Interview with Dick Wolf, Chris Meloni and Ilene Chaiken of “Law and Order: Organized Crime” on NBC by Suzanne 4/7/21
This was a virtual press conference with Wolf, the creator of this show (and all the Law & Order shows, as well as all the Chicago shows and all the FBI shows), the headwriter Chaiken and star Meloni. There wasn’t a lot of time, and many press people were there, so I didn’t get to ask a question. However, they did answer most of the questions I would have asked, anyway. It was just great to see them.
Question: Chris, I think Stabler is probably one of the most hot-headed of the characters in the “Law & Order” brand. What’s the secret as an actor to playing hot- headed– playing anger without going over the top?
Chris: Well, I think that that template was set right from the beginning. Meaning, I still remember very vividly, Dick [Wolf] wrote the initial “SVU” pilot. Dick was the one who hired me. And I went to him. And I said, he originally had Elliot Stabler with three kids. I said, “I think he needs four.” He’s like, “Oh, okay.” And I saw this guy as a guy under pressure constantly. And I felt that and this had a lot to do with after speaking with real SVU detectives, about the pressures that they were under and the crimes that they witnessed. And I knew that I as me, personally, Chris Meloni would have a very difficult time downloading and processing what these real people in heroes do every day, and the things that they see. So, that’s like kind of the genesis of this. So, it’s not like, “Oh, he’s a hothead to be a hothead.” I think it’s his reaction to injustice. I think to him injustice makes his head explode. And I think that’s also now part of Elliot 2.0 is hopefully his evolution towards having a clear understanding of the world is unjust. And then now how is it that you adapt yourself to realities that keep punching you in the face literally and figuratively?
Question: The tragic incident that started this all-in motion is the death of your wife. Has that ramped him up more? How do you feel like that’s changed him? Is it for the better for the worse? Or could he get any worse?
Chris: Well, I think it’s what I that that can be tagged along to the last question that I answered, which is so a guy who’s dealt with injustice, always one step removed, which is it’s a victim that it is my job to go and to attend to. Now, it’s how do you attend to your own wounds? How do you attend to this own injustice? How do you carry on carrying that much grief? I asked Dick, “Can I have four kids,” and that later was five kids? How do you carry on through there with financial pressures and all these and family pressures. Now deal with your your family, being literally figuratively blown up? So how do you deal with that faith wise and personally? So, let’s hope that Elliot has found better coping mechanisms, but is still very passionate.
Question: Ilene, I believe you had to shut down twice for COVID concerns, how has that affected your delivery as far as episodes go, and also the overall arc you’re planning to tell the season Have you had to compact that at all?
Dick: We’ve been remarkably lucky with COVID. It hasn’t affected the storytelling at all, but you open the door for a gratuitous statement here that, needless to say, I’m thrilled to have Chris back. It’s been a wonderful collaborative relationship with Ilene on this pilot and the show. But the thing that really excites me about the show, and I’m not speaking in progress, what I think is exciting for him is that this is the first “Law & Order” with literally, completely different storytelling. That in a twenty-four-episode season, which next year will be, you should think about the fact that it’s going to be three, eight-episode arcs. And the first third of the season is The Godfather. The second third is American Gangster. And the last third is Scarface. And these villains are going to be really bad guys. That gives Chris a constant source of energy, outrage, belief in justice and a different way of pursuing criminals than we’ve had before. He could always say, in things like this, “What are you going to be doing this year?” And on the mothership, or in Season 3, you could just go and check off your fingers. Now, we’re doing this is a very long, but not too long period to really get inside both your protagonist and your antagonist heads. And I’m not all you have to do is look at the casting and the first episode. And realize this is not episodic casting. We’re shooting for bigger game. And I think it’s gonna be endlessly interesting and the character craft has evolved in subtle ways that are given a lot more than lip service this last week. Just think of the challenge that will be this gentleman was the most pre-Miranda cop on television. And he is come back and the adjustment to the new realities that he well represents I’m very proud of and this is – I’m almost afraid to say it. It’s one of the real reasons that I ebb and wain here is because Ilene is not only an excellent writer, but she has managed to take a very tough character and make him more sympathetic last week than he’s ever been. You ever think you’d see Stabler cry? Anyway, that’s the commercial.
