|Dick Wolf, the creator of the "Law & Order" franchise, began his television career as a writer on the popular series, "Hill Street Blues", his success led him to a supervising producer position on "Miami Vice." Now, Wolf Films is one of the biggest powerhouse production companies around.|
Wolf's prolific "Law & Order" franchise has been nominated for the most consecutive Emmy Awards of any primetime drama series.
He serves as executive producer for all three "Law & Order" series partnered with NBCU, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Wolf's recent addition to his L&O ensemble casts are Anthony Anderson, joining Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under) and Adam Beach, who had joined L&O: SVU.
Wolf has been retooling his production costs because of budget constraints from NBC and the process of the network tightening belts has forced the producer to rethink his strategies. It is no secret in industry circles he has been less than happy about this.
Wolf spoke about the major renovations to his long-running series of the past 10 years. "It has a very large and very deliberate shift to hopefully reignite or further penetrate a younger demo. We would love it to skew a little bit younger."
In this move, the addition of popular actor Anthony Anderson (K-Ville, The Departed) into the show is part of this move.
Anderson and show creator, Executive Producer, Dick Wolf took some time to speak with Monsters and Critics and other online journalists about the new episodes and Anderson's character.
Anthony – can you talk about the character you’ll be playing and maybe how it contrasts to the character and the detective you played on K-Ville earlier this year?
Anthony Anderson: Sure. My character’s name is Detective Bernard, Kevin Bernard, he starts out in Internal Affairs where he did not volunteer for the job. He was recruited straight out of the Academy.
So it’s not like he’s a turncoat who wanted to police the police. His dream was to become a homicide detective but he has to serve two years in IAB before that can happen.
Straightforward, you may think he’s a by-the-book guy because he comes from Internal Affairs but he knows how to get around certain things without cutting too many corners to get the job done.
The difference in the characters from K-Ville to Law & Order, they're both passionate about their job and wear their hearts on their sleeves, and will do what it takes to get the job done.
That’s what I think connects these two, if you want to connect them at all.
Anthony, How does it feel like shooting in the streets of New York compared to what it was like shooting in New Orleans?
Anthony Anderson: that’s like asking someone which one of their children do they love… Well, , Law & Order, , is a place in New York and in particular is a place that I’ve always wanted to shoot just because of what New York means to me and what it stands for, for me.
I just live the city. I love the vibrant lifestyle and all of that. And in both places. New Orleans and New York really aren’t backdrops.
They’re actually characters in each one of these shows. They are both similar in terms of the energy and the lifeblood that pumps through the city,
This is a bit more metropolis than New Orleans but you have the Cajun influence and the Bayou, and all of that. But for me there - it’s almost the same, .
People are people wherever you go and it’s the people that make the cities.
Anthony, when you started out, did you think your career would be strictly comedy or a blend of both?
Anthony Anderson: Comedy is something that just comes second nature to me and it was what hit for me first. And I just rode that wave. And before I rode that wave any further than I was going to, I wanted to, , just take a step back before I was typecast as just being the funny guy because, , the industry can just be myopic in their thinking at times.
Once they see you do something and you do it well, they may think that’s all that you can do. So shows like Law & Order, shows like The Shield, movies like The Departed and Hustle & Flow, those were shows and movies that I sat back and targeted, and had my team go after because those are the things that I wanted to do to show the converse of what people were used to seeing me as.
And so it’s always been my plan, You look at Richard Pryor. Some of his best work was when he was the straight man in Mahogany and Lady Sings the Blues.
You look at what Robin Williams has done with Dead Poets Society and Good morning, Vietnam when he made that turn. You look at Jamie Foxx and Will Smith, and others like that - , this is a path and a pattern that we’ve plotted out for ourselves and me in particular.
I never saw myself just being just one note as the comedic actor because I knew what talents that I had. And a lot of journalism people ask me, , is it difficult for me to keep a straight face when I’m on a set like The Departed or I’m on a set like Law & Order.
I was like no, it’s not difficult for me to do that at all because that’s my job. I’m an actor. The difficult part was me getting the opportunity to portray these characters.
And, Dick Wolf has given me a shot to do that. Peter Liguori gave me that shot at FX on The Shield and on Fox with K-Ville. So I thank them both for allowing me to show you guys what else I can do.
Dick Wolf: I think that the interesting thing is - and we’ve had a - obviously Richard Belzer and even (Chris) who I think his first television job was on The Fanelli Boys - it’s a lot easier to be a dramatic actor in many ways, I think, than it is to be a comedian whether you joke about, , comedy isn’t pretty or comics are tortured.
