How Dick Wolf's 'FBI' Wound Up on CBS (and Not NBC)

"There was no more beachfront real estate at NBC," executive producer Dick Wolf told reporters Sunday at TCA.
Michael Parmelee/CBS
'FBI'

Dick Wolf has five shows on the fall broadcast schedule: four on his longtime home at NBC and one freshman procedural, FBI, on CBS.

The drama, picked up straight to series, marks Wolf's return to CBS, who nearly picked up the original Law & Order after Fox passed on the series more than 30 years ago.

To hear Wolf tell it, FBI landed at CBS — and not on NBC — for one specific reason: "There was no more beachfront real estate at NBC," the executive producer told reporters Sunday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. "And [NBC Entertainment president] Bob [Greenblatt] agreed and basically we've come up with a formula where it will be a profitable venture for both studios because it's a co-production."

FBI hails from Universal Television — where Wolf is under a lucrative overall deal —  and CBS Television Studios. It's the only one of Wolf's five shows on broadcast that is a co-production. CBS, like many networks this season, has made ownership a high priority, with co-productions largely being the only way an outside studio (like Universal TV) can get a series picked up on an outside network.

"My appetite for expansion is undiminished," Wolf said of his focus on creating for broadcast. "I am still a broadcast supplier. I have nothing against the concept of streaming. The math is a little daunting to me. I like doing 22, 23, 24 episodes a season in the abstract and not eight, because it takes almost as much work to do eight as it does to do a 24-episode season." 

Wolf, talking exclusively with The Hollywood Reporter after the panel, said he sees himself as "the last guy standing in broadcast" after Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy exited their longtime overall deals at ABC Studios and 20th Century Fox TV, respectively, for nine-figure paydays to create content exclusively for Netflix.

"There are a very limited number of buyers for the type of shows I do. I'll be very happy to do a show for a streaming service, a cable service or whatever has the means and the desire to do big hour television," Wolf told THR. "It is big hour television and it's not a mystery. Shonda is gone and I'm kind of the last guy standing in broadcast, which is not a bad position to be in. The bias of the networks is a little premature. Ten years from now? Who knows who is around. What I do, it's still a very fertile field to plow. I'm really looking forward to the fall to see what happens. We've got a lot going on: The stacking [of all three Chicago shows on NBC] on Wednesdays is going to really bear fruit."

FBI explores the inner-workings of the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sela Ward stars as the team's boss after Connie Nielsen co-starred in the pilot. Jeremy Sisto, Missy Peregrym, Zeeko Zaki and Ebonee Noel round out the cast. (Ward was not at TCA on Sunday as she just started production in New York last week.) Wolf also noted that, in success, FBI will lead to other spinoffs, a la NBC's Chicago PD, Chicago Fire and Chicago Med, as well as his long-running Law & Order: SVU.

"Not ICE. But yes," Wolf said when asked if he already had specific spinoff ideas. "Talk about putting the cart before the horse. … If this one works, I'd anticipate we'd all try to double down in some way. It's worked before."

Wolf also used his time before the press to discuss the creative differences that led to the casting change as well as showrunner Craig Turk (The Good Wife) being replaced with Greg Plageman (Person of Interest). The prolific producer noted that running a procedural was a "different animal" and required a showrunner who was more familiar with the genre than Turk was.

"We know how to make procedurals and it's a totally different skill set — and it's very hard to move your center of gravity into doing stories that have to be like falling dominoes as opposed to multiple stories in one episode," he said.

In terms of his future with Universal Television, where he remains under an overall deal through June 2020, Wolf said he's happy to have seen Rhimes and Murphy get their paydays.

"This is a business; everybody should make as much money as they can. It's not a charitable situation. Congratulations to Ryan and Shonda. I'm a happy guy. Really, there's enough room for everybody and the big challenge is we've got 35 actors under contract," he told THR when asked about his upcoming renegotiation.  

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