'Law & Order: SVU': How Nixed Four-Show Crossover Led to Greg Yates' Return

Michael Parmelee/NBC


Uber-producer Dick Wolf made headlines last August when he announced a planned four-show crossover between Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med and Law & Order: SVU to air this month. It was news to journalists, as well as to SVU showrunner Warren Leight.

"My head — I won't say it exploded, but it expanded," Leight tells The Hollywood Reporter with a laugh.

It was not only the scope of the four-show, multi-night endeavor that gave Leight pause. Because of the order in which the shows air in a given week — Chicago Med, followed by Chicago Fire on Tuesdays, then Law & Order: SVU and concluding with Chicago P.D. on Wednesdays — "I was trying to wrap my head around a story that would touch all those bases," he says. "I was trying to think what case starts in a hospital, goes to a fire station, goes to New York and then goes back to Chicago."

Instead, Leight tried to suggest starting the crossover on Wednesday with SVU and wrapping it the following Tuesday, "but that didn’t go over too well because they wanted it to be on two consecutive nights. Out of desperation, I said, 'Dick, what if instead of the four-way, we did a perfect SVU-to-P.D. hand-off,'" Leight recalls. "And Dick said, 'OK,' which is Dick excited."

Thankfully, Leight had the perfect story in his back pocket that he had originally plotted as a two-part SVU. The story, which begins Wednesday at 9 p.m. on SVU and concludes the following hour on P.D., centers on one of the toughest criminals to face either team: serial killer Greg Yates (Dallas Roberts), who killed beloved recurring P.D. character Nadia (Stella Maeve) last April. Yates was last seen in the SVU season premiere serving a life sentence in an upstate New York prison alongside serial killer Rudnick (Jefferson Mays).

"We had one little scene with Rudnick and Yates sitting down in the cafeteria that I threw in at the last minute while we were shooting the episode because I thought, 'Well, wouldn’t these two be great prison bunkmates?' and then the David Sweat prison break happened last spring," Leight says of the season premiere, which was filmed last spring before the infamous upstate New York prison-escapee hunt. "What can you do once you send two guys to prison for life? Have 'em escape. It gets us another run with them."

The episode starts off innocently enough, when Yates asks Rollins (Kelli Giddish) to visit him in prison because he has information on several missing women. "Benson doesn’t want her going up there," Leight says. "She doesn’t like the way Yates gets inside Rollins' head. There's complicated wiring insides Rollins' head and Yates seems to have the blueprint for it."

Because the women Yates is referring to hail from Chicago, it prompts Benson to call Voight (Jason Beghe) to send a substitute. "Rollins doesn’t want to be pushed aside and Lindsay (Sophia Bush) wants at him. Lindsay gets there first and then Rollins gets there after. It's an interesting triangle," says Leight. "He likes playing with these women detectives. I think he gets off on it."

Once out from behind bars, it doesn’t take long for Yates to return to Chicago, where he once again faces off with Lindsay. "He has unfinished business there," Leight says. "Also, Lindsay has unfinished business because Yates killed her roommate, Nadia."

After working together on several other cases, Lt. Benson & Co. are happy to travel to the Windy City to lend a helping hand, especially since they were the ones who put away both escaped inmates to begin with. "There's enough history that they fold easily now into each other," says Leight. "It's almost like basketball teams that have played each other a few times. They know each other's strengths and weaknesses. They'll go at it pretty hard, but there's more mutual respect than there was the first time around."

Despite the camaraderie between Chicago P.D. and Law & Order: SVU, the shows won't be crossing over again until next season at the earliest, according to Leight, who declares this is his "last crossover" before he steps down as SVU showrunner in May. "I wish everyone the best," he says. "We had one story that I thought could work [for a four-show crossover], but we're prepping that now as a one-hour for us. ... Someone else will have to come up with the premise. I've given my all to the crossovers at this point."

Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT, followed by Chicago P.D. at 10 p.m. on NBC.