Interview with Matt Olmstead and Warren Leight of NBC dramas - Primetime Article From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Matt OlmsteadWarren Leight

Interview with Executive Producers Matt Olmstead and Warren Leight of "Chicago Fire", "Chicago PD" and "Law & Order: SVU" on NBC 11/7/14

This was an interesting call, and these guys were very informative and friendly. I'm glad I got to participate!

NBC UNIVERSAL November 7, 2014 3:31 pm CT

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen thank you for standing by and welcome to the Law and Order SVU Chicago Fire Chicago PD Crossover. During the presentation, all participants will be in a listen-only mode.

Afterwards, we will conduct a question and answer session. At that time if you do have questions you may press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone.

If at any time during the conference you need to reach an operator simply press Star 0. As a reminder this conference is being recorded today, Friday, November 7, 2014.

It is now my pleasure to introduce Gary Mednick with the NBC Publicity. Please go ahead, Gary.

Gary Mednick: Hey everybody thank you so much for joining todayís call. We are really thrilled to have on the phone with us this morning Chicago Fire and Chicago PD Executive Producer, Matt Olmstead, along with Law and Order SVU Executive Producer, Warren Leight.

As you probably know, Tuesday, November 11 and Wednesday, November 12, these three series will united in the three part crossover event. It will begin on Chicago Fire on Tuesday concluding the following evening, Wednesday over two hours on Law and Order SVU and Chicago PD.

We do want to allow as many folks to ask questions as possible. So please keep to one, if you donít mind. And if you have a follow-up request you can reenter in the queue.

So please welcome Matt and Warren and we now open it up for your questions.

Operator: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to register for a question, please press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. You will hear a three-tone prompt to acknowledge your request.

If your question has been answered and you would like to withdraw please press the 1 and the 3. And if you are using a speakerphone, please lift your handset before entering your request.

And our first question from the line of Bridget Liszewski from TV Junkies. Please go ahead ma'am.

Bridget Liszewski: Thank you to both Warren and Matt. My question is for Matt. There seems to be a slow burn going on between Halstead and Lindsey on Chicago PD. And given that they are travelling to NYC together during the crossover, what can we expect on the Lindstead front?

Matt Olmstead: Further slow burning, because as it has been made clear to them by Voight, he doesnít tolerate in-house romances, so they are holding true to that.

It is tested a little bit, as you might imagine, because they are out of time, but there is no crossing the line yet for those two.

Bridget Liszewski: Okay. Thank you.

Operator: Our next question is from the line of Mary Powers from TV Geek Talk. Please go ahead.

Mary Powers: Hi, this question is actually for both Matt and Warren and it is about the writing teams for the various shows. For the crossover did the writing teams write for their particular characters or did they write for the episodes? And how much did the team end up collaborating and crossing paths?

Warren Leight: Well, this is Warren. Our episode goes first so I will go first. It was - each showís team wrote each showís episode. But there was - Matt and I probably - Matt and I were on the phone in the initial plotting stages. One of our writers, Ed Zuckerman who is the teleplay writer of the SVU part of the crossover went out to LA for a few days.

And there is back and forth. It is very scary for a show runners. Show runners are all about control. Very scary for a show runner to let somebody else write their characterís lines. So we checked in with each other.

If there was something I felt was a little wrong for one of our characters in the PD part, I politely made my opinions known and vice versa, I would say. Matt?

Matt Olmstead: Yes and we had a I guess a brief run through last season when we were able to get some of the SVU actors over to Chicago PD for a little crossover just kind of a one-way crossover, I guess.

And the same thing. It was actually pretty exhilarating to be able to kind of write for new characters. And so we wrote for the Fin character and the Rollins character and of course we sent the script to Warren to check out and that he would know the characters better than we would.

So yes, there was - it was kind of a respectful checking - vetting, I guess, of both material. And I could say that when I read the SVU script of our characters - three of our characters going over there - it sounded very true and there really wasnít any notes.

So yes people were dealing - high level writers were dealing with these storylines. So it came across pretty sharp.

Warren Leight: My only complaint was I didnít like Amaroís wheelie suitcase in your episode.

