Dick Wolf Goes Unscripted With His Latest Venture, 'Inside the FBI: New York'
In 2015, Dick Wolf met with FBI director James Comey to discuss a scripted series along the lines of his popular, long-running Law & Order franchise, but about the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office.
Comey suggested that before the veteran producer went ahead with that idea, he visit the New York field office and see for himself. Wolf did just that, and the result is now a six-part documentary series, Inside the FBI: New York, premiering Thursday on USA Network.
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Wolf brought in Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker Marc Levin (Brick City, CIA: America’s Secret Warriors) to produce the show.
“Dick told me that I had unprecedented access to the FBI,” says Levin.
Levin gained trust with the Feds after he and his crew shadowed them during the Pope’s September 2015 visit to New York, which coincided with the UN General Assembly in session. “That brought out the largest security force in New York history," he says.
Sweetening the deal: "We made it clear that we would only work with people who were open to being on camera.” As a result, he and his team were embedded in the flagship office for a year, and the resulting documentary series offers an up-close-and-personal look at the men and women who help keep us safe.
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The series started filming in November 2016, with filmmakers shadowing Chris Forbes from the Counterterrorisim division. What started as observing