May 23, 2013



NBC is all-in on CHICAGO FIRE.  Not only has it given the show a plum spot for the fall on Tuesdays with The Voice as its lead-in, it’s ordered a police-oriented spin-off for midseason.  All this enthusiasm is a little puzzling, giving that the show has been only a marginal success (its season average is a mere 1.8, although it’s perked up–as what wouldn’t?–when The Voice has aired before it), and hasn’t shown particular signs of growth as the season went on.  Still, it seems to fit into NBC’s new strategy of airing shows for the most generalized audience possible.

Considering that Fire is a much-vaunted step into serialized drama for Law & Order poobah Dick Wolf, it was surprisingly easy to catch on to the events of last night’s season finale after some time absent from the show.  The first three-quarters of the episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Andrea Newman and Co-Producer Michael Gilvary, were pretty much straight procedural, with the soapy material saved for the final few minutes.  The fire plot was a good one:  a blaze broke out in a prison, and once our crew was on scene to put it out and save an inmate who’d been stabbed, an electrical failure froze the system, imprisoning the firefighters with the violent inmates.  Atmospherically directed by Alex Chapple, there were moments when the episode was almost a horror movie, with smoke and darkness obscuring the possible dangers, and the story played out fairly well.  The only substantial interruption by a personal story was the news that Herrmann’s (David Eigenberg) wife had gone into premature labor, a delivery that had enough complications to carry it to the episode’s final act, but worked out just fine for everyone.

With so much of the hour taken up by the fire, the other serialized stories were perfunctory.  Severide (Taylor Kinney) and Shay (Lauren German), who were trying to have a baby together, learned that she hadn’t yet become pregnant.  Ironically, the twist on this story had its own twist:  Severide’s ex Renee (Sarah Shahi) showed up at the very end to reveal that she was pregnant with Severide’s baby, but in real life, Shahi has been promoted to regular on Person of Interest, which will now be Fire‘s direct competition on Tuesday nights, meaning Shahi is unlikely to be very available to Fire next season, just when it seems the show could use her.  Meanwhile, Casey (Jesse Spencer) was still reeling from the death a few episodes ago of his girlfriend Hallie (Teri Reeves), making him, for now, a less than promising romantic target for Dawson (Monica Raymund), who had confessed to Mills (Charlie Barnett) that she had feelings for Casey.  As a result of hearing that and also being passed over for promotion, Mills decided to change his life and apply to the Police Department–where one assumes he might find a home in the Chicago Fire spin-off.

There’s nothing terribly gripping, let alone original, about any of this, and Fire still feels like a procedural with some serialized bits tacked on–certainly more character-based than Law & Order, but far from a Grey’s Anatomy or even a Bones.  It’s a professional enough piece of work, yet unlikely to pull in a strongly loyal audience.  The series isn’t nearly as intriguing or stylish as Person of Interest, which scores much higher than Fire in its current Thursday slot (although, oddly enough for a CBS show, the mythology on Person has gotten complicated enough that it may have trouble attracting new viewers as well).  If Chicago Fire is what NBC perceives its future to be, it looks a lot like TV’s past–the network’s recent “big tent” philosophy, putting shows on that will hopefully attract the broadest possible crowd and worrying about their ages afterward, feels mired in the 3-network view of the world.  Perhaps NBC will be proven right in the end, but avoiding distinctiveness like this feels like a desperate attempt to hold back the tide.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."