NBC's Surprising Bright Spot: Dick Wolf's 'Chicago Fire'

NBC Chicago Fire - H 2013

NBC Chicago Fire - H 2013

The meat-and-potatoes drama has beaten ABC's "Nashville" and even CBS' powerhouse "CSI."

This story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

NBC'S Bob Greenblatt has placed significant bets on high concepts (Do No Harm) and big swings (Smash). But the show quietly delivering for the fourth-place network is Chicago Fire, the meat-and-potatoes drama from Law & Order mastermind Dick Wolf.

The series, which revolves around a team of sexy Chicago firefighters and paramedics, has been beating ABC's critical darling Nashville on Wednesdays in the key 18-to-49 demo of late -- and on Feb. 27, it outrated CBS' long-running CSI, too.

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Fire averages a 1.9 Live+Same Day rating in the demo, which puts it ahead of all other scripted efforts on NBC's schedule, save for The Office (2.1) and a Voice-lifted Go On (2.0). A low bar, yes, and Revolution should top that when it returns March 25, but Fire's first-quarter 2013 airings (as NBC has flatlined) are up 18 percent compared with its fourth-quarter 2012 episodes, and its order has increased from 22 to 24.

The show is soapier than Wolf's L&O procedurals. Still, that it's performing -- adding audience members as many freshman rivals shed them -- is particularly impressive considering the series lacks that which network executives deem increasingly necessary: a proven property, a high-concept premise and household names.

In fact, an arc on The CW's The Vampire Diaries notwithstanding, star Taylor Kinney was best known as Lady Gaga's boyfriend when the series began. Says Wolf Films executive vp Danielle Gelber, pun intended, "It has definitely been the little engine that could."