Question: Chris mentioned about literally blowing his family up with Kathy. Talk a little bit about what’s going to happen on the personal side of his life because it looks like that was setting it up for a lot of Stabler and some family interaction and are we going to spend time at home with him?
Ilene: Yeah. This is this is a show that will spend time with Stabler and his family and his life and his emotions. We tell stories. We tell procedural stories. The DNA of the “Law & Order” franchise of “SVU” very much in our show, but we probably will get to know Stabler in a way you’ve never gotten to know him.
Question: Dick and Ilene, there have been crossovers with SVU in the first two episodes. Can you talk about finding the balance of doing that to keep the focus on organized crime?
Dick: Well, I certainly think the second episode…I’m going to turn this over to Ilene, but I would say, the most accurate measure is how often there will be crossovers? And what depth are the Chicago shows? We’re going to do it whenever it gave us both shows a different way to shine. And, obviously, I’m very supportive to the audience and says, “Geez, this is frustrating. Why don’t you just put them both in the same show again?” It’s not exciting. This, to me, is scary, is much more engaging.
Ilene: I’ll take the lead on this. Because it’s a thing that he so intuitively knows how to do. But it’s…I mean, these two shows within the same universe in the same fictional but very grounded universe. And we never forget that those other characters in those other stories exist. And when we tell a story about Stabler in Benson’s (Mariska Hargitay) world or Benson in Stabler’s world, and things happen, that affect their characters, we don’t just forget about it. So, it’s both challenging and tantalizing from the point of view of story writing, to make sure that you keep those things a lot, while the shows have their own identity.
Question: For Ilene and Dick, I’m curious about the choice to use the dead wife as motivation, the trope, at the opening of this show. I know there was some pushback, and some criticism of that aspect.
Dick: Look, I have to tell you, it’s one of the most dramatic. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s probably the most dramatic teaser that I can remember on any show, too. I don’t know what. I didn’t see anything that was critical of that storytelling. You can’t please all the people any of the time. It’s not what we do. The only thing we can do is tell stories that if we’re sitting there and it doesn’t compel us, why are we going to think that it’s going to compel and audience? When I thought that was like, “Wow, what a re-intro!”
Ilene: When I joined this project that was already a fait accompli. It was a premise that I was given to work with. And I said, “Wow, this is a great place to start.” I was not in any way put off by it. I was immediately drawn in. When you tell a story like this, when you tell a story about a beloved character, who’s been gone for many years, the first question you ask yourself is why now? And that as a storytelling catalyst is one of the best why nails I could ever think of?
Question: Chris, when you left did you say, “Someday I’ll be back? Or did you say, “No, I’m done with that. I’m over with that.” And then when you were gone, did you watch the shows and and say, “Oh, God, I should be in that.” What was your kind of thinking about all of that?
Chris: My thinking was it was time to go. So, I wasn’t and I don’t tend to look back. So, I didn’t and my journey has been fantastic and very fulfilling. And I must admit, I have maybe watched ten minutes. I’m not much of a TV watcher. So, it wasn’t anything personal. That’s it. Those are the facts, Jack.
Question: Dick, one of the hallmarks of your shows is ripped from the headlines. And it sounds like from what you said earlier that it that this show “Organized Crime” is going to have two levels of ripped from the headlines, the overriding arc of these eight episodes. And the second is the individual episodes. I was wondering between you and Ilene, what headlines are we going to see ripped from the headlines as the show continues?