Matt Olmstead We snuck that in. That was a late addition. I apologize.

Mary Powers: Well, thank you, guys. I appreciate it and I am really looking forward to next week.

Matt Olmstead: Cool.

Operator: Our next question is from the line of Jenny Rarden from Please go ahead.

Jenny Rarden: Hi guys.

Man: Hello.

Jenny Rarden: This is for both of you. Most of the time when we see what, you know, the networks term the event crossover, it is somewhat disappointing in that the character from the visiting show isnít on very long. You know, we see them for a line or two. And so we donít get, you know, much interaction.

From what I have seen on the commercials this is much more intensive with longer appearances, more interaction and things like that. Is that the case?

Warren Leight: Yes. This - we have participated in disappointing crossovers where there is just one scene. We are guilty of that. But this is - it is so much the case that it made production and scheduling very difficult.

We had Kelly, Danny and Mariska in Chicago for four days, four days and two days. Which took them - which meant our next episode was a legal one just to allow for scheduling.

And we had Halstead and Lindsey and Voight here for, I guess, two days for Lindsey and four and four for Halstead. So that this is much - I think this is less of a cheap tawdry gimmick than is usually the case. Matt?

Matt Olmstead: Yes, absolutely. You know, last season in the crossovers referring to we had a substantial amount of time with Fin character and the Rollins character. There was a bit of - to kind of light the fuse, so to speak, we had our Lindsey character appear for one scene at the end of SVU the prior hour which some people might have interpreted it as a crossover. We didnít want to sell it that way obviously because it really wasnít a true crossover.

But now the characters are really engrained in the storytelling throughout the whole hour.

Jenny Rarden: Excellent. Well that is - go ahead.

Warren Leight: I also think one thing very interesting about this is Lou Taylor Pucci is a guest star in both episodes and links it to also in a very interesting way. Matt can talk a little bit about who his character is.

But to see one guest occur heavily in both episodes is an interesting way of linking them as well.

Jenny Rarden: Right. And it isnít just the Chicago Fire PD and SVU. It is across all the networks, I think. CBS does it with the NCIS where they tout it as a major crossover event and it turns out to be very disappointing.

So I am really looking forward to this because it sounds like you guys really put a lot of thought and effort into it. So it is really appreciated.

Matt Olmstead: Confusingly this actually may be a major crossover.

Jenny Rarden: Thanks, guys.

Operator: And our next question is from the line of Brent Furdyk with TV Week. Please go ahead.

Brent Furdyk: Hi, my question is about when you were writing the episodes coming up with the storyline. How difficult was it to keep all of the various cast members from the different shows integrated into the storyline?

Warren Leight: Matt, you go first.

Matt Olmstead: Well I will back up a little bit. It wasnít - the point of actually integrating the characters in the storyline wasnít that difficult. Usually the most difficult thing - and we have done a version of this when we did a crossover team Chicago Fire and Chicago PD last season.

The most difficult part is actually locking down what the air dates are going to be and the logistics of when the actors can go over back and forth; which people in production and they do it really well. And it requires a lot of moving around and the actors are very accommodating.

But once that is locked down and we knew that the kind of bones of what this crossover is going to be - because it kicks off at the end of Chicago Fire. And when Dick Wolf kind of laid out a version of what he was envisioning in terms of what the kind of balancing ball would be, essentially.

You know, you could spend a lot of time on meetings and follow-up meetings and logistics and trying to chart this whole thing. And I think what Warren and I both did was letís just jump in. I know what I am going to hand off to him at the end of Fire.

And then he is telling me what he is going to hand off back over to me in Chicago PD and letís just get some drafts in. And then we can begin to fine tune and figure out the logistics from there.

So once the story was done and logistics and we were kind of mid-stream, writing towards those characters wasnít really difficult any more so than it would be writing for the characters that we have on our show as principal actors. It was a pleasure to write for them.

Warren Leight: Yes, it is fun for the actors to act with each other and they all come back refreshed. I found it - we have a smaller squad than Mattís team does. We have only really four detectives.

And so I didnít always - at first I had to figure oh my god I had to grapple - we had to grapple with extra bodies in our squad room which ones go where. It was a little - just a few more pieces on the board.