There have been many, many instances -- which Anthony has just enumerated some of them -- of comics being able to be transcendent in dramas. I don’t know any dramatic actors who then went into comedy.
Dick, you can talk a little bit about the decision to have a story that sort of explains why people are coming and going? And then Anthony, what it was like to sort of come in and get a bigger introduction than it sounds like characters usually do?
Dick Wolf: It was really kismet. I don’t think that there was a plan that we were going to do the overlap. But when Jesse requested to leave which this is this is something we’ve been discussing after - for about the last six, seven months - whether, he had made it very clear a year ago that he was feeling kind of burned out.
It was - he was going into his ninth season and, , he would like the option of leaving. And I don’t feel that -- especially when people have done the type of work that Jesse has done -- that you keep them under a ball and chain even though, we had a deal with him this year.
I said look, let’s just do this in a timely, intelligent basis. Then the strike came along and it put things in even more of a perspective for him. So when we knew he was going to leave, then we decided well let’s do it this season because there would be an opportunity to do something that we hadn’t done before.
Rene came up with, I think, just a fantastic story for this episode and it’s very compelling. And it seemed like a natural thing to do. I don’t think that it’s - , we’re going to try to duplicate it in the future.
I mean, most of the transitions have, as you said, been either a mention or a walk-in. And this was just an opportunity after 19 years to do something different.
Anthony, what was that like for you to come in the middle and to sort of ease into it?
Anthony Anderson: Right. first and foremost, I can say it was organic how it all came together from, ,my meeting with Dick during the strike, when he asked me to come on board to me stepping on the sound stage here in Chelsea Piers- my first day of work.
I stepped into a well-oiled machine and they were so welcoming and opening - and open to me. It was as if we were family. And very seldom does one get to join a cast that way.
And like I say, it was just organic. I felt it was - grateful isn’t the word that I’m looking for, but everybody was at peace with the decisions that had been made.
Jesse handed this off to me. And I’m taking it and I’m going to run with it. I’ve been a lot - a part of a lot of productions, a lot of television shows.
This is by far and hands down, the best production that I have ever been a part of and I’m just glad to be a part of it. And, and it shows from the crew to the cast just how everybody has been accepting of everything. And, that’s how it’s been for me.
Dick Wolf: The transition was just seamless. I hope I answered your question.
Anthony, were you a fan of the show before this came up?
Anthony Anderson: Yeah, I was definitely a fan of the show. I mean, you can’t have a show on the air 18 seasons and not have watched it or been a fan of it, or been affected by it. Yeah, I was definitely and still am a fan of the show - even more so now.
Do you have any favorite characters?
Anthony Anderson: No, never really had a favorite character. I mean, because NBC and Dick Wolf did - have been great in the casting of the show originally and with the replacements that have come and gone throughout the years, just bringing on quality actors that, , people relate to and respond to.
So never really singled anyone out other than, I can single the show and say that if it’s not one of the best - the best show that’s been on the air for as long as it has been.
Do you have any theories as to why crime dramas, police dramas, detectives or dramas - legal dramas have such durability, why they keep working for us over all these years?
Anthony Anderson: Well I think -- and Dick may want to jump in on this one as well -- but I think Law & Order - I mean, just because it pulls, the crimes and its stories from the headlines, , that’s happening in everyday life that people relate and respond to, .
It’s a window into our world that comes into our homes and our offices or what not, every day of the week now. So, I know that’s why me and my friends, and my family respond to this show because something happens in the news and the next thing , within a month’s time, it’s on Law & Order and they’re showing you their version of it.
Dick Wolf: Well I think that the - one of the secrets of the show’s longevity is - one of the reasons that over time we’ve had the cast turnovers is because actors can get frustrated.
I was going to say that one of the things that we’re keeping at is that Anthony’s character is actually half of a set of conjoined twins that were separated because it might be good to have some real character stuff.
But aside from that, which nobody will ever know about obviously, , the secret of the show is that it’s a workplace show, that if you walk into your own sitting room and look around, how many of those people’s apartments have you been in?
How much do you really know about their personal lives? People go to work in the morning and they do a job, and they go home. And the emphasis on Law & Order has always been the job and the way people interact in a work environment.
And I think that it’s what keeps it fresh in a strange way, is that the matter at hand is the matter at hand. It’s the case and how they’re going to solve it, and how they’re going to prosecute it.