Dick: I’ve had the same answer for thirty-one years. “Law & Order” is fiction. We make the headline, but not the body copy. And I hate to be abrasive, but this show started off as a story that while we were going to be covering with “Organized Crime,” criminal enterprises that are ongoing, and their headlines…Well, every day in every major newspaper that have some reference point. And the thing that’s fascinating about Wheatley (Dylan McDermott) to me is that he is the old mob and the new mob. And there’s plenty of vaccine right now there wasn’t last week. And I thought that the oldest mob activity that there is or was was hijacked. And here is an opportunity to combine hijacking and COVID. I don’t know how to get it much more ripped from the headlines. But there will be others and Ilene should really be answering. She’s the one inserting the flavor into the sauce. But we never think consciously, “Okay, what’s the headline in this show?” It’s life. It’s what’s going on. It’s zeitgeist. And when there was some discussion, “Gee, how are we gonna handle COVID.” I said, “The show is going to be on by Spring. It’s not going to be gone by then.” And sure enough, it couldn’t have felt more timely, but it is taking up the major share of Americans thinking for the last year. So, I can’t say I was surprised that people found it interesting. But Ilene, what other headlines?
Ilene: Well, what usually happens is, you know, given the template that we’re working on, we come up with a story, we think maybe it’s ludicrous, we hope not. But we run with it. And then the next day, Chris sends me an article that he found, and the thing that we just made up in the writers room, has actually happened. So, I mean, we’re taking our lead from what’s going on in the world and imagining where it might be going. And usually it pans out. And sometimes we feel just the ungainly weight of responsibility for having imagined these things into existence.
Question: A lot of police shows have made adjustments since the events of last year relating to matters like police behavior and brutality, racial justice. I’ve seen it on “SVU.” Hhow much will that enter into here? And how does Elliot as the protagonist did, said pre Miranda cop, how much did that factor in how he has or hasn’t changed over this decade? And how much will that affect him since that could seem like it could be a point of conflict in some ways?
Dick: I will just, again…Obviously, the people inside the company, the showrunners, the producers, we spend a lot of time talking about police behavior. I would put it to that you probably more time than any other non-law enforcement group of people in the country, because it’s what we do every day. And I made a statement when everything erupted in the Spring and early Summer that somebody said, “What are you doing to change?” I said, “We’re doing what we always do, which is listen very carefully, read virtually everything written about this from both sides of the spectrum – from the far left to the far right.” And what I said in the Spring still holds. The shows will speak for themselves. That if you’ve been watching “Chicago PD,” the question is asked and answered. Of course, we deal with what’s going on. But it’s never in a knee jerk way. That “Law & Order” for years that people say “There is no character in it.” And I said, oh, there’s a lot of character if you’re a regular viewer, you know, surprisingly huge personal dossiers on all six of the regulars. But we don’t dole it out with soup labels. We dole it out with Demi tap spoons, because that’s the way life is because nobody gets a job walks in and says, here’s my resume for the last five years. It’s much more interesting that television shows exist on a very different timeframe than movies or books. That a movie exists for 110 minutes. An hour show to be considered successful, the old standard was five seasons. So, a successful drama exists for 110 hours. And we cover a lot of ground in terms of a) trying to be current and b) tell the truth in a sense that people don’t get to hear it. And again, something that I’ve said, we’ve come very close. But the paradigm episode of “Law & Order” or as “SVU” has yet to be written, which is where all six of the regulars are on different sides of the same question. As you hear the arguments, or you hear them discussing every one of them is right. Because life is not black and white, it’s Shades of Grey. And again, coming full circle back to Chris, and I’d like to know what he thinks that I think he’s becoming one of the most complex television stars in the history of the medium because he – you don’t know what he is gonna do now. He is a little less predictable. But he sure has had a play it. When he walked in to the interrogation room and rolled up his sleeves I don’t think that was in the script. It is an instinct, it’s like…I hate to say it, but Peacock says sales are there for sexual display. It’s literally is this big enough? He takes all these rolls up his sleeve 80% of the audience, I am sure thought he was gonna approach the guy. That’s pretty cool.
Question: Chris, we have seen videos and talks about you and the rest of the cast reuniting. But how was it reuniting with the actors who play your kids? And will we see more of them in their background, what they’ve done for the last 10 years? We’ve seen Eli in the second episode, but will we see the rest of the kids and future episodes?
