When NBC announced that Law & Order would end its epic 20-year run last season, series creator and superproducer Dick Wolf was not a happy man. And with good reason — his franchise defined the “crime procedural” genre and became a network cash cow. But as the 63-year-old Penn grad mourns the passing of the original, he’s excited about the newest incarnation, Law & Order: Los Angeles. Wolf called during a brief break from the set to discuss his own run-in with crime in West Philadelphia, his favorite gangsta rapper, and his tough Hollywood rep.
Please tell me that Law & Order was inspired by a trip to the Philadelphia lockup while you were at Penn.
[laughs] No, not quite. But West Philly wasn’t law-abiding when I was there. Sophomore year, I had been at a party on the Main Line and came back around 2:30 in the morning. I walked into my apartment building and was slammed up against a wall and had a gun at my head. It was two cops. They said there was a murder upstairs that night. I think it was 42nd and Chestnut. Not a good area.
You were also a writer for Miami Vice. I learned about pastel suits and narcotics way too young because of that show.
I had been a screenwriter for years, and my agent called and said, “Would you want to do a TV script?” I said no. He said, “It’s Hill Street Blues.” I said, that I’ll do. I went on staff at Hill Street, and then I ran Vice for two years, then started doing my own shows. Vice looks kind of ludicrous, but it sure was redolent of that era.
Do you have a nickname for the Law & Order “chung-CHUNG!” sound?
That all depends on which producer you talk to. I say “chung-chung,” but it could be “ching-ching.” A lot of people go “duh-duh.” People have their own personal interpretations of it.
I guess you know Richard Belzer calls it the “Dick Wolf Cash Register Sound.”
[laughs] Well, he is a stand-up comic.
With the original series ending after 20 years, do you feel like you got Conan’d by NBC?
No comment. [laughs] I would stand by my previous statements. It was a great run. It was a business decision. Obviously, I would have liked the show to go 21 years. At the same time, we’ve got a new show that is incredibly exciting, and a lot of the people who were on Law & Order will be on LOLA.