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Media Legend Dick Wolf's Career Highlights and Achievements
Dick Wolf is a legend within the television industry, but that didn't come without decades of passion.
Dick Wolf is a man of many achievements — among which is that he's completely transformed the world of procedural dramas.
The primetime titan is responsible for writing, producing, and creating dozens of binge-worthy series, from the Law & Order and One Chicago franchises to the many other projects produced through his company, Wolf Entertainment. Wolf's original programming has been rocking the radio waves since the early 1990s, with his nail-biting crime dramas becoming beloved NBC mainstays with avid fanbases that have become engrossed in Wolf's serialized universe.
"I've said for years that this is not a franchise," Wolf told TV Guide of Law & Order in 2009. "It's a brand."
In 2021, producer Greg Berlanti commended Wolf's prolific impact on television, noting the cultural zeitgeist he's created within police dramas.
“Wherever I go in the country, wherever I go in the world, people reference Dick Wolf shows,” Berlanti told Variety. “The priority is telling stories that move an audience. The real value of any show is ultimately its relationship with an audience. Dick Wolf makes shows that people love and love to talk about.”
Wolf's resume is a testament to his passion for connecting with his audience.
With his Law & Order and One Chicago shows set to return for new seasons in January, look back some of Wolf's career highlights to see how one man changed the game for true crime and crime drama lovers everywhere.
Dick Wolf's advertising career before television
Before he ventured into show business, Wolf was an ad man in New York, working for Crest toothpaste. He was even responsible for penning one of the brand's most iconic slogans.
"When I started in advertising, there was Crest — one toothpaste — but then mint-flavored came in, and gel," Wolf explained in a 2007 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "Now, there are probably six or seven generations of Crest, yet the tagline I wrote still holds: 'You can’t beat Crest for fighting cavities.'"
So what triggered Wolf's decision to shift to television? "I didn’t want to sell toothpaste anymore," the wordsmith revealed.
Dick Wolf's Early Filmography: Skateboard to School Ties
The Law & Order icon got his start in the entertainment industry as a screenwriter and, while he would one day dominate primetime, he initially earned a living selling film scripts. Wolf’s first sold script was for the 1978 film Skateboard, co-written by George Gage.
No Man's Land (1987)
One of the first films to put Wolf on the map as a screenwriter was the 1987 crime thriller No Man’s Land, starring Charlie Sheen, D. B. Sweeney, and Randy Quaid. The film follows a new cop assigned to go undercover to investigate a car theft ring. Fun fact: No Man’s Land also marked the film debut of Brad Pitt, who played an extra in the film. (Pitt nearly lost the gig after attempting to ad-lib a line.)
Masquerade is another script of Wolf’s, co-written with Larry Brody. The film features Meg Tilly and Parks and Recreation star Rob Lowe, and follows an heiress who met and fell in love with a dashing yacht captain who wasn’t as well-intentioned as he seems to be.
School Ties (1992)
One of Wolf’s proudest projects was School Ties, starring Brandan Fraser as a Jewish teenager and promising quarterback who is transferred to a primarily Christian preparatory school during his senior year of high school. The cast of School Ties was stacked, featuring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris O'Donnell, Cole Hauser, and Anthony Rapp. Despite premiering in the early 90s, Wolf feels the film’s themes are sadly relevant as ever.
"This country today is at a point that I never believed in my lifetime we'd see again," Wolf told EW following the 25th anniversary of the film’s release. "Anti-Semitism is rampant. It's not even hidden. School Ties was deliberately dated when it was made, but it hasn't aged."
Dick Wolf’s Early Television Credits: Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, and New York Undercover
Wolf spent the last half of the 1980s working on several television projects, keeping true to his love for crime dramas and drafting compelling, if imperfect, characters. Wolf helped in the creation of series like Gideon Oliver (1989), Christine Cromwell (1989), Nasty Boys (1990), and H.E.L.P. (1990).
In the early '90s, Wolf also helped create and write several high-stakes shows like Mann & Machine (1992), South Beach (1993), Crime & Punishment (1993), The Wright Verdicts (1995), Swift Justice (1996), Feds (1997), and Players (1997–1998).
Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)
From 1985–1986, Wolf was a staff writer for NBC’s serial police procedural Hill Street Blues. It was while brainstorming nail-biting plot lines on Hill Street Blues that Wolf received his first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for his solo work on Season 6, Episode 9 (“What Are Friends For?”)
That first Emmy was just a taste of what was to come from the man who has since created the longest-running live-action primetime drama in history.
Miami Vice (1984-1988)
Wolf was a producer and writer for NBC’s Miami Vice from 1986-1988, joining the production team for Seasons 3-4. Miami Vice was created by Anthony Yerovich, who had been a fellow writer with Wolf on Hill Street Blues throughout the early '80s. In 1986, Wolf jumped aboard Miami Vice as an executive producer and writer after showrunner Michael Mann left the series to work on the NBC series Crime Story.
New York Undercover (1994-1999)
One of Wolf’s most beloved early television works was New York Undercover, which he worked on from 1994 to 1998. The series follows undercover Detectives J.C. Williams (Malik Yoba) and Detective Eddie Torres (Michael DeLorenzo). The two investigators were sent on several nail-biting undercover missions to investigate gang-related criminal cases. The undercover nature of each episode presented threats that had viewers on the edge of their seats.
Dick Wolf's Law & Order franchise
In 1990, Wolf struck gold by bringing his passion for true crime to television screens.
But he is the first first to attribute the franchise's success to the outstanding efforts of the Law & Order cast and crew. It truly takes a village to pull off the television gymnastics Wolf produces.
“You don’t do it alone," Wolf told Variety in 2021. "That’s why the consistency is there. It’s not accidental."
Law & Order (1990-present)
Law & Order premiered on NBC in 1990 and was an instant obsession. Wolf's delightfully digestible formula upped the ante for police dramas everywhere, with Sam Waterston as the dynamite District Attorney Jack McCoy and the O.G. Law & Order cast charming audiences with their swift criminal justice and emotional personal lives.
After Law & Order became a sensation, Wolf had a goal for the series: expansion.
Exiled: A Law & Order Movie (1998)
After seeing the smash success of Law & Order (and having already had a hand in several film projects), Wolf married these passions with Exiled: A Law & Order Movie. The film takes place three years after Law & Order’s Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) was "administratively reassigned" to the Domestic Disputes Department on Staten Island.
The two-hour television film featured appearances from Dann Florek as Captain Don Cragen, Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe, as well as a surprise guest appearance from Ice T who played a man named Kingston — years before his days of playing Fin Tutuola in Law & Order’s longest-running spin-off.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999–present)
In 1999, Wolf debuted one of his most beloved projects of all time, a spin-off of Law & Order that focuses on criminal cases of a sexual nature: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Starring the magnetic Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler, the series has broken several records thanks to the decades-long chokehold it has on audiences.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001 – 2011)
It ran for 10 Seasons and 195 episodes, shining a spotlight on suspects' motivations, providing answers to anyone who may be swirling with questions about why criminals do the horrendous things they do.
Law & Order: Trial by Jury (2005 – 2006)
Running for a single yet satisfying season, Law & Order: Trial by Jury focused more on the "order" side of Law & Order. Starring flagship series stars Jerry Orbach and Fred Thompson, as well as Amy Carlson and Bebe Neuwirth, the show followed legal teams for both sides of a jury trial, with equal attention paid to the prosecution and defense teams.
Airing for 13 nail-biting episodes, Conviction was an exciting spin-off that shifted the action to the law side of Law & Order. Conviction followed the up-and-coming attorneys and legal experts inside Manhattan's District Attorney's office, led by SVU alum A.D.A. Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March). March shined in her reprise as the tenacious Cabot, delivering a powerhouse performance alongside cast members Eric Balfour, Julianne Nicholson, Anson Mount, Jordan Bridges, and J. August Richards.
Law & Order: Los Angeles (2010 – 2011)
Airing for 22 episodes, the West Coast Law & Order spin-off — the first to veer from NYC — featured a stacked cast of Terrence Howard, Corey Stoll, Alana De La Garza, Rachel Ticotin, and Alfred Molina.
