're going to see in the next couple of episodes this playing out as Severide continues to take stock in his life and goes to a place where he welcomes sacrifice and pain, for the lack of a better word, to help get him through this time and really calls upon himself to really be selfless, which he is during his job, but this is over and above what he does as a firefighter as you'll see.

Was there ever talk of making this a three-show crossover with Med or even more than that? Why not?

Olmstead: They're hard to do, they're hard to coordinate. I wouldn't say we like doing them because they are a lot of work, but they're worthwhile in that they do tend to bring a little bit more eyeballs to it, the fans do like it. Ultimately, when we watch it it is gratifying but it's a lot of work. We don't always start off with: How many shows can we involve in this? It's what is the right amount of shows that need to be involved in this? And this one in particular, it just felt like all we needed was a Fire-P.D. cross and not involving the other shows, not that we won't do any other crossovers down the line that involve all the shows or more shows, this one just only required Fire-P.D.

As you've done more and more of these bigger type crossovers, what are some of the lessons you've taken away that you've been able to apply to this one?

Haas: We've done the big, plot-based crossovers where, you know, a bomber is targeting firefighters and cops in Chicago and a hospital blows up and all the ramifications of that. This one just felt like one we hadn’t done in awhile, a sort of character-based crossover. Of the lessons that we've learned, it's really just how do we schedule these to where…. How do we efficiently use our casts so that we're not completely burning them out for their own shows because, like just by picking Taylor as the central figure in the story, we knew he was gong to have to give up a Saturday and going to have to work pretty much the 14-hour days either running from the Fire set to the P.D. set and back so you just can't do it with all of that cast on three shows. It just takes too much out of everyone.

Now that Chicago Justice finally has a premiere date, what talks have there been about a major all-Chicago, four-show crossover?

Haas: As Dick [Wolf] always says, Justice is the fourth leg under the table of his Chicago dream, and so there's no way that he's going to let us go too long without crossing over. I don't know about a four-show crossover. I don't know if that's a two-show, but we already have put Justice characters onto episodes of Fire and P.D., and that will continue. It's only a matter of time until there's one case that rocks the city so much that you're going to call all of the cities' heroes together. Do you like how I just sold that? (Laughs.)

The two-part Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. crossover kicks off Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.