Chris: Yeah, and I’ll give Ilene the lion’s share on this. But I will say what was it like? My son, Dickey was the only original, original from day one “SVU” hits. And then some came on later. And then some were brand new. Some, “Hi, you’re my new daughter. Let’s figure out our history.” It was very sweet and nice. And I think the biggest, the biggest thing to try and overcome was (and it was very sweet), they made me feel like OG – the original gangster – you know, because I’ve been playing and I’ve lived in this world for almost 20 years. And many of them were new to it. So we just had to get to know each other as people. And it was lovely. It was it. I think there’s a lot of ground that’s available to cover.
Ilene: Oh, we certainly will see more of them. Some more than others, but a big part of Stabler’s life now a big part of his story is that he’s now a single father to a 14 year old kid. So, how he manages to balance that with being back in New York and back on the job is going to be in his story. And we did that great thing. Before we started working, we got the whole family together all the kids with Chris and they talked about who they are and where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing and what they do now. And hopefully that will go on with the show.
Question: Chris, fans of course I freaked out seeing Olivia and Elliott back together last week. How does it feel seeing a positive fan reaction to your return ten years and have you and Mariska talked about it since the episodes aired?
Chris: Mariska and I have talked. And the conversation went something basically like this. “Wow. Congratulations. Congratulations to you.” Ah, yeah, it was pretty overwhelming. I think she was expecting it more than I was. You know, because I think she’s still been the she’s been on the “Law & Order” stew. She’s been in that world continuously for the 20 years. I don’t know, I was not prepared. And it’s overwhelming. And it’s wonderful. And it’s very appreciated. And I think this time around I don’t know the pressures off. I feel less pressure than I did when Dick first tasked me with being Elliott Stabler. So, I’m a little freer to appreciate everything. It’s a nice journey.
Here is the audio version of it.
Interview Transcribed by Jamie S.
Christopher Meloni, reprising his role as Elliot Stabler, returns to the NYPD to battle organized crime after a devastating personal loss. However, the city and police department have changed dramatically in the decade he’s been away and he must adapt to a criminal justice system in the midst of its own moment of reckoning. Stabler will aim to find absolution and rebuild his life while leading a new elite task force that is taking apart the city’s most powerful criminal syndicates one by one.
NBC’S ‘LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME’ HITS THE STREETS THURSDAY, APRIL 1 AS PART OF HISTORIC CROSSOVER WITH ‘LAW & ORDER: SVU’
NBC is reuniting two of the most popular members of the NYPD in TV history with a must-watch April 1 crossover that will serve as the launch of the highly anticipated new Dick Wolf drama, “Law & Order: Organized Crime.”
A two-hour television event set for Thursday, April 1, this crossover between “Law & Order: SVU” (9 p.m.) and “Law & Order: Organized Crime” (10 p.m.) will finally bring back together Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, played by Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni.
“LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME” (SERIES PREMIERE)
Christopher Meloni, reprising his role as Elliot Stabler, returns to the NYPD to battle organized crime after a devastating personal loss. Stabler will aim to rebuild his life as part of a new elite task force that is taking apart the city’s most powerful criminal syndicates one by one.
The cast features Christopher Meloni, Dylan McDermott and Tamara Taylor.
“Law & Order: Organized Crime”was created by Dick Wolf, who will executive produce along with Ilene Chaiken, Terry Miller, Fred Berner, Arthur W. Forney and Peter Jankowski.
The series is produced by Wolf Entertainment and Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group.
Elliot Stabler, “Law & Order: Organized Crime”
Meloni was last seen starring on the Hulu British comedy “Maxxx.”
Meloni starred in SYFY’s dark comedy “Happy!” based on Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson’s graphic novel. In addition to his starring role as Nick Sax, he directed an episode as well as executive produced the series. Meloni also co-starred in the third season of the critically acclaimed Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” as Commander Winslow, a powerful and magnetic commander who hosts the Waterfords on an important trip.
Meloni had a guest arc on the breakout FX series “Pose,” from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. He also appeared in the landmark historical series “Underground,” executive produced by John Legend, and directed an episode.