The LAPD works a little differently from the typical NYPD officers Law & Order fans know and love, but the Californian sunsets and electrifying relationships made Law & Order: Los Angeles a must-watch treat.
Law & Order True Crime (2017)
While many Law & Order series will feature an episodic format of watching the detectives arrest and the legal teams prosecute a different Law & Order villain each week, True Crime shook up the “ripped-from-headlines” formula.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders followed a season-long plot line to dive into the nitty-gritty details of the actual case, featuring the endlessly captivating Edie Falco as criminal defense attorney Leslie Abramson.
Law & Order: Organized Crime (2021–present)
One of the most recent additions to the franchise is Law & Order: Organized Crime, starring SVU alum Meloni. The show follows a specialized Task Force — the Organized Crime Control Bureau — within the NYPD that targets the most well-hidden criminal networks.
Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent (2024)
Criminal Intent was such a hit that it inspired a Canadian spin-off slated to premiere in spring 2024: Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent.
The cast includes Kathleen Munroe as Det. Sgt. Frankie Bateman, Aden Young as Det. Sgt. Henry Graff, K.C. Collins as Deputy Crown Attorney Theo Forrester, Karen Robinson as Inspector Vivienne Holness, Araya Mengesha as tech wizard Mark Yohannes, and Nicola Correia-Damude as Forensic Pathologist Dr. Lucy Da Silva. Boasting ten nail-biting episodes (so far), Variety reported that famed Law & Order director Holly Dale is directing several episodes of the Canadian spin-off.
Wolf Entertainment Films
Wolf has also proven that, not only does he have the tools to write compelling scripts, he has a vision perfectly suited for a producer. His production company, Wolf Entertainment, has been producing since its establishment in 1988.
Twin Towers (2003)
Wolf Entertainment produced the 2002 short documentary Twin Towers, directed by Bill Guttentag. The film follows two brothers, policeman Joseph Vigiano and fireman John Vigiano Jr., and their tragic deaths in the line of duty while addressing the devastating 9/11 attacks on September 11, 2001.
Twin Towers earned the Oscar for Best Documentary Short at the 2003 Academy Awards.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007)
In 2007, Wolf executive produced a Western historical drama television film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, an adaptation of the 1970 Dee Brown book of the same name.
Alongside director Yves Simoneau, Tom Thayer, and Clara George, Wolf won the award for Outstanding Made for Television Movie at the 2007 Primetime Emmy Awards for the film.
Naked Singularity (2021)
Wolf’s most recent film project as an executive producer is the 2021 film Naked Singularity, based on the 2008 book by Sergio De La Pava. Featuring a stacked cast of John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, Linda Lavin, Bill Skarsgård, and Ed Skrein, the film follows a burnt-out public defender who is quickly roped into a high-speed heist.
After seeing the primetime possibilities in his Law & Order universe, Wolf set his sights on the Midwest for a series that would follow the lives of Chicago firefighters, Chicago Fire. Even when Chicago Fire was still in the kiln, however, Wolf knew the series was simply the start of something bigger.
Like Law & Order, Wolf wanted to shine a light on various stages of the municipality's emergency response, getting a taste of action all over the Windy City.
“We were standing on a metal bridge over the Chicago River, it’s freezing out and Dick says to me, ‘We’re going to have Chicago P.D., and we’re going to do one about the hospital, and we’re going to do one about the court system,’” Wolf Entertainment president Peter Jankowski recalled to Variety. “We’re in the middle of this big, complicated pilot shoot, and I’m like, ‘OK, let’s just get this one done.’ But that’s the way he thinks. He looks at the horizon and dreams big.”
Wolf's vision of an interconnected One Chicago universe came true, with Chi-Hards tuning in weekly for Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Med. There was even a season of Chicago Justice that aired in 2017, so the One Chicago creator accomplished it all.
Chicago Fire (2010–present)
Chicago Fire follows the professional adventures and interpersonal connections of firefighters, rescue personnel, and paramedics within the Chicago Fire Department’s Firehouse 51. From swoon-worthy love stories to high-stakes rescues, the action is always heating up on Chicago Fire.
