New 'Chicago P.D.' Boss Talks Sophia Bush's Exit and "Politically Charged" Season 5

Chicago P.D. S03E02 Still - H 2015
Matt Dinerstein/NBC

Chicago P.D. S03E02 Still - H 2015

Chicago P.D. fans are already well aware that the Intelligence Unit is going to look a little different when the cop drama returns for season five. Det. Erin Lindsay (Sophia Bush) will have left for that FBI gig in New York, with Det. Hailey Upton (Tracy Spiridakos) taking her spot. Also joining her is returning team member Det. Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda), who comes back to Intelligence after a brief stint at the State's Attorney's office.

But there's a new name behind the scenes as well with the addition of new showrunner Rick Eid. Replacing series co-creator and longtime showrunner Matt Olmstead, Eid comes to P.D. after working on several other Dick Wolf series: Law & Order, Law & Order: Trial By Jury and most recently Law & Order: SVU, on which he served as showrunner for season 18.

Among his first orders of business? Making sure the series more accurately reflects the issues the real-life Chicago Police Department is currently facing: In 2016, there were 4,338 reported shootings and 754 reported homicides, the highest numbers in 20 years, which many have blamed on the Chicago Police Department. 

"There's a lot going on there socially, politically, certainly as it relates to what's going on with the police department," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "So we just really wanted to locate the show in that rich, complicated and racially charged and socially charged and politically charged environment."

Eid also talked to THR about just how that will play out onscreen, the new dynamics within the Intelligence Unit and the "personal, emotional issues" facing Det. Jay Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer) after the exit of his longtime partner (and girlfriend), Erin.

How did this change come about? Why did you want to make the move to take over on P.D.?

Dick asked me if I'd be interested in running Chicago P.D. and I said yes. (Laughs.) That was pretty much the conversation, truthfully.

What appealed to you about Chicago P.D. specifically?

I love the show and I love the complexity of the characters and the ability to… it's kind of an interesting canvas. There's a lot of moral ambiguity in this show that I thought would be fun to explore.

When Dick approached you about P.D., was there any advice or instructions that he gave you? Or maybe something from Chicago Fire showrunner Derek Haas since he used to be a writer on P.D.?

Not really. It was, "Make it great." (Laughs.) [Those] were the marching orders. I'm trying my best to do that, but there was nothing specific. There was no,"'We want it to be like this," or, "We don't want it to be like that." It was, "Come in, look at the shows, let us know what your take in [season] five is and we'll go from there." In the best way possible, it was just wide open.

What can you say about your take for season five? Where are you hoping to take the show this year?

The big thing that we're trying to do is really attach the show to Chicago 2017, and to make the episodes in the show feel like it's in the middle of that complex city right now. There's a lot going on there socially, politically, certainly as it relates to what's going on with the police department, so we just really wanted to locate the show in that rich, complicated and racially charged and socially charged and politically charged environment.

How will that be reflected on the show? Will the show rip from the headlines more the way SVU does?

In the season premiere, we're introducing this idea of reform. The chief of police and superintendent has designated an independent auditor to oversee the police department and that independent auditor will be Mykelti Williamson [who played Voight's old partner Lt. Denny Woods in season four]. So we're literally introducing an authoritative figure who is charged with overseeing the Chicago Police Department and making sure it operates in an appropriate way and in conformity with new guidelines and regulations.

You spoke about the moral ambiguity of the show, and Voight (Jason Beghe) specifically comes to mind. How will a character who so frequently bends the rules react to with this new age of reform in the department?

As a policeman, he's going to have to react to it in a way that allows him to do his job and protect the city and do what his goal has always been: to protect the city and get the bad guy. He's just going to have to do it in a different way. You're going to have to see him possibly be a little bit more cerebral or figure out a new way to get from a to b. I don't think his moral compass has changed or his code of ethics has changed necessarily. He's smart and he deals with what's in front of him, and what's in front of him in this moment is this idea of police reform. As a smart, instinctive creature, he's going to adapt and figure out how to do his job the best way possible in the new environment. It's just a new obstacle for him.

Given everything that's going on in the city right now, what kind of research have you been doing to tell these kinds of stories?

I read a lot, went out there a lot. We have a great technical consultant who's a producer with the show, Brian Luce, who's a longtime Chicago policeman, so I talked to him a lot. Look, the news is filled right now with what's going on across the country and it's not just in Chicago so I think there's a lot to draw on. We did as much research as we could into this but at the end of the day, it's still a television show. It's fiction. It's not meant to be a documentary on the Chicago police department so we may take liberties at times for dramatic purposes.

Looking broadly at the characters this season, what would you say is the theme of season five? What will we see within the team this year?