I sold the show to (Brad Smith) 20 years ago. He said what’s the bible? I said the front page of the New York Post and it’s a pretty good bible, the people are not going to stop killing each other in unique and interesting ways, unfortunately.
Dick. one of your goals for the show was to beat the record set by Gunsmoke.
Dick Wolf: Oh, absolutely.
Well since we’re back next year, I would say that the reality is it’s one to tie and two to win. So yes, it’s absolutely priority one.
What’s the plan after the 20 years?
Dick Wolf: Go another 20.
Anthony Anderson: I’m leaving after 12, Dick, just so you know that. I’m leaving after 12.
Anthony, your character is brought on to investigate Jesse Martin’s pass, what’s in the future for Kevin Bernard?
Anthony Anderson: That’s entirely up to our writing staff. I mean first and foremost the job at hand, solving crimes and bringing people to justice.
An interesting thing that Dick told me in our meeting some time ago was that, , this isn’t a character driven show. this is a show about the law and order of what’s going on.
And so this is what me and my character is here to do, solve the crimes and bring people to justice. And whatever happens in between, and the in between then is up to the imagination of our great writing staff.
I’m interested and eager, just as much as you are, to see what Kevin Bernard is going to go through.
Dick Wolf: I got to tell you, this is just a tip of the hat to Rene who (a) it’s great having him back on the show. He did obviously a superb job on Criminal Intent. I mean, we’ve worked together for the last - literally the last 20 years.
And the subtleties that he puts in to scripts which nobody even notices the first time around, but he gave Anthony one line in this first episode where he had gone into IAB -- which is Internal Affairs -- not because he had volunteered, but because he had been recruited right out of the Academy.
This is the type of thing that set up perfectly his joining the squad in the second episode because Epatha knew that and figured that if they had recruited him for IAB, he’s obviously really smart which is what she wants in her homicide detectives.
But there was literally - there was one other thing. Yeah, I was hoping I’d do it for two years and get it, , get homicide. That little two line exchange sets up a totally credible and realistic way for him to transit from investigating (Jerry) to becoming - or investigating Jesse to becoming Jeremy’s new partner.
And that’s a function of A, great writing, but B, also people who have worked together for years and years, and years.
Dick, do you ever think about taking this to the big screen?
Dick Wolf: Well, it’s been suggested numerous times over the years. I’m one of these - this may sound strange. I’m really happy being a TV guy. The - I think that - and I hope I don’t live to regret the words.
I mean, feature films are always fun. I would not know, in a sense, where to begin in terms of who would I want in the feature. I’ve had for better or worse over two dozen incredible actors on the show.
Which iteration do you take? Do you have Sam come back as the prosecutor? , there are so many -- as opposed to the DA -- there’s so many questions that are begged by the very concept of a feature. I’d just rather go for 40 years.
Anthony, are you looking forward to the season? Are you looking forward to getting with the writers and seeing how your character evolves?
Anthony Anderson: I’m looking forward to all of that just to come on board to a franchise like this where everybody knows what they’re doing. Everybody knows how to do what they do and it’s simple.
I’m just looking forward and grateful to be a part of this family right now. this is some of the most fun that I’ve had in my career in particular in television working with NBC, working with Dick Wolf and working with this show. I can’t speak enough about that. So I’m excited about work every day.
Dick, were you worried the first time you lost a cast member and had to change?
Dick Wolf: Well it was not - let me - the historical fact is that I wasn’t left any choice. I mean, (Warren) called up and said you got to put women in the show. And I said, well I just can’t add characters. That means I’d have to make some changes. He said exactly.
And that was when Epatha and Jill Hennessy came in, in Season 4. And I don’t know if it was trepidation. It was - I felt terrible about Dann, who has obviously done okay and has been on SVU for the past nine years and Richard Brooks because they had done (yeoman) service a terrific job.
I remember when I called Dann. I said look this is a very difficult call. You’re the guy who’s first there every day. You always know your lines. You never bump into the furniture. You’re fired.
It was terrible. It was the worst call of my professional career. At the same time, we got inordinately lucky. Obviously, Jill has gone on to not only do a great job on Law & Order, but be the star of her own show.
Epatha has been there for 14 years. As I said when she won the Emmy on - for her HBO movie, gee, I knew this 14 or 12 years ago, that she’s finally got the recognition that had not been given to her on Law & Order.
It’s one of the things that has constantly been a frustration - is the lack of recognition of the actors and the writers on Law & Order because it’s not that standard television wear your heart on your sleeve kind of character centered drama.