Chicago P.D. (2014–present)
The next series to follow Windy City emergency personnel was Chicago P.D., which centers around the Intelligence Unit of the Chicago Police Department's 21st District as they close criminal cases and keep the streets of Chicago safe. Like its predecessor, the characters of Chicago P.D. keep viewers hooked as they watch justice served week after week.
Chicago Med (2015 – present)
The series that cemented the three Chicago-based dramas as a One Chicago family is Chicago Med, a series following Windy City doctors and nurses of Gaffney Medical Hospital. From nail-biting surgery sequences to heartwarming Med character collisions, Chicago Med is always a thrilling watch.
Dick Wolf's FBI franchise
In 2018, Wolf took his talent for suspense and justice to a national level with the creation of his FBI franchise, which shares the same universe as One Chicago and Law & Order (as seen when Tracy Spiridakos reprised her role as Chicago P.D's Officer Hailey Upton on FBI.)
“It’s a constant exploration of possibilities,” Wolf told Variety. “There are 56 actors under contract. The concept is there are nine shows, and anybody who’s in any of the nine shows can appear in the other eight, even on different networks. It’s pretty cool.”
FBI features Missy Peregrym as Maggie Bell and Zeeko Zaki as Omar Adom "OA" Zidan, first-class agents for the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as Law & Order alum Jeremy Sisto, Ebonée Noel, and Sela Ward. The agents must use their unique skills to investigate a variety of jaw-dropping cases, from potential terrorist attacks to counterintelligence.
FBI: Most Wanted (2020-present)
Perfect for Law & Order fans who morbidly love exploring the worst criminals, FBI: Most Wanted centers around the Fugitive Task Force, a team of investigators tracking down the worlds most insidious criminals on the Most Wanted list.
Featuring dozens of intense undercover operations and a dynamite cast — including former Law & Order: OC star Dylan McDermott (who played the infamous Richard Wheatley in Seasons 1 and 2) — fans never know which criminal will be on the Task Force’s radar next.
FBI: International (2021-present)
Wolf dreams big and, once you’ve covered federal crimes, it’s time to head to international waters.
FBI: International follows the elite squad of the FBI’s International Fly Team, created to track and neutralize any terrorist actions or threats to America. The Fly Team can't carry firearms, so they are forced to leverage their cunning and courage to protect the U.S. from foreign threats.
Dick Wolf's Unscripted Series: Cold Justice to LA Fire & Rescue
Wolf's love for true crime has also led him into unscripted series, creating and executive producing several nail-biters.
Tom Thayer, former president of Universal Television, discussed the common theme within Wolf's unscripted content. “These shows are about making America realize the people who are watching out for them," Thayer told Variety. “We want to open up the eyes of America and make sure people are really aware of who’s keeping you safe.”
Crime & Punishment (2002-2004)
Wolf Entertainment's Crime & Punishment was Wolf's reality television spin-off of Law & Order — a nontraditional court show where each episode followed a single evening with five different members of NYC's nightlife crowd.
The series ran for three seasons, with each episode kicked off by Law & Order narrator Steven Zirnkilton detailing what viewers were about to witness. "In the criminal justice system, deputy district attorneys represent the people. The prosecutors you are about to see, and the cases they try, are real. Nothing has been reenacted."
Cold Justice (2013-present)
Wolf's second unscripted series was 2013's procedural drama, Cold Justice, following former Texas prosecutor Kelly Siegler, a seasoned investigator looking into some of the most long-forgotten cases in hopes of seeing justice finally served.
“There was a pretty huge collection of true crime even back then. And most of it is pretty bad," Wolf briefed Variety. "I knew that if we could do it 20 percent better than those shows, we can carve out a block of good programming."
When the sun goes down, the night shift begins, and Wolf was eager to showcase that liminal lifestyle. Nightwatch follows nighttime emergency service workers as they address whatever chaos comes their way. The majority of the series' six seasons were filmed in New Orleans, though Season 4 was filmed in Tampa.
3AM was an intense docuseries about the complexities of New York City nightlife.
