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The Next 'Law & Order?' 'Chicago' Series Take Over TV With New Franchise


First there was "Chicago Fire," then "Chicago P.D." Last night came "Chicago Med." Chicago is taking over your TV.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Chicago, the city of heroes, made by more than glass, brick and steel. It's made by the people who devote their lives to it.

CORNISH: This is what NBC is banking on - a trilogy of shows with characters making crossover appearances. It's the brainchild of Dick Wolf, the producer behind "Law And Order" and its many, many spinoffs. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is here to talk more about it. Welcome back.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hello (laughter).

CORNISH: You can be in the business of doing trailers, basically, for these shows (laughter).

DEGGANS: I feel in that spirit for some reason.

CORNISH: So "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago Med" aired last night - "Chicago P.D." on tonight. I don't know what's coming next, "Chicago Public Library" - like, it's three dramas about first responders. Is it too much?

DEGGANS: Well, not if you're NBC and you're looking at these rating. I mean, the overnight ratings for "Chicago Med," which debuted on Tuesday, shows that it drew 8.6 million viewers, holding a lot of the audience from that show "The Voice" that airs right before it. And that's a great start. And to help viewers migrate to this new show, they had a moment where fireman from "Chicago Fire" Christopher Herrmann made a cameo on "Chicago Med." He was dropping of the personal effects of people injured in a train derailment. So let's listen to that.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hey, Herrmann.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Hey, Herrmann.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Is that from the crash site?

DAVID EIGENBERG: (As Christopher Herrmann) Yeah, it's the first load (unintelligible) - cell phones, shoes, wallets, purses.

DEGGANS: This is how easily these characters can move between the shows because they're in the same fictional universe.

CORNISH: And this is a really interesting idea because I was always a big fan of crossover episodes on television.

DEGGANS: Oh, yeah.

CORNISH: People kind of being in one universe. Talk about the history here.

DEGGANS: Well, yeah, it's definitely got a history. You think back in the day, a producer like Norman Lear would take a show like "All In The Family" and he'd spinoff shows like "Maude" or "Good Times" from characters that started on "All In The Family." Franchises like CBS's "CSI" and "NCIS" have had similar crossover storylines, and the comic book series on The CW like "Flash And Arrow" do the same thing. Now, with these "Chicago" shows, you've got this familiar, formulaic approach stretched across three different series. And these "Chicago" shows, they don't get written about a lot by critics or they don't get a lot of Emmy nominations, but they're the kind of shows that network TV viewers like to watch, even though for people who like more groundbreaking stuff, it kind of feels like eating oatmeal.


DEGGANS: And if fans like one show, they might end up watching all three of them.

CORNISH: But it doesn't sound like you're describing this as, like, groundbreaking, right? I mean, the way people talk so lovingly about like "ER" and what that did for NBC 21 years ago. What does this say about what network TV viewers want?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, in an era when we've got TV shows that demand so much of you, shows like "True Detective" and "Fargo," where you really have to watch closely and there's arcs that you have to pay attention to, sometimes people just want shows where they can check in and see a good, solid medical show or cop show for an hour and just enjoy it. And the stories on "Chicago Med" seem to follow those familiar patterns. But here's one thing that bugs me about this show. It bothered me that the characters of color in the first episode didn't seem to be as fleshed out as people quite as much as the white characters. S. Epatha Merkerson, who TV fans are going to remember as Lieutenant Van Buren on "Law And Order"...

CORNISH: Oh, of course.

DEGGANS: She's an African American hospital administrator on this show, and she's got no backstory. She's running around helping everybody else. Hopefully in future episodes, we'll learn a little bit more about the nonwhite characters on the show and give them some storylines, too.

CORNISH: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans watching for us. Thanks always, Eric.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.