How I spent my summer vacation with Dick Wolf, the Chicago Med cast, and hundreds of tired TV critics | Bleader

How I spent my summer vacation with Dick Wolf, the Chicago Med cast, and hundreds of tired TV critics

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At the Television Critics Association summer press tour event for Chicago Med, actress S. Epatha Merkerson sits next to the show's producer, Dick Wolf. - COURTESY NBC
  • Courtesy NBC
  • At the Television Critics Association summer press tour event for Chicago Med, actress S. Epatha Merkerson sits next to the show's producer, Dick Wolf.

Cameras started rolling in town this week on Chicago Med a month after the Television Critics Association's summer press tour—a hazing ritual of sorts for fall TV's freshman class.

At the annual powwow in Beverly Hills, California, dozens of networks and streaming services put on a parade of panels about their new shows. One after another, the casts and creators of upcoming series filed onto the stage in the dark Beverly Hilton ballroom to a deafening lack of applause—this, after all, was no Comic-Con. In front of them, a sea of Apple laptops cast a sick glow on the faces of a couple hundred TV journalists who, after 18 days of banging out stories, going to cocktail parties, and being holed up in what amounts to a fancy prison, were desperate to go home. 

"How many of you have done more than 200 press conferences in the last three weeks? That's what I want to know," Chicago Med producer Dick Wolf asked the audience of weary journos on the final day of press tour. Wolf had the unenviable task of trying to shake reporters out of an ennui-induced coma and get them pumped up about his latest Chicago Fire spinoff, whose 13-episode season begins November 17 on NBC.

The cast and creators of Chicago Med - COURTESY NBC
  • Courtesy NBC
  • The cast and creators of Chicago Med

Part of the junket involved a speed dating-like exercise in the Beverly Hilton's lobby bar: an actor or producer sat for about ten minutes of questions before a PR flack gave the "time's up" signal, at which point I moved on to the next interview.

As I chatted on a couch with showrunner Andrew Dettmann, little did I know that his time was about to be up on Chicago Med. Just a week after press tour, news broke that the former CSI producer would no longer helm the Med writers' room, reportedly due to "creative differences." If Dettmann knew the end was near when we talked, he didn't let on.

"I'm sort of the new guy in the Dick Wolf world," he said, recalling how he was a bundle of nerves when he flew to New York to have a long breakfast with Wolf before taking over the show's reins in June.

"I was a little intimidated coming in," Dettmann added. "After we turned in the first outline [Wolf] said, 'Wow, you know, you might have screwed yourself, Andy. You set the bar really high.' The reality is he sets the bar high. All we're trying to do is to meet it."

Wolf is one of the small screen's most prolific producers. His long-running Law & Order spawned a franchise that's still going strong with Law & Order: SVU, a New York-based series whose characters and storylines have intersected with Chicago's first-responder dramas in the past.

"The crossovers are incredible ratings engines for us," Wolf told the ballroom of reporters. "What we can't do is have them become commonplace."

Three crossover events are on tap this season, including a "jumbo" four-way in February involving Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and SVU.

"The idea of characters visiting all the shows—it's marvelous," Oliver Platt said over the din of thumping bass during NBC's cocktail party, yet another meet-and-greet held at a Beverly Hills restaurant.

It's a press tour tradition for networks to throw swanky shindigs where reporters can mingle with talent in a quasi-natural environment where, it's assumed, pseudo-natural conversation can lead to better quotes for stories—despite the usual presence of eardrum-rattling music that isn't very conducive to interviews.

Oliver Platt plays Dr. Daniel Charles, head of psychiatry at Chicago Med - COURTESY NBC
  • Courtesy NBC
  • Oliver Platt plays Dr. Daniel Charles, head of psychiatry at Chicago Med

"Dick does what he does better than anybody else," shouted Platt (Fargo, The West Wing), who landed his first leading role on television in Wolf's short-lived series Deadline, in which he top-lined as a New York newspaper journalist.

On Med, Platt plays Dr. Daniel Charles, head of psychiatry and father of four—one kid from each of his four ex-wives.

Like several of his cast mates, Platt already is a familiar face to fans of Fire. He popped up in an episode last season titled "I Am the Apocalypse," which doubled as an "embedded pilot" for Chicago Med. Other actors returning include longtime Law & Order star S. Epatha Merkerson, Nick Gehlfuss (Shameless), and Yaya DaCosta, who played the late singer Whitney Houston in Lifetime's recent biopic.

"Every time someone comes up to me and says, 'Great job in Whitney, I want to cry,'" DaCosta said during the post-panel scrum at the Beverly Hilton, the same hotel where Houston died in a bathtub in 2012. "I can't even begin to express how sad I am about the whole thing."

One of the Med doctors introduced in Fire won't be coming back; The Walking Dead alum Laurie Holden bailed on the series last month, citing family reasons.

Newcomers Brian Tee (Jurassic World) and Colin Donnell (The Affair) signed on over the summer, not long after they got the news that NBC passed on the Love Is a Four Letter Word pilot they shot earlier this year in Chicago.

"The day we found out it didn't get picked up, I was at Colin's house in New York," Tee said. "We popped open a bottle of champagne and drank our sorrows away. Now, here we are, back in Chicago."

The cast of Chicago Med during the Television Critics Association summer press tour - COURTESY NBC
  • Courtesy NBC
  • The cast of Chicago Med during the Television Critics Association summer press tour

Torrey DeVitto (Pretty Little Liars) and Rachel DiPillo (Jane the Virgin) joined the cast after the summer press tour, so they weren't on the Med panel and didn't have to respond to obtuse questions like this one:

"Here's a city that didn't have that many shows, and all of a sudden, three prominent shows at the same time," one reporter said, addressing the Chicago Med panel. "Do some of you go out to a restaurant in Chicago and people are just so glad to know you because you're an economic force?"

"Chicago's doing OK on its own," Platt replied.

Many critics wanted to know if they should expect Wolf at a future summer press tour, touting yet another Chicago series.

"There would never be a fourth [show] unless this works," Wolf said of Chicago Med. "If this works, who knows what's possible?"

Chicago Med premieres November 17 at 8 PM on NBC. 


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