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Lorre, Wolf: Great Writing Transcends Delivery Platform

Two of the most storied TV producers of this era dished on critical adulation versus mainstream acclaim, with neither Dick Wolf nor Chuck Lorre showing much disappointment that their series don’t get the trophies that the Netflix/HBO stuff does. Speaking at the HRTS “A Conversation With” luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif. Wolf, creator of the Law & Order and Chicago P.D./Fire/Med trilogy, said broadcast and cable (as well as streaming services) are “totally different” worlds.

“We write mass entertainment,” he said. “Network dramas are the big studio movies.”

A hot cable series may do 10 episodes a year, he noted, while he’ll produce 64 combined hours of the three Chicago dramas this year. Working five years to produce 50 episodes, he added, “seems more like a hobby than a business.”

The men were interviewed by Warren Littlefield, former entertainment president of NBC. The session was billed “Building a Kingdom…Then and Now.”

Lorre, creative genius behind Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory and Mom, said he was a dinosaur for shooting in front of a live studio audience. “I think we’ve become the red-headed stepchild,” he said, growing defiant. “Put your comedy in front of 200 people and see if they laugh. It’s really hard. It’s really, really hard.”

He added, “If the material isn’t right, you can hear the 134 Freeway going by.”

Lorre says he and his writers write for each other, not for critics. And the camera operators, of all people, too. “They’ve seen it all,” said Lorre. “If they laugh, you’re gold.”

Littlefield started the salon off by sharing a plaque that Wolf gave him for Christmas many years ago that said, in the idiom of the era, “It’s the writing, stupid.” The theme—that great TV begins and ends with great writing—came up repeatedly. “God willing, a good story, with good actors and good words, will find an audience,” said Lorre.

The men remarked on how much television is changing, with the likes of Netflix and Amazon and Hulu often getting first crack at top-shelf creative projects. “Anyone who tells you what the business will be like in five years is on drugs,” said Wolf. “It’s changed more in the last six months than the last six years, and more in those six years than the 60 before it.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.