‘Chicago P.D.’ aims for street-level view of local police work
Don’t think of “Chicago Fire” spin-off “Chicago P.D.” as a sister show to the original.
“It’s more like the brawny uncle,” co-creator Derek Haas said about the NBC midseason drama, debuting Jan. 8. “It’s a little darker. That’s just the nature of the difference between cops and firemen.”
Both series are the brainchild of television veteran Dick Wolf, who got his start in crime drama in the mid-’80s as a writer on “Hill Street Blues.” That series’ opening credits included footage of the Chicago Police Department’s old Maxwell Street station — the same station that serves as the exterior of fictional District 21 in “Chicago P.D.”
The show revolves around District 21’s intelligence unit, an enigmatic team that combats a wide range of crimes. Drug trafficking. Domestic terrorism. High-profile murders. (Read: endless story potential.) It’s led by Sgt. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe), a familiar face to “Fire” fans. Voight, who has a reputation as a dirty cop, did time behind bars for harassing Lt. Casey (Jesse Spencer) last season.
“Looking at a lot of other cop shows that have been done, we wanted something more street-level and active,” said Matt Olmstead, showrunner for both series, whose soundstages are next to each other at Cinespace Chicago on the West Side.
“The Voight character didn’t feel like the guy in a suit and tie showing up with a pad and pen asking where you were on the night of whatever,” he added. “It’s got to be a little more aggressive, per his personality. That’s what led us to intelligence.”
Like “Chicago Fire” — and unlike Wolf’s long-running “Law & Order” franchise — the show isn’t tied to a case-of-the-week format.
“We’re not a procedural,” said Jesse Lee Soffer (Detective Jay Halstead), who moved back into the River North apartment he had when he was on Fox’s short-lived “The Mob Doctor.” “We’re following characters, relationships. It’s a look into their lives, not just their jobs.”
Soffer’s co-stars include Patrick John Flueger and Sophia Bush. All three shot the pilot for a modern-day “Hatfields and McCoys,” which NBC took a pass on. They’ve reunited on “P.D.” to form a different kind of family.
Bush plays no-nonsense Detective Erin Lindsay, a role that required plenty of training with real Chicago police officers. A trio of active and retired cops serve as the show’s technical advisers, providing pointers as well as storylines.
“You can’t imagine how hard it is to get a second [hand]cuff on someone,” said the former “One Tree Hill” actress.
“We spent a lot of time at the shooting range,” added Bush, who got a kick out of that. “I’ve been a marksman shooter since I was 12. It’s nice to be the chick who walks on the range and knows what she’s doing.”
Fresh off a cop drama set in Seattle, Elias Koteas (“The Killing”) does a turn as a detective often dressed in disguise.
“He lives in his garage,” Koteas said. “It kind of preserves his marriage. His job is very difficult on relationships.”
South suburban Harvey resident LaRoyce Hawkins and Northwestern grad Marina Squerciati play uniformed patrol officers enlisted by Voight to be the eyes and ears of his intelligence unit. The duo often butt heads with District 21’s sarcastic desk sergeant, portrayed by Chicago thespian Amy Morton.
Voight and Detective Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda) were the impetus for the spin-off. They appeared early on in “Chicago Fire’s” freshman season and will cross over between the two shows — as will many of the actors.
Molly’s bar is where viewers will frequently find cops and firemen rubbing elbows. The sixth episode of “P.D.’s” 13-part season not only features characters from both series but a couple from “Law & Order: SVU,” too. Ice-T and Kelli Giddish guest star.
“Three shows in one scene,” Olmstead said. “That has to be some kind of record.”
Beghe’s tenure on “Fire” and “P.D.,” scheduled to wrap filming in late February, has taken him to some of the city’s most crime-ridden areas while he tagged along with actual cops. An encounter with a teenage drug dealer on a corner in Englewood rattled him most.
“He could have killed me right there and forgotten he’d done it by the time he ate his dinner,” the New York City native said. “It was scary.”
The show’s creators say they have no intention of dwelling on Chicago’s real-life violence epidemic — or the city’s well-documented history of police misconduct.
“We don’t have a bone to pick with the police department; We’re embracing it like we do on ‘Chicago Fire,’ ” Olmstead said.
Added Haas, “We told the cast this isn’t one of those units that has a dark cloud hanging over their heads. You have a bounce in your step. You can’t wait to get out there and bust the bad guys. That’s nine out of 10 cops, and that’s a little different than what you’ve seen on some other cop shows.”