Like Crime & Punishment, the documentary series followed five NYC residents entrenched in the city's nighttime, and each of the seven episodes shined a voyeuristic light on the realities of the city that never sleeps.
Inside the FBI: New York (2017)
Wolf combined his love for true crime on a federal level and unscripted reality television with Inside the FBI: New York.
It's never a dull day at the FBI's New York field office and, in Wolf Entertainment's 2017 documentary series, viewers got a sneak peek of the ins and outs of several divisions within the federal agency, from counterterrorism to human trafficking.
Criminal Confessions (2017-2020)
Anyone who has ever enjoyed an intense Law & Order marathon knows that some of the most intense moments happen in the interrogation room. Criminal Confessions shone a bright fluorescent light on real-life police interrogation rooms, showcasing footage of various criminal cases and the complex process of yielding a confession.
BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer (2022)
Wolf Entertainment also brought us the nail-biting documentary BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer. The docuseries centered around the horrendous crimes of Dennis Rader, known as the infamous "BTK" serial killer.
Now that Rader is serving 10 consecutive life sentences, the docuseries provided gripping insight into Rader's disturbing psyche and maddening acts.
Final Moments (2022)
It's an unfortunate truth that some cases depend on the testimony of victims who don't live to see justice served. Wolf Entertainment's 2022 documentary series Final Moments utilized victims' last interactions with loved ones, surveillance footage, and social media traffic in their final days to paint an accurate picture of the crimes.
LA Fire & Rescue (2023)
Wolf married his affinity for unscripted action and the torch he carries for firefighters with his latest project, LA Fire & Rescue, which premiered in the summer of 2023 on NBC. The press release for LA Fire & Rescue teased "unprecedented access to the inner workings of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Responsible for protecting the lives and property of four million residents living in 59 cities across Los Angeles County, the LACoFD’s 2,300 square miles of service is unlike any other in the United States."
"From helicopter mountain rescues and lifeguard beach SOS, to fireboats, hazmat units and California’s raging wildfires, the department does it all. The series documents real calls and real drama while giving faces to the passionate fire firefighters who risk their lives in the name of service. These real-life heroes and their compelling stories are told alongside the unpredictable dangers they face on the front lines of life and death."
Dick Wolf's Jeremy Fisk book series
Wolf's love for crafting fascinating thrillers runs deep, which has led to a successful career as a novelist outside of Law & Order and his many television pursuits. Wolf is the proud author of three action mystery novels featuring an NYPD Detective named Jeremy Fisk: The Intercept, The Execution, and The Ultimatum.
"Anybody who says writing is writing, it's not true. The canvasses get completely different-sized," Wolf said via USA Today while chatting about the complexities of writing a novel. "I've written features and those are sort of like big paintings and television episodes are slightly smaller paintings and novels are kind of like the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It's a much broader canvas. I don't know if it's a different skill level, just a different set of storytelling ability."
"And hopefully the book reflects that," Wolf continued. "I hate to make it obvious, but the first 25 pages are really very similar to the teaser in a television show. You do learn after 1,300 hours of television that people like certain things. I'm not selling it as great literature but, hopefully, it's a great ride. That's what I set out to do."
Dick Wolf's Awards, Honors, and Recognitions
As one of the most notable media moguls of our generation, it's no wonder that Wolf has collected quite a few awards throughout his established television tenure. Besides Wolf's two Emmys for Law & Order, his company Wolf Entertainment also produced the Academy-Award-winning short documentary Twin Towers.
"There’s a humility to Dick Wolf that is an aberration to any producer that has come close to his level of success," Thayer told Variety. "He has no pretense and no attitude about his accomplishments. He’s very aware and very appreciative of what he’s been able to do."
In 2007, the Law & Order legend was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2013 he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Still, Wolf's legacy continues to evolve.
“It took me a while. And then I learned. He'll say these ambitious things, and then he does it. And now I never doubt a thing he says,” Pearlena Igbokwe, chairman of Universal Studio Group, said of Wolf. “He’s said to me, ‘I will be the last man standing in broadcast. That’s my ambition.’ He’s not only standing — he’s towering.”