By Rick Bentley
The Fresno Bee
TV shows about firefighters have been as plentiful as campfires at an arson jamboree. Dick Wolf, executive producer of the latest series set in a firehouse, “Chicago Fire,” promises that while the genre’s familiar, the stories will be different.
In other words, this won’t be a fire-of-the-week program but will get its heat from emotional blazes.
“It’s a character study about people who do things that you can’t pay people to do. You can’t pay people to run into burning buildings. So it is a canvas for good writing and writing that you haven’t seen for a while on network television,” Wolf says. “What we’re trying to do here is a very, very classic, adult, NBC platinum drama.”
Wolf uses the term “platinum” to describe shows that blend good writing and interesting characters to become long-running successes. Going for platinum with “Chicago Fire” means most of the action will focus on the daily lives and loves of the firefighters, rescue squad and paramedics who share Chicago Firehouse 51.
If there is a central spark, it will come from Lt. Matthew Casey, played by “House” alumnus Jesse Spencer, who’s in charge of the truck.
The cast includes Taylor Kinney, Teri Reeves, Eamonn Walker, Monica Raymund, Lauren German, Charlie Barnett and David Eigenberg.
Part of the philosophy of the show is that while the firefighters are generally heralded as heroes, they see what they do as just a job.
“They have a very noble profession, but I think that’s a very outsider perspective and that’s where our show is good, because we’re concentrating on the characters,” says Spencer. “They don’t see themselves as heroes. They’re guys, they’re gals, and they’re doing their job and it’s a dangerous job and they run into these situations and they have issues with each other and they might not necessarily like each other that much.
“But once they get together as a unit, they work together as a unit and that’s what they do best.”
The same could be said for actors when an ensemble cast succeeds.
Spencer’s had a first-hand look at how an acting team must come together through his eight seasons on “House,” where the Aussie actor played Dr. Robert Chase. He won’t have a caustic doctor to battle in this show, but look for Spencer’s character and Walker’s Chief Wallace Boden to share some strong moments.
Walker sees his role as the patriarch of this very dysfunctional family that comes together when it counts.
“I’m still discovering Wallace Boden as he goes along, and I’m sure I will over the series. But what makes me happy as an actor, we’ve got the writing, and we’ve got this team of people who I know they’ve got my back. I know that when we walk into any situation, and that’s on and off screen, I can turn around and say a word in the ear, or they can say a word to me, and it’s all going to be OK,” Walker says.
Wolf’s success in the crime drama genre with “Law & Order” resulted in several spinoff shows. Right now, Wolf says he’s not looking at a possible “New York Fire” or “L.A. Fire” if the Chicago version becomes a hit. He says the first year of any new TV show is more about survival than expansion.