Following his breakout role on “NYPD Blue,” Meloni was cast in HBO’s gritty prison drama “Oz” and then moved on to “Law & Order: SVU,” where he received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Following his 12 seasons on “SVU,” Meloni returned to HBO in Alan Ball’s wildly popular drama “True Blood” and the Julie Louis-Dreyfus-starrer “Veep.”
On the film side, Meloni’s credits include “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “White Bird in a Blizzard,” “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” “Man of Steel,” “42,” “They Came Together,” the Terry Gilliam films “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Twelve Monkeys,” “Bound,” “Runaway Bride,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” and the cult favorites “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and its first sequel, “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.”
Executive Producer, “Chicago Med”; Executive Producer, “Chicago Fire”; Executive Producer, “Chicago P.D.”; Executive Producer, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; “Law & Order: Organized Crime”; Executive Producer, “FBI”; Executive Producer, “FBI: Most Wanted”; Executive Producer, “Murder for Hire”; Executive Producer, “Cold Justice”
Dick Wolf, a two-time Emmy Award winner (13-time Emmy nominated), Grammy Award winner and New York Times best-selling author, is one of television’s most respected drama series creator/producers and the architect of one of the most successful brands in the history of television – “Law & Order.”
He serves as creator and executive producer of all of the “Law & Order”- branded series from Wolf Entertainment and Universal Television, including “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” which made television history which is beginning its 22nd season and is the longest-running live action primetime series in the history of television (surpassing “Gunsmoke” and “Law & Order,” both of which ran for 20 seasons). Wolf has extended his branding expertise to the Windy City, with his Chicago-based NBC series: “Chicago Fire” (season nine); “Chicago P.D.” (season eight) and “Chicago Med” (season six), with all three series receiving three-year pick-ups. Wolf’s CBS brand, “FBI,” which was the network’s top-rated new drama series for the 2018-19 television season, continued its stellar performance in season two and is now poised for season three. The success of “FBI” has spawned the spinoff “FBI Most Wanted,” which consistently wins its time period and has been renewed for season two.
Wolf’s seventh broadcast series is “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” which premieres on NBC in early 2021 and showcases the return of former “SVU” detective Elliot Stabler. In addition, NBC’s new streaming service Peacock, which launched in July 2020, announced an unprecedented deal for Wolf’s “Law & Order” and “Chicago” branded series.
Wolf has also expanded into non-fiction as executive producer of Oxygen’s critically acclaimed “Murder for Hire,” “Cold Justice” and “Criminal Confessions.” He also executive produced USA’s docuseries “Inside the FBI: New York,” the successful A&E series “Nightwatch” and its spinoffs, and Fox’s “First Responders Live.” Wolf Entertainment has also expanded into audio content with the successful debut of the podcast “Hunted,” in conjunction with Endeavor Audio and executive produced by Elliot Wolf.
Wolf’s company also produced two award-winning documentaries. “Twin Towers” is the 2003 Academy Award-winning documentary short about two brothers – one a policeman and the other a fireman – who lost their lives in the line of duty on Sept. 11. “When You’re Strange” is the Emmy-nominated documentary about the 1960s group The Doors, which won a Grammy Award for Outstanding Longform Video in 2011.
In 2007, Wolf executive produced (with Tom Thayer) the critically acclaimed HBO original movie “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” which won six Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Made for Television Movie. The film tells the tragic and powerful story of the subjugation and cultural extermination of the Native American, and garnered a record 17 Emmy nominations, the most of the 2006-07 television season. The film also received the prestigious Broadcast Film Critics Association’s Critic’s Choice Award for Best Picture Made for Television. Wolf and Thayer have teamed up again with the high-profile limited series “American Babylon,” which is in development at Showtime.
Wolf’s debut novel, “The Intercept,” was a New York Times bestselling thriller about Jeremy Fisk, a new kind of hero for a new kind of enemy. His follow up book, “The Execution,” debuted in 2014 and, like its predecessor, was both popular and critically acclaimed. “The Ultimatum,” the third installment of the series, was released in 2015 from HarperCollins.