And always when we are writing for actors this good you donít want them to be in a three-page scene and just have one line. So you try to spread - everybody has - you know, it is sort of family hold back in a way. You want to make sure everybody gets something.

Brent Furdyk: Thank you very much.

Man: Thank you.

Operator: Our next question is from the line of Courtney Vaudreuil with Please go ahead.

Courtney Vaudreuil: Hi. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis for the crossover? Where the idea came from and whether or not you were enthusiastic about it from the beginning? Or whether or not you had any concerns about how to make it work?

Matt Olmstead: Well, it came from Dick Wolf. He - Dick sees the long game and he knows it will be good for all three shows. I think my first reaction was anxiety. I know the fans will like it. I just know how much extra work is involved.

And as I said before, I get nervous letting go of my - there is a certain amount of letting go which is exactly what show runners donít do in terms of letting your characters go to another stage and set and not having as much say in what happens to them there as you are used to having.

And also legitimately I think there are two very different PD and SVU are very different kinds of police shows and I wasnít sure how the cross pollination would work.

Once we got into it as is usually the case. Anxiety mounts until you actually have to do the work and then there was a such a burst of energy from these guys coming here and Beghe and then Sophia and Jesse coming here. It seemed more natural once shooting began. But I understood the reasons for doing it but I had anxiety going into it was how I was about it. Matt?

Matt Olmstead: I believe as the great Sammy David Jr. who said that if you donít have butterflies before you go on stage, then you should get out of the business.

And you can get into a routine and it is nice to get into a groove and a rhythm. And then you are thrown a curve ball like this and initially absolutely you are like this is going to require a lot and there is going to be things we have to take on and unexpected stuff and there are butterflies.

But in creative endeavors often times that is when you do your best work because you are kind of pushed outside your comfort zone. So yes same thing. I got the butterflies. But then I also kind of recognized the fact that this might be a good thing. And having seen the three episodes crossover I am glad we did it for sure.

Courtney Vaudreuil: Thank you both. I am looking forward to it.

Matt Olmstead: Thank you.

Operator: Our next question is from the line of Suzanne Lanoue from The TV MegaSite. Please go ahead.

Suzanne Lanoue: Hi, I was wondering is it difficult to balance writing when you have - you know, you have viewers who may not be watching all three parts of the crossover, or maybe they are used to watching one show and not the other two? To balance it so you introduce these characters but without boring your regular audience, that kind of thing?

Warren Leight: Yes I mean that is one of your big fears is - each episode it is still - in the Dick Wolf universe at the end of the day each episode has to standalone and yet link to the one - in my case the one before and the one after. They have to link.

So that is a particular challenge and you want to make sure - you donít want to have at the beginning of SVU a three minute previously on Chicago Fire. You want that to be as short and clear as possible.

But it is part of the challenge of these things is to make sure that our episode is self-sufficient as a standalone yet the baton passes and there is a lot of - there are enough unresolved parts to get - allow PD to get another hour out of it.

So I found out - that kind of challenge I enjoy. That is an interesting writing challenge. But how much to reveal when and how to stage the investigation and the information over 80 minutes.

One good thing that we have I think is our episode goes right into PD. So presumably people will stay with it, one hopes. And that it is good that they are on the same night and not separated by two or three days.

Our hope is that the audience that night comes in and stays for both hours and that we have made it compelling enough for them to do that.

Suzanne Lanoue: Thank you.

Operator: Our next question is from the line of Vlada Gelman, Staying In TV Blog. Please go ahead.

Vlada Gelman: Hi guys. Thanks so much for taking time off to talk.

Man: Thank you.

Man: Sure thanks.

Vlada Gelman: It has been (unintelligible) and (unintelligible) interaction. So what is that like when they cross over?

Warren Leight: They crossed at the end of the Chicago Fire, the first hour on Tuesday. And it is an amicable cross because as we have always designed for those two characters they are brought together in a somewhat accelerated fashion because they are both cut from the same cloth.