So I don’t know, that’s a rather long and meandering answer. I’m always nervous when you discomfit the audience, but again, this is not of my choosing.
Jesse said, I’m really burned out man. Nine years, I’ve had it. And you wake up and go looking. And low and behold, you end up with Anthony and I’m absolutely thrilled.
I don’t have any trepidation about this move at all. I mean, if you look at the way these transitions have taken place, we have been inordinately blessed with the audience acceptance level, but we’ve really been blessed in the caliber of actors that we have managed to bring into these roles as they open up.
Is it a weird season because of the strike?
Dick Wolf: Oh, it’s been the second weird season. But I just addressed to - if you’re talking about next season…I’m very, very comfortable with this. I mean, the reality is we will go on in January and we will have 22 uninterrupted episodes in a row, which means that we’ll be on against 40% to 50% repeats on the other network. It’s quite a shooting gallery.
Anthony, do you feel like you have a second home now in New Orleans even though you don’t have K-Ville to do anymore? Did you buy a home there?
Anthony Anderson: I’m invested in the people in New Orleans. I was just about to buy a home there and then the strike happened, and that stopped me from doing it. But I have never been treated the way that I was treated, in such a beautiful way while I was in New Orleans.
And I’ve traveled all over the world. It’s the people - when I say family, I mean family - , the spirit of the people in New Orleans is unlike any other spirit in the people that I’ve come in contact with.
To go what they have gone through, , pre and post Katrina and to be able to walk with their head high and come back home, and rebuild their home the way that they’re doing now - is just a testament to the people of that city.
And, , we were doing great things in the community with Habitat for Humanity and just in bringing people on board to work. And not only the work, but also come back home and rebuild their lives, and bring their families back home with them.
That’s why I was so emotionally involved with the city because I wasn’t just there working. I was there living, . I lived there every day that I was in that city.
The only time I had come back to Los Angeles was for three press events. my family had come to New Orleans for extended stay and I miss that place.
I’m still in contact with everyone - all the friends that I’ve met - had made while I was there, we’re still in contact. We still see each other occasionally. And so New Orleans will always be my second home.
I always have a place to stay and a meal to eat. I know Dick Wolf said once - he’d actually told me I shouldn’t gain another pound. Of course, just keep me away from New Orleans, Dick and we’re fine.
Dick Wolf: I’m one of the few people who can tell Anthony that.
Anthony, how else did you kind of prepare to take on this role and come in on this cast?
Anthony Anderson: Well I just - didn’t really prepare much. I didn’t know what I was walking into. I wanted to get here first and to experience the people, and breathe in this city. But I prepare for any job, basically the same. , I’ve gone through police training with - and detective training from doing shows like this - in particular, K-Ville, where I was the lead.
Things are pretty much of the same with respect to that. And - but I just wanted to come here and get my feet wet, and see how wet they would get.
And that was my preparation, , learning through and by osmosis - and on the job training, which I feel is the best sometimes.
Is there anything else that you’ve enjoyed over the years watching besides Law & Order?
Anthony Anderson: No I mean it goes back to LA Law, to NYPD Blue, to New York Undercover. I mean. we grew up as kids - every show is cops and robbers. , that’s what it boils down to.
It’s all cops and robbers, Indians and cowboys, and they run the gamut. So those are a few of the shows that I was particular to and enjoyed, and still enjoy.
Dick, what type shows that you enjoy or are you kind of burnt out after working a law show for so long?
Dick Wolf: No, I’m not burned out at all. It’s still my favorite form of programming. I mean, if you look back on my resume -- which before, Law & Order and New York Undercover -- I was running Vice. Before that I was on Hill Street Blues.
I think that I’ve had the good fortune of working on a bunch of really landmark legal shows. And it’s always been fun. I love cop shows because it’s the ultimate stakes, which are life and death - dramatically. It’s endlessly fascinating. And as I said, it’s always - crime is still a growth industry.
Dick, is legal jargon effortless for you now?
Dick Wolf: No. I think that anybody who hired me as a lawyer would have a fool as a client.
Anthony, did you have any sort of reservations about joining a workplace show?
Anthony Anderson: No. No reservations at all. This show is going to go down in history and, - I don’t know about you, but I know in my life, in my circle of friends, we all want to make and be a part of history.
So when I got the call from Dick Wolf to come on board on this, I jumped at the opportunity just because of the history that this show has made and the history that this show will continue to make.
