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The Chicago Code: Inside Fox’s New Cop Drama

By Fred Topel

The Chicago Code is making a new mark on the legacy of television cop shows. Fox’s Monday night drama shows Chicago Police Superintendent Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) and Det. Jaek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) fighting the corruption of city Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo.) In a conference call with the media, series creator Shawn Ryan discussed the new show and how it differs from his previous cop show, The Shield.

Explaining What an alderman is:

“I’ve always been interested in Aldermen. I grew up in Rockford which has a similar political system as Chicago in that they have Aldermen. I have an uncle who was an alderman in Rockford. So I was always interested in that position. As I did my research for the show, obviously everyone knows about the mayor of Chicago and the history of Chicago’s mayors, but less is known nationally about the alderman system and the ward system in Chicago. Listen, if you have a couple cops who are trying to stamp out corruption in Chicago, you’ve got to have a pretty good example of that to motivate the series.”

They control the Chicago trains:

“From the very beginning we talked at great length with the Illinois Film Commission and with the Chicago City Officials about filming there and they were incredibly cooperative and really promised us a lot of assistance and really came through, not just on the first few episodes, really the whole series. They wanted to make Chicago an inviting place to film and they really did. I have only great things to say about the city and the state in terms of being a great place to film. That was just one example, not only that we got to use the train but that we were able to control a little bit when trains came and when they left from the station. It just adds a huge element to the show that you don’t tend to see in cities like New York and Los Angeles that are filmed constantly. We were invited in by that city in a pretty spectacular way.”

They dramatize the historical evidence of real corruption:

“I think you just start approaching it from a character perspective. Like anything on a TV show, there are plenty of History Channel and documentary channel stuff that people can watch for the pure basic information of it. If you’re going to make it interesting and make it someone’s number one alternative to watch on a highly competitive Monday night of television, you’ve got to start from a character place and figure out how to entertain. We did a lot of research. We read a lot of books and we just start thinking, well, what would be interesting about watching this guy, about watching Alderman Gibbons and seeing how he maneuvers? Then when you cast a guy like Delroy Lindo who I think is pretty magnetic and magnificent in this series, that really helps. So I just try to approach it from a story point of view.”

Superintendent Colvin is the ultimate female empowerment:

“I’m not sure this is the best comparison but obviously Egypt has been in the news. There’s a lot of change going on there and when institutions change, there’s a lot of upheaval. There’s a lot of questioning. There’s people who were in power who get scared and who lash out, so looking at a female presence as you call it heading up the police force is something that not too long ago would never have happened. So it really challenges a lot of people’s assumptions and it kind of brings a lot of raw nerves to the surface. That was interesting to me, to take a character like Teresa and show who might support her, who might resist her leadership, what that might do to a police department. There are a lot of cities in the country that have leaders of their police departments that are controversial or maybe not too popular. It creates a whole different environment to the policing of the city. Those are the kind of issues I wanted to get into with her but it feels like a very 21st century story because a character like her wouldn’t exist in the 20th century.”

The Chicago Code is the best case scenario of police work:

“If there’s one criticism I’ve heard about the show it’s oh, a police superintendent wouldn’t be in some of these scenes and wouldn’t involve herself in these ways and would be doing a lot more paperwork, which technically is true. But one thing I spoke with my police consultant about when I was driving around with him, I said to him, ‘In your ideal world, what would the police superintendent do? How would he or she involve himself in the police department?’ The first thing he said was, ‘I would really respect someone who I saw a lot, who made an effort to be down at these crime scenes and to really interact with the police and really get himself or herself involved in these cases.’ So the relationship we’re showing with Teresa and Jarek is an idealized one, a superintendent who really did insert herself into these things and interact with the cops and get to know as many cops as she could by name. So that is the relationship with Jarek that she has. It is special and different and has been fun to write.”

Even with corruption in the system, the cops are the heroes of The Chicago Code.

The Shield was done absent any LAPD cooperation. They made it clear in a few different ways that they weren’t fans of the show because they had suffered through a big crisis and a huge PR disaster with the Rampart scandal and they didn’t’ like anything that reminded people that that kind of stuff had happened. They felt that they were moving forward and beyond that. So looking at cops who had gone astray is a very different thing than on this show where we have had the cooperation of the Chicago police department. So my view on these police officers tends to be in a more heroic light, tends to be more sympathetic to the challenges that they go through and it’s just a different show. And my attitude towards these characters are different than The Shield. The Shield was a show that felt a little renegade and certainly felt like it was bucking the system of the LAPD. I think both are appropriate for the circumstances that we made them in.”

And you can jump in any time:

“I would say that I specialize a little bit in a hybrid where this episode has a storyline about a bank robbery that starts and gets resolved within the episode and yet also has an ongoing storyline that picks up the Gibbons/Teresa relationship and moves forward. I like those episodes where you can do both things, where you can feel like you have some closure in the story and yet discover new things that will propel you into the next episodes. So I kind of enjoy that balancing act of trying to make it both work. I’ve got to assume that there are going to be people who haven’t seen the preceding episodes. So there is an ongoing story that we want to tell but we have to tell it in such a way that it won’t be too confusing to the viewers and that there is a way into people sitting down to watch the show and enjoying it even if they haven’t seen the stuff before. So I enjoy that balancing act, trying to figure out how to be inviting to viewers and yet reward the dedicated viewers.”

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About Fred Topel

Fred Topel has been an entertainment journalist in Los Angeles since 1999, for websites like Daily Radar, About.com, Crave Online and Sci Fi Wire. Follow his celebrity encounters on Twitter @FredTopel.

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  • February 17, 2011 | Permalink |

    I hate to say it but I found the first two episodes rather boring. It couldn;t keep my attention past the 15 minute mark, and neither I nor my husband felt drawn in to the show. Mr Ryan may have an awesome pedigree, but I;m afraid CC could end up tanking. I won;t be watching any more. I would rather Fox bring back Tim Roth and Lie to Me.

  • February 18, 2011 | Permalink |

    I watched the second episode on recommendation of my son. Despite Mr. Ryan’s comment about making the Teresa Colvin role as superintendent as “idealized” and for the 21st century it simply did not convince me. I like Jennifer Beals but I didn’t feel that she had the air of authority that a superintendent (male or female) must have, much less the political savvy and maturity to be a superintendent of Chicago police. She just wasn’t believable in the role in my opinion. It was impossible for me to see her up against Delroy Lindo as the Alderman. He was very believable as a very canny operator and more typical of what any big city police administrator might be up against. Colvin just doesn’t convince as someone who could take him on.

  • April 20, 2011 | Permalink |

    Great show! Absolutely great entertainment and, really, entertainment as it should be. Classic good guys/underdogs take on bad guys/corruption. America knows many powerful women and many great strong women are to come out of the younger generations. I for one like watching one kick some serious butt once a week…

  • April 25, 2011 | Permalink |

    Wow, I love this show. I think the Super’s character is very believable. She is tough as nails. The cast is loaded; Beals, Clarke and Lauria have all amazed me. I will be really angry with FOX if they don’t give this show a chance to catch on.

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