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'Law & Order' creator Wolf set to pounce on streaming deal

Jason Schott

Renowned television producer Dick Wolf best known as the creator of "Law & Order" and its four spinoffs is changing the name of his company to better position it for the streaming world.

The prolific producer - who got his start working in advertising crafting pitches for household brands like Crest toothpaste - rechristened his Wolf Films production company to Wolf Entertainment, according to "Variety."

“Branding has always been a focus with our shows," Wolf wrote in an email noting that  "Law & Order," the "Chicago" first responder dramas on NBC and CBS' "FBI" are "more than shows, they’re brands."

Wolf wrote to "Variety" that as he is seeing digital and social media become so prevalent and that after conducting some research he  found "a huge untapped opportunity to connect with and hear from the fans of our shows.”

Elliot Wolf, the senior vice president of digital at Wolf Entertainment and a son of the producer, is overseeing the new efforts, which could include a monthly newsletter, podcasts, merchandise, spotlights on the creative people who put the shows together, and, starting with Tuesday night’s season premiere of “FBI,” the first new “end card” -- the company logo that production companies usually present at the end of a show -- in nearly three decades.

Wolf’s series are ubiquitous on cable television. As recently at three years ago, NBC held discussions with Wolff on the rebranding of the Oxygen cable channel as a crime and punishment themed service. Some conversations included branding it with Wolf's name -- Wolf Net.

Now with a huge library in hand, speculation is underway in Hollywood whether Wolf will take some of the crazy money that services like Netflix and HBOMax have thrown at the likes of Jerry Seinfeld or the makers of "Friends" or some wonder if the Wolf Net idea could return possibly as its own streaming service.

"He’s become very sought-after and he’s as familiar to viewers as some of the actors on his shows – if not more so – so why not leverage that brand?” asks media consultant Brad Adgate, "I would suggest he would probably do a streaming service because it's probably a lower bar of entry than a cable network."

The media landscape has changed to the benefit of uber producers like Wolf.

"I think that the people behind the cameras are becoming, in some instances, as big a celebrity - or brand - as those people in front of the cameras,” said Adgate. “It’s interesting when you have (producers) like J.J. Abrams and Shonda Rhimes and Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, these people have become kind of celebrities unto themselves, and they’re making a lot of money by putting themselves out there, and with all the competition out there for their services, they’ve become what I’d call, like, a hot property, and I think Dick Wolf is certainly one of them."

Rhimes parlayed her brand into a massive production deal with Netflix in 2017 that also allowed her to keep producing shows for ABC, where she is known for hits including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How To Get Away With Murder.” She also created a lifestyle-focused web outlet, Shondaland, hosted by Hearst Magazines, to connect to her fans.

Wolf Entertainment is ramping up their efforts as speculation rises that the streaming rights to the original “Law & Order” series empire would fetch millions from one of the many new subscription-video services trying to gain a foothold on market share. The only “L&O” series on a streaming service is “Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit,” which is on Hulu and Netflix but is scheduled to leave the latter's menu.

With new entrants to the field of streaming services - including CBS All Access, Apple TV+ , Disney+ and Peacock from Comcast - there have been many lucrative deals for hit programs in recent weeks, such as “Big Bang Theory” landing on WarnerMedia's HBO Max and Netflix's major deal with "Seinfeld" last week.

Wolf’s catalog of programs is estimated to total 72 seasons and 1,568 total hours. Even though sitcoms have commanded the high prices of late and Wolf's hallmark is drama content, the sheer volume of Wolf Entertainment will make it interesting to see how much streaming companies value a drama brand.

“The key, I think, and what’s unusual - in particular with ‘Law & Order’ - is that, for a one-hour drama, they’ve always repeated well," says Adgate. "The whole ‘Law & Order’ franchise, it’s one of those comfort foods; you see it and you’ll spend an hour or two watching a show, and you don’t get that with dramas as much. He had the foresight to create these one-hour self-contained dramas that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think that a key to the success of these franchises is the shelf life that they have.”


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