And to join a long list of some of the most talented people who have worked and are working in our industry. So to be mentioned in the same breath as, , the longest running show in television history -- which I’m very confident that this show will become -- is definitely a feather in my cap.
So there was no trepidation or second-guessing on my part whatsoever.
Dick Wolf: And I’m going to jump in and say one of the reasons that Anthony has been embraced the way he has and the way other actors who have come into the show have prospered - I will point out that although it may be occasionally frustrating for the actors, I don’t think anybody - the one - I - and I get criticism about everything.
When you look back at the show and you think of Sam and Jerry, and Epatha and, , the various ADA’s that - the string of incredibly smart women who have been on the show, nobody is coming - I have never gotten the criticism of god, those guys aren’t doing anything.
I mean, Jerry - what you need are actors who bring their own back-story with them, that you don’t have to go into detail because they are fascinating enough by what they bring to the table.
And I can’t emphasize that enough. I mean, Jerry is - there hasn’t been a - probably two days have gone - have never gone by where I haven’t thought of him. I mean, he was the ultimate professional and he made it look effortless.
But whoever asked the comment about the line at the end of the teasers, it’s - nobody ever felt frustrated by lack of knowledge about who Jerry Orbach was on the show.
And I don’t think anybody has ever felt frustrated by lack of knowledge who Sam is. I mean, the way I’ve put it over the years is that we do not get - dole out information with soup ladles. We do it with eyedroppers.
But if you’re a regular viewer of the show, you do know an enormous amount of substantive information about the characters. But you got to pay attention.
Dick, why Anthony? Why did you reach out to him?
Dick Wolf: I’ll tell you, I’ve known Anthony’s work for years. The thing that absolutely, in a sense put the nail on the coffin and I had seen it when I - when it first came out - but I have a tendency when I get hooked on a movie to watch it seven or eight, or nine times because I really do - , over the course of a couple weeks on DVD because I like to figure out why I like it so much.
And in The Departed, that rooftop scene was so shocking and the elevator scene - and the way Anthony played it was so pitch perfect that after the sixth or seventh time, I said I got to get this guy on the show.
Anthony, Were you disappointed that you didn’t get nominated and what were your thoughts on that?
Anthony Anderson: First, I’d like to say thank you to Dick for those kind words. But Kangaroo Jack and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle didn’t do it for you?
Dick Wolf: You - it was the basketball movie.
Anthony Anderson: I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t upset when I didn’t get the nomination for The Shield, for the Emmy. I’m not going to say I deserved to win, but I do feel that it was some of my best work.
I poured my heart and show into to the character, Antwon Mitchell - not that I need the trophies or anything to validate who I am and what I do. But I felt the work that not only myself, but Glenn Close and everybody else that was a part of that fourth season - yeah, it did hurt.
It did hurt a little bit. But I understand what these awards shows are about. I took it in stride. And I’m here on Law & Order now because of that first step I took with The Shield.
that was the beginning for the dramatic turn for people to see me in a different light. So it - the success I had gotten through that comes with its own rewards and this is one of them.
Can you talk about how the pace and writing of the show has changed this season?
Dick Wolf: I could take you through the highlights since I know them almost as well as he does of Rene’s writing over the years.
I mean, he came in - when he came back to Law & Order, it was - I think that Rene wanted to just add a little bit of a different spice in the repertoire - the, . If you remember, obviously, the structure of CI, which he was very heavily, obviously intimately involved with over the years - that those teasers are totally the opposite, that you get into the victim and the perpetrator in the teaser.
And I think that there was not a bleed over, but there were - that Rene has seen the advantage sometimes of sinking the hook in earlier in the show.
Anthony - did playing Lucius Blaine help you at all with the Kevin character?
Dick Wolf: That was the other - if you brought up the episode, I’m going to jump in because when you say what convinced me about Anthony or being - getting him on the show, it was actually the SVU episode.
There was one moment - and Anthony, you probably remember it. I think I talked to you about this when we got together. But there was a scene that Chris had been making Anthony’s character totally nuts during the whole episode.
And he was over by the coffee stand and Chris came up to bug him about something else, and Anthony turned on him and went what. And it was such a pure, human moment and a non-acting moment.
But it was just one of those wonderful things that convinced you this guy can really act in a way that you can’t teach. I mean, that - there was comic timing involved in that.
There were all sorts of - I would hate to say technical expertise involved, but it was just one of those moments that you - he’s the guy you want on your show.
Anthony Anderson: I can’t say it any better than what Dick has just said.
Law & Order - Wednesdays on NBC (10-11 p.m. ET)