I think the theme for the season probably is the idea of reform. But in terms of what we'll see week to week and for the season is the characters just immersed in complicated cases with lots of moral and ethical dilemmas along the way in terms of solving cases. I think, again, if possible, we're trying to dramatize what's going on in the city and what's going on with the new Chicago Police Department and the idea of reform. It's an interesting time to be a police officer, especially in Chicago but I think also across the country. There's phones everywhere there's cameras everywhere, there's a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on among policemen so I think it's a really complicated time to be a cop and I think that hopefully within the construct of our bigger cases, we're feeling that in each episode, that it's really hard to be a cop and how do you do it? How do you get the best results in this sensitive and challenging environment where you've got a bunch of people telling you you're doing it the wrong way?

Speaking about the ensemble, there were a couple changes that happened over the summer, the first one being Sophia Bush's exit. Were you involved in those discussions about her exit at all?

[I was] not involved.

There was some talk of her coming back this season so will she make a return appearance? Or are those talks still happening?

It's probably too early. There's nothing specific on the table right now so I don't really have a comment on that right now.

Would you say the door is open if she wanted to come back at some point?

There's a lot of people involved in these decisions above my pay grade that's probably a question for Dick and NBC. At the end of the day, she was a great character and a great actor so I think those are things  to the extent they ever happen  there's a lot of people involved in that decision.

How does that impact the rest of the Intelligence Unit? Especially with Voight and Halstead, both of whom she was close to?

I think they'll probably handle it differently because they're different characters but I think her absence is definitely something they'll feel. And we'll see it at different times. It's definitely addressed in the season premiere and from time to time, we'll feel it, whenever it feels right for the characters. Sometimes you might not even be talking about it but you might think that's what's going on, for example with Halstead. Her loss will impact him in a meaningful way.

Where is he headed this season? Not only were they romantically involved but that was his longtime partner so what's coming up for him in the wake of her exit?

He's a really interesting character in that he tries so hard to do the right thing all the time and that's a great character, especially in such a challenging job, to have that kind of compass. I think the loss of Lindsay... in the season premiere, he's involved in a situation that affects him so the combination of those things sort of throws him off balance. It's just seeing a guy trying to deal with some real emotional, personal issues the best way he can, trying to handle it by himself, trying to stay strong in the wake of adversity. We'll see how that plays out for him.

He's now partnered with Hailey Upton on the show. How would you describe their dynamic as partners?

We're still writing it and watching it and seeing it evolve. I'm hoping it's a great partnership. They look out for each other, is the real dynamic that begins to take place. As the season progresses, I think Halstead will be doing things in a way that's a little different than how he used to, and Hailey will be there to help him and clocking this new behavior. Ultimately, they're there to have each other's back and they're there to protect each other and I think that will be in full focus.

Will there be any new love interests for him this season?

Ultimately, there will be some romantic storylines in play among all the characters. I think early in the season, he's still grappling with what happened with Lindsay and he's probably not great dating material early in the season. Maybe as time goes on later in the season, maybe he'll become more a viable romantic interest for somebody.

What other pairings are you excited for this season?

In the real world in the police department, it's not always that you go out with your quote unquote partner, you just go with someone who's there. We've got so many great actors that we'll see a lot of people paired together throughout the season. But I think the Ruzek-Atwater pairing is exciting. There's some interesting stuff going on with those two, again, speaking to what's going on in society. These are two guys with two different perspectives on the world and I think it's great to have those guys together as they're navigating this sort of complicated maze of political and social issues.

Antonio and Burgess will be paired together, which will be interesting and exciting. She's new and learning, and Antonio's an old pro so watching those two interact will be great. And then, Halstead and Upton, I think, ultimately will be a very interesting partnership.

Jon Seda's character is coming back onto the team after moving to the State's Attorney's office so what brings him back into mix? How does that change the dynamic of Intelligence having him back?

He comes back in the season premiere. The case we're involved in, there's a need for someone like Antonio, in particular a character that is unknown to the criminal element we're pursuing so Voight reaches out to Antonio and he becomes involved in the case and ultimately, Voight offers him the job and he decides to stay. When we're talking amongst the writers, there's a war going on out there and he wants to be part of it. I think he felt like he might have been a little bit on the sidelines more at the State's Attorney's office and he wants to be in the middle of the fire. So that's why he comes back.

The idea of why Voight wants him back is, with all the oversight and all the eyes watching this unit, a standup, solid, morally unassailable character like Antonio is great for Voight. He's a guy that will keep him in check hopefully.

We briefly met Hailey Upton at the end of last season, but what do you think she'll bring to the Unit this season now that she's working there full-time?

She's smart, she's pretty fearless, she has a slightly different approach and viewpoint than some of the other characters. She's very pragmatic, she's a combination of street-smart and book-smart and she does it because she loves it. And so she's an interesting character that we're excited to explore week by week by week. Rather than just announcing these are all her attributes, I think we'll see them in focus episode by episode.

Give your time on SVU last season, has there been any talk about a major crossover between SVU and P.D.? Those are two shows that have crossed over several times in the past.

There's been no talk as of yet, but that doesn't mean there won't be talks down the road. Again, that's one of those things that a lot of people get involved in but I think I'd be excited to do it and we'll see what happens.

Season five of Chicago P.D. premieres Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 10 p.m. on NBC.