The Carsey-Wolf Center is currently in the midst of their winter 2020 TV at the Pollock series that explores classic and contemporary television ranging from The Handmaid’s Tale to VEEP and The West Wing. Last week, television mogul Dick Wolf was on hand at the Pollock for a discussion about the art of television storytelling and the progression of his own writing — from his Emmy Award-nominated work for Hill Street Blues to the pilot episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Wolf is one of the two founding supporters of the Carsey-Wolf Center, UCSB’s Center for Film, Television, and New Media.
During the Q&A, Wolf candidly talked fondly and with a sense of humor about his early days in television. When moderator Patrice Petro asked him why series such as Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU were so successful, Wolf answered that shows work best when there is a moral issue at its center. He explained that each episode had a formulaic nature, beginning with a criminal dilemma and evolving into a moral one. A TMZ reporter once asked him, Wolf recalled, if his series would portray a Harvey Weinstein story in an episode, to which he responded, “We’ve been doing Harvey Weinstein for 20 years.”
A consistent topic throughout the night was the effect of streaming services on television and the subsequent alterations in writing and production strategy. Wolf seemed apprehensive about the changes to come in television production, explaining that he isn’t sure if streaming is going to provide anything comparable but is certainly creating unprecedented levels, perhaps too many, of choices for viewers. Wolf expressed interest in fast-paced storytelling and hinted at an upcoming project that blends the experience of a streaming service and broadcast platform.
The discussion was an interesting dive the executive producer’s perspective on the changes in television production, writing, and storytelling over the past four decades.