Exclusive Interview: Chicago Fire Creators/EPs Michael Brandt and Derek Haas Tell What To Expect This Season

Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire made a splash with audiences during its premiere last week, and TV Equals was fortunate to get the inside scoop about what’s coming down the pike for the squad of Firehouse 51 from Chicago Fire‘s creators and executive producers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas. The newest episode of Chicago Fire airs tonight at 10/9c.

What made you want to create a show like Chicago Fire?

Derek Haas: We’re movie writers, and we had a call last year that Dick Wolf and NBC wanted to do a show about firemen, and every year we’ve sort of turned down television because it just seemed like it was way too much work.

But when we heard Dick Wolf’s name, and that subject matter [of first responders] sounded interesting, we met with Dick and we met with NBC, and we said, “What about setting it in Chicago?” since Rescue Me was done in New York and it seemed like it was so intrinsically tied to 9/11, and Chicago itself is a city that was born out of fire and seemed like a good location. So they said yes and we said, “Well then put us on a plane so we can start researching.”

So we flew to Chicago and we met Chief Chikerotis, who is a deputy district chief there, who embedded us in firehouses all over the city for the first three weeks we were there. We did ride-alongs and 24-hour shifts, and when we got done, we’d filled two notebooks [full] with material, and we flew back to L.A. and said to Dick, ‘Here’s what we want to do–what about a big ensemble show set in a firehouse that has a squad and has a truck and an engine and paramedics unit and in the tradition of ER or Hill Street Blues, we’ll follow 10 characters around and see what the life of people who run into burning buildings is like,’ and that’s how it was born.

Are you happy with how the show has been received so far?

Michael Brandt: Yeah. You know, it’s hard–when you make a pilot, you’re making almost a stand-alone piece that you’re trying to get the network interested in. And…when you get picked up, then all of a sudden, you’re making a show–a serialized show, in our case–and in a lot of ways, there’s so many characters in the pilot, and it feels like a couch with too many pillows on it.

Episodes two, three, four…personally, they’re a little easier to watch because there’s not so much jammed in there. And you make a pilot and then the network says, “Hey, we want this [in there], we want that in there,”…and pretty soon, it just feels like you’re jamming more and more stuff in. I feel like this has been the case for a lot of great TV shows, that the pilot is sometimes not the best version of it and the show kind of finds its footing through the first four or five episodes. I think that’s what we’re doing for sure.

What can fans expect with the firemen’s storylines? So far, we’ve already seen Severide’s drug use. What else can we expect from this season?

Derek Haas: What we’re going to follow is Lt. Casey…he’s played by Jesse Spencer…he’s dealing with both the dissolution of his engagement to his fiance, and we’re going to follow that for a while, and then…he’s going to get involved with crooked cop. Basically, he rolled up onto a scene where there’s a drunk driving accident, and the drunk driver happens to be the son of a crooked police officer. And because firemen file reports on the incidents they witness, this corrupt cop is going to try to get [Casey] to change his report. And that’s going to happen over a few episodes.

The firehouse is also going to deal with the ramifications of a fire where somebody died politically…and all sorts of other things. That’s what’s so much fun about working on this show and writing this show…with 10 characters with a busy house, there’s all sorts of incidents and their personal lives all intertwined.

It’s interesting that you’re putting that kind of element into the show, since unique stories from firehouse calls really do happen in real life. 

Derek Haas: Yeah. About 90 percent of what we are writing in these first 13 episodes are incidents that we’ve heard from either being embedded in these firehouses and, of course, we fictionalize them, or our main paramedics and main technical adviser[s], Chief Chikerotis and Michelle Martinez, have provided us with so many stories. What you find when these calls go off is that everything that happens is interesting! It’s a nice canvas that we get to paint on.

How did the Chicago firemen, in particular, feel after viewing the pilot?

Michael Brandt: Well, first of all, we used firefighters as extras, so they get paid as extras, and they come in there…and spend time on set. What’s great for us is we have a bunch of guys helping us keep things real and we don’t have to give them a lot of direction. The entirety of our engine is made up of actual Chicago firemen, so when the engine pulls up and it’s time to pull the hoses off…they just do it. It’s great–it’s got a real authenticity to it. And when we premiered the pilot two weeks ago in Chicago, we played it for 300 local firefighters and we had a little party afterwards and the response was amazing.

Great. We already know Lt. Casey has a romance with Teri Reeves character. Will there be any other romances this season or will that be for another time?

Michael Brandt: Oh yeah. We’re going to definitely have some triangles going on. In the pilot, you can tell that the paramedic Dawson, played by Monica Raymund is pining after Casey but he’s taken, so that’s going to play out a little bit more, and Severide, played by Taylor Kinney, he’s got a few women coming up in his life that he’s going to have to juggle.

Hmm. 

Michael Brandt: I can’t say anything more than that (laughs)

Usually, when I’m interviewing actors or actresses, I ask what shows would they like to guest star on, so I’ll change it up for you; what shows would you like to create that you haven’t created yet?

Michael Brandt: Let’s see…what do we want do we want to create that we haven’t created? Well, if we said what we wanted to create, we would have created it (laughs) That’s a very cosmic question you posed. I think we’re enjoying this whole network run. 22 episodes is a lot though–we have some friends who work on cable shows and they have 10 to 12 episodes per season, and that sounds like a really fun challenge. So I think, we’ll see what happens with Chicago Fire, but I think it’d be fun to try and create a cable show.

Derek Haas: They get to cuss a lot more on cable shows. We don’t get to cuss.

Do you think any more fire shows will come on television now that you guys have re-paved the way after Rescue Me went off? Do you think fire shows will become in vogue?

Derek Haas: First responders are the ones come onto the scene and then they drop off the victims at a hospital and then they’re out of their victims’ lives, and I think for the longest time it was hard to figure out how to do a television show where you’re only seeing the middle part of what happens to these victims and I think what Michael and I and Dick and Matt Olmstead, our showrunner, have done is shown that you can do some storytelling where instead of the action being victim-specific, like on so many of these procedurals, instead it’s how this action affects our characters, and if that helps pave the way for other people to figure out how to do first responder shows, then more power to them.

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