"Chicago Fire" sparked NBC's prime-time lineup last season with its mix of adrenaline-driven action sequences and personal drama revolving around the truck-and-rescue squad of a fictional Chicago firehouse.
Creator and executive producer Dick Wolf now wants to add heat to the fire with a spinoff, "Chicago P.D.," premiering Wednesday.
Wolf and his fellow producers hope "Chicago Fire," still a solid performer in its second season, will fuel interest in "Chicago P.D.," which will feature an ensemble combining familiar faces from "Chicago Fire" with new characters.
Like its predecessor, "Chicago P.D." has a retro vibe recalling the 1970s and '80s, when it was hard to turn the channel without running into a drama about cops or emergency workers — shows such as "Hill Street Blues," "The Rookies" and "T.J. Hooker."
Programmers now gravitate more toward moody dramas with antiheroes or procedurals heavy on atmosphere and violence rather than hero-driven stories.
"Doing a traditional cop show these days is very risky," Wolf said by phone.
Still, Wolf hopes that "Chicago P.D." will connect with viewers longing for action and drama. More significantly, he envisions the Chicago-based series as the benchmarks of a new brand that could mirror his "Law & Order" franchise, which launched in 1990.
"We're hoping that we've come up with a whole new brand," Wolf said. "The 'Law & Order' shows set in New York were all very different structurally, but they were all united by a brand. It's like Mercedes — they're all different, but you know you're going to get a good car."
In this case the brand is the Windy City, where the first responders "have truly American values," said Wolf. "No place exemplifies the strength of America like Chicago."
Though there was a connection among the various "Law & Order" series, the respective dramas had separate and distinctive identities, making it hard to do crossover episodes. But with the Chicago-based shows, characters on both can bounce back and forth: "It brings an added element to the storytelling. We have the opportunity to be a breakthrough show with this use of a common thread."
The new series is set at the Chicago Police Dept.'s District 21 and focuses on two units: the uniformed officers who patrol the beat and deal with street crimes and the intelligence unit that grapples with the city's major offenses, such as organized crime, high-profile murders and drug trafficking.
Heading the intelligence unit is Sgt. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe), who will be familiar to "Chicago Fire" fans as a corrupt cop who tried to wreck the life of firefighter Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer) when Casey had Voight's son jailed for drunk driving. Voight was so bent on destroying Casey that he wound up in prison, but he has been released because of connections within the department.
Having such a morally and ethically challenged character at the center of a police drama may represent a first for network television, Wolf said.
"This is Jason's year to be the most interesting character on TV. He's a good cop and a bad cop."
The new show, along with its predecessor and the still-popular "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," puts Wolf's stamp on a sizable chunk of NBC's landscape.
NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke called "Chicago P.D." a highlight of the network's midseason lineup.
"We're so happy with it, much in the way that we're happy with 'Chicago Fire,'" she said. "There's this high-octane drama in addition to characters that viewers can invest in right off the bat."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times