Wolf’s “Law & Order”-branded series continue to rewrite the annals of television history. “Law & Order” earned 11 consecutive Outstanding Drama Series Emmy nominations – the record for most consecutive series Emmy nominations in the history of television (tied with “Cheers” and “M*A*S*H”) – and won the coveted Emmy in that category in 1997. Additional accolades “Law & Order” has garnered include the highly coveted Peabody Award; multiple Emmys; the Crystal Apple Award from New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting; the Writer’s Guild Award for Television; and numerous other high-ranking tributes.
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” which has received a three-year pick up from NBC, has been one of the network’s top performers. Mariska Hargitay, who plays Det. Olivia Benson, has received seven Emmy nominations for Lead Actress in a Drama Series, winning in 2006. The show has earned five Emmys for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. Wolf, “SVU” and Hargitay, through her Joyful Heart Foundation, have used the show’s platform to make groundbreaking changes in the way sexual assault is prosecuted and reported.
“Law & Order: Criminal Intent” completed its critically acclaimed and successful 10-year run on NBC and USA Network in 2011. Other “Law & Order”-branded series include “Law & Order: True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” “Law & Order: “Trial By Jury,” “Crime & Punishment” and “Exiled: A Law & Order Movie.”
Wolf Entertainment’s feature arm will be producing “77” for Paramount, directed by Jared Leto and based on an original screenplay by James Ellroy. Wolf also produced, with Fortress Films, the psychological thriller “The Super,” written by John J. McLaughlin (“Black Swan”) and starring Patrick Flueger (“Chicago P.D.”), which was distributed by Saban and premiered in 2018. Wolf also wrote the screenplay for the hit Paramount release “School Ties,” was writer and executive producer of “Masquerade,” and writer and producer of “No Man’s Land.”
His personal accolades include the Television Academy Hall of Fame (inducted 2013); the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Lifetime Achievement Award; the Producers Guild of America’s Norman Lear Showmanship Award; the DGA Honors; the Governor’s Award by the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; the Achievement Award from the Caucus for Producers, Writers, and Directors; the Television Showman of the Year Award from the Publicist’s Guild of America; the Monte Carlo Television Festival Gold Nymph Award; the Award of Excellence from the Banff Television Festival; NATPE’s Brandon Tartikoff Award; accolades from the Saban Clinic; and the Alliance for Children’s Rights. On March 29, 2007, Wolf received a star on Hollywood’s world famous Walk of Fame.
Wolf is also an Honorary Consul of Monaco and is actively involved in the principality’s annual Monte Carlo Television Festival and is its primary liaison with the entertainment community. He is also the founder and benefactor (with Marcy Carsey) of the Carsey-Wolf Center for Media at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as numerous philanthropic endeavors, including MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, chairman of the board of Bellosguardo, Trustee of the Paley Center for Media, the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Princess Grace Foundation and, through his Wolf Family Foundation, endowed the new Wolf Theatre at the Television Academy.
Executive Producer, “Law & Order: Organized Crime”
Ilene Chaiken serves as executive producer and showrunner for NBC’s new drama series “Law & Order: Organized Crime.
Best known for creating the Showtime series “The L Word,” Chaiken received an Emmy, among many other awards, for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She was the showrunner for the first four seasons of the Golden Globe-nominated Fox series “Empire” and currently serves as executive producer of “The L Word” sequel, “The L Word: Generation Q,” which has been renewed for a second season on Showtime.
Prior to that, Chaiken produced the docu-dramas “The Real L Word” and “The Real L Word Mississippi” for Showtime, which won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary. She also executive produced pilots for Jerry Bruckheimer, McG and Joel Silver, and served as showrunner of the ABC drama series “Black Box.”
Hailing from Elkins Park, Penn., Chaiken resides in Los Angeles with her wife, LouAnne Brickhouse, and is the mother of two daughters, Augusta and Tallulah Hood. She serves as a member of the Rhode Island School of Design Board of Trustees.
Proofread and Edited by Brenda