And no expectations and no drama and they are kind of brought together and it is like the most while it is here and when it is not, it is not. Who knows if it could be rekindled down the road? So it is not like when (unintelligible) crosses he is rolling his eyes like oh Christ I have to deal with my ex-girlfriend.

She is perfectly agreeable and good seeing you and she has got her own thing going on. So it is an interesting cross, but it is not one that is fraught with disappointment and betrayal and like that because who knows down the line if they are going to pick it back up again.

Vlada Gelman: Great. Thank you.

Warren Leight: Thank you.

Operator: Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to register for a question you may press the 1 followed by the 4.

Our next question is from the line of Stephanie Piche from Please go ahead.

Stephanie Piche: Thanks. Hi guys. I have to tell you that if my father was still alive, he would put your shows above NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues, hands down.

Warren Leight: Oh, high praise. High praise.

Stephanie Piche: He was on the job for 25 years in Miami, so, you know. Living in that household growing up, you know, I have a great appreciation for your shows, too. Great. I love them.

Man: Thank you.

Stephanie Piche: My question for you because of the nature of keeping your audience engaged and, you know, they are watching whenever. You know, like On Demand or, you know, after.

Are there a lot of - because there a lot of times using Internet such as childproof pornography. How do you decide how much tech police work talk do you use in an episode? What is your gauge?

Warren Leight: Iím sorry, how muchÖ

Stephanie Piche: That can be it's own episode; right?

Warren Leight: How much tactfully - I didnít hear the rest. It dropped out there.

Stephanie Piche: Oh Iím sorry. How much of the tech talk do you decide to put in?

Warren Leight: Oh, I see. Tech talk. I thought you were referring to - yes, yes tech talk is to me is really a rabbit hole and I donít like going down it for very long.

We have done, you know, you get into - the truth is, the stuff is encrypted and it is on the dark net and there are many layers to the dark net and you can start - and we have had experts come in and talk to our group about it.

And the minute you start putting those words in the mouths of normal people, it is just - I would rather - I will do anything I can to avoid a large amount of tech talk.

I basically say encrypted, bit coin - I put out some words and I think the audience understands it is not like ordering a pizza from on one of those internet services.

But the more tech talk we do, the less - our show and PD these are emotionally driven shows and tech talk is tech talk. I havenít had a lot of fun with heavy exposition in tech.

Matt, have you found - if you found a way, let me know now.

Matt Olmstead: No it is exactly how I have approached it also. You want to get enough in there that kind of new information or new lingo the audience hasnít heard. Because after a while the audience and we as writers grow tired of - we couldnít lift any prints off the shell casing or cameras couldnít pick up that.

It is the same kind of two or three things you always bring up. So you have to find some fresh, new technology. But then it is a rabbit hole because there is that tipping point where you donít want to get into too much of it because your eyes to kind of roll in the back of your head.

So you just want to kind of get in and out when it comes to that stuff, in my opinion.

Warren Leight: Zoom in, enhance.

Stephanie Piche: Agreed. And I think it is perfect because I know a lot of people, even friends of mine just, you know, what do they mean by that? You are like, shut up, listen.

Matt Olmstead: Yes right.

Warren Leight: And I always think we have used an acronym a hundred times like we have our episode begins at the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, which is NCEMC and it is very important branch of - they do very important work and we say NCEMC a hundred times.

And I will be at home watching with friends or my wife and they will go wait whatís NCEMC again? What is (taru). Even the acronyms that we think by now watchers of our show know - acronyms are - it is death by a thousand initials. It is tricky.

Stephanie Piche: Okay. Thank you.

Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Lori Rackl from Sun Times. Please go ahead.

Lori Rackl: Hi guys, thanks for doing the call. Question about some of the previews have hinted that there might be some fireworks between Voight and Benson. I canít talk to good or bad fireworks. What can you tell us about what their interaction is going to be?

Warren Leight: You know, it was fine when they were in New York, Matt.

Matt Olmstead: And they went to shit in Chicago, didnít it? Oh, boy. What are you going to do?

Warren Leight: Okay. Well, it depends on what kind of fireworks you mean. There are two kinds of fireworks, I think, that we could be talking about here. They have two very different approaches to interrogation; right?

The two shows have different approaches. The police procedure and I think we all know Voight can be a little more physical and Olivia is in general a more empathic detective. And that is two different schools of how you work in interrogation.

And those kind of fireworks take place in both episodes. And I think they are among the most fun scenes in both PD and SVU.

And then the question is at the end of the day, at the end of the case do these two probably have more in common than any of the other people in their squadron?

What did you think of that Matt?

Matt Olmstead: I totally agree. It is interesting talking to Jason Beghe about it because the chemistry and the dynamic of the two characters in both shows was reinforced how the two actresses felt by each other which is in terms of Voight he rolls over most people. There are not a lot of people who can go toe to toe with him.

So here comes this equal whom he respects. Is formidable. He knows he canít run a game on her. And even though they have different policing styles he - there is a mutual respect. They are both coming from the same place. They both want to protect their cities so they may have different tactics going about it.

They do lock horns. And they do so equally but then when it is over it is over. But there is a real - in the PD side of it when the Benson character shows up for the first time and in the midst of a pretty grim investigation with grim details. When Voight sees her with a smile on his face he is happy to see here.

Because there is this immediate chemistry, immediate kind of shared affection between two very similar characters. Ironically, though they may have different backgrounds and different approaches to it.

And then when they have their kind of private moment in the episode on PD what is funny is that there was a point when I was talking to Jason he was asking about is Voight ever going to have a love interest?

I said, I donít know. I mean we have always portrayed that he has done some dirty stuff. He has one true love which is his wife who is no longer in his life but that was it and he has become married to the job.

I said but you know, there is a scene coming up with Mariska and he said, donít say another word. I know exactly how to play it. I was like okay, I will let you do your actor thing. I will back off from here.

So who knows what else in the characterís mind he feels about the Benson character. But there is a real bond right away between those two characters.

Warren Leight: And I think also as actors they are two actors that take their respective shows very, very seriously. A lot of times the number ones on the (unintelligible) should get a little complacent or whatever. These guys care enormously about their show. Care enormously about every scene they are in.

And so the characters have a lot in common and the actors at the end of the day have a lot in common. So there is nice chemistry there.

Stephanie Piche: Great.

Operator: And our last question will from the line of Suzanne Lanoue from TV MegaSite. Please go ahead.

Suzanne Lanoue: Hi itís me again. I was going to ask you about this other crossover. Some of your actors were recently on This Week with John Oliver?? Doing a little comedy bit. Were you involved with that at all?

Warren Leight: We knew about it. Actually we were trying to - they had asked for Mariska and we just couldnít schedule it. But John Oliver even though he is a fun or is a national treasure. I thought that was a brilliant piece that he did.

Suzanne Lanoue: Oh it was hilarious.

Warren Leight: Not just - but honestly I think he is doing one of the best news shows on and it is funny. But he was raising very serious issues and any time our characters - I am happy to see our guys go out and do stuff like that especially in service of something that is well written and well thought out and about a serious issue.

I donít know if you saw it Matt. It was about government confiscation without trial. He threw a bunch of Law and Order guys in some of whomÖ

Suzanne Lanoue: Jason was on it too?

Warren Leight: Sorry?

Suzanne Lanoue: I think Jason from Chicago PD.

Matt Olmstead: Oh yes was he?

Warren Leight: Yes so he - I would much rather see that than, you know, well I am not going to mention shows that also rip us off.

Suzanne Lanoue: Well thank you guys.

Warren Leight: That would be impolite of me.

Matt Olmstead: There you go.

Operator: And Gary I will turn the call back to you for your closing remarks.

Gary Mednick: All right thanks so much. Matt, Warren thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to participate in todayís call.

If anyone has any follow up questions or needs additional information please feel free to reach out to me and the rest of the publicity team and we will do our best to get you what you need.

If anybody wants a transcript please reach out to Marsha Rickett and she can get you one within the next 48 hours. Again thank you all for joining us. Have a great rest of your day and weekend.

Warren Leight: All right. Thanks very much.

Matt Olmstead: Thank you guys.

Gary Mednick: Thank you.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude the conference call for today. We thank you all for your participation. Have a great weekend everyone.


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