Monday, December 7, 2009

The Brand Manager: Dick Wolf's Family of Crime Dramas Took Advance Planning

TV Guide, 12.7.09
by Mickey O'Connor

Former advertising executive Dick Wolf got his start in television writing for shows like Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice. But his greatest accomplishment is Law & Order, which mastered the TV-show-as-brand concept by cornering the market on cops-and-courts procedurals. (This year it ties Gunsmoke's record for longest-running scripted television program.) L&O laid the groundwork for two successor series: Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Wolf, one of the influential television industry players interviewed for TVGuide.com's Best of the Decade section, talked with us about the germ of the idea that led to his gritty TV empire. He also told us what he watches.

TVGuide.com: Tell me about the conception of Law & Order as an idea. How did you pitch it?
Dick Wolf: In 1988, you could not give away hour-long shows in syndication; you could only sell half-hour shows. So the original thinking was to try to make an hour-long show that could be split in half and sold as two half-hour shows. We thought about a bunch of things, including night and day, life and death... law and order obviously moved to the front of the pack. There had never been a show about prosecutors and there had never been a split-format show. It seemed like an opportunity to capitalize on two openings in the marketplace. Luckily, we didn't have to split them because I really don't think it would have worked.

Read more of our conversations with the most influential people in TV

TVGuide.com: When it comes to spin-offs, people tend to be a little cynical. When it came time to spin-off Law & Order, what was your initial reaction?
Wolf: Well, first of all, it wasn't a spin-off. It came out of a two-hour movie called Exiled with Chris Noth after he had left the show. I didn't think that a movie called Exiled would get the type of promotion or notice that would inform the public of what it was so it was originally called Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, and it became the highest-rated movie of the week of the year on NBC. That sort of clicked on a light bulb that said we can probably do this again with a new series.

But it's not a spin-off. None of the characters were ever in Law & Order that did SVU. I came out of advertising and I did a lot of work with Procter & Gamble, where nothing is better than a brand extension and nothing is worse than a brand extension that doesn't work. So there was a lot of pressure to come up with an idea that was unique enough. The one thing I knew that people have an insatiable interest in is sex — the original title was Sex Crimes — but Barry Diller didn't want to have "sex" in the title so we went with the sex crimes unit's official name [Special Victims Unit].

Then the third one was sort of obvious. Gee, we have two that work; why don't we have a third? Vincent D'Onofrio was really the only person that we had to go to. He wouldn't do TV at that point. I told him the show was basically Sherlock Holmes, completely different from L&O or SVU.

I've said for years that this is not a franchise, it's a brand. CSI, and this is not a put-down, CSI is a franchise and a franchise to me is The Palm [restaurant]. If you want to get a steak, you know that whether you're in Chicago, New York, L.A., or San Francisco, you go to the Palm and you're going to get a great steak. A brand is Mercedes: It doesn't matter which one you buy, you're going to get a really good car. It's a subtle but very distinct and overwhelmingly important difference.

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1 comment:

janethyland said...

"VDO was really the only person that we had to go to" says Wolf in this interview.

Its nice to hear Wolf clearly state this. It ends the speculation/hearsay on sites that attempt to suggest there were other choices involved.

Its clear Wolf wanted something different for LOCI, and that VDO was the actor he wanted. This "experiment" between them created something very special,something that cant be repeated or replicated.

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