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The Man Who Gave Us 'Law & Order' Is Taking Over Prime Time

Dick Wolf has 8 shows slotted this fall

Television producer Dick Wolf

Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Dick Wolf

En español | Who owns network TV this fall? Dick Wolf. The 74-year-old crime drama impresario has — are you ready? — eight one-hour shows in prime time this season.

Here's the breakdown: CBS has three Wolf FBI shows stacked up on Tuesday nights. On Wednesdays, NBC fills its prime-time lineup with Chicago-based shows. ("Pretty soon, producer Wolf will have chronicled Chicago with more hours of entertainment than the combined novels of Saul Bellow, James T. Farrell and Nelson Algren,” wrote critic Ken Tucker.) And on Thursdays, Wolf's biggest hit, Law & Order: SVU — the longest-running prime-time live-action drama in TV history — and its new spinoff Law & Order: Organized Crime anchor the NBC lineup.

"Dick Wolf is pretty much running prime-time TV,” says Showbiz 411 pundit Roger Friedman. “I can't think of anything like this in TV history.” And Wolf is far from done. He's currently developing his umpteenth Law & Order spinoffs for future seasons — why have eight shows on at once when you could have 10 or 12? — plus two reality shows for 2022, LA Fire and Rescue, about the Los Angeles Fire Department, and Final Moments, about real crimes and the emotional experience of the victims who died.

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The genius behind Dick Wolf TV programming: Campbell's soup?

Wolf's shows signify more than just one man's inordinate success. They're part of the transformation of TV entertainment. Instead of freestanding shows, we've entered the era of interconnected shows. Like in the movies, where superheroes appear in one another's blockbusters (see: Marvel), TV is increasingly dominated by franchises — shows that occupy a single fictional universe, with crossover episodes and shared characters.

Wolf compares his shows to the many flavors of Campbell's soup. “It's my hope that viewers are comfortable with the brand, and they know no matter what type of soup they are buying, or show they are watching, they know they are getting a high-quality product,” he told Variety. “Familiarity breeds contentment.” Other non-Wolf crime and police procedural franchises are following suit this fall: NCIS presents its third spinoff, NCIS: Hawai'i, and CSI arrives with its latest, CSI: Vegas.

Eamonn Walker in Chicago Fire, Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki in FBI and Mariska Hargitay in Law and Order Special Victims Unit

Adrian S. Burrows Sr./NBC; Michael Parmelee/CBS; Virginia Sherwood/NBC

(Left to right) Eamonn Walker as Chief Wallace Boden in “Chicago Fire,” Missy Peregrym as Special Agent Maggie Bell and Zeeko Zaki as Special Agent Omar Adom 'OA' Zidan in "FBI" and Mariska Hargitay as Lieutenant Olivia Benson in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

All the Dick Wolf shows arriving in September

But Wolf remains the king of the franchise TV hit. Here are the eight September 2021 shows that will make up what's called TV's “Wall of Wolf."

Dick Wolf Tuesdays

FBI (CBS, 8 p.m. ET)

New York's finest feds crack cases ripped from the headlines.

Watch it: FBI

FBI: International (CBS, 9 p.m. ET)

Without guns, the FBI's Prague team keeps Americans safe abroad. This new spinoff premieres in a crossover episode with the other FBI shows.

Read about it: FBI: International

FBI: Most Wanted (CBS, 10 p.m. ET)

The Fugitive Task Force nabs the worst of the worst, weekly.

Watch it: FBI: Most Wanted

Dick Wolf Wednesdays

Chicago Med (NBC, 8 p.m. ET)

Good-looking ER docs tussle with trauma cases and one another's emotions.

Watch it: Chicago Med

Chicago Fire (NBC, 9 p.m. ET)

Firehouse 51 douses blazes in the city that invented the fireman's sliding pole.

Watch it: Chicago Fire

Chicago P.D. (NBC, 10 p.m. ET)

We'll discover if all the cops survived last season's cliffhanger finale.

Watch it: Chicago P.D.

Dick Wolf Thursdays

Law & Order: SVU (NBC, 9 p.m. ET)

Lt. Benson (Mariska Hargitay, 57) reports for duty in a two-hour premiere episode slated for Sept. 23.

Watch it: Law & Order: SVU

Law & Order: Organized Crime (NBC, 10 p.m. ET)

Why did star Christopher Meloni, 60, return to play Benson's colleague Elliot Stabler in a spinoff 10 years after quitting the original SVU? “It's the home of the 800-pound gorilla: Dick Wolf Productions,” he tells AARP. Ellen Burstyn, 88, will return as Bernadette Stabler, Elliot's mom.

Watch it: Law & Order: Organized Crime

Tim Appelo is AARP’s film and TV critic. Previously, he was Amazon’s entertainment editor, Entertainment Weekly’s video critic, and a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, LA Weekly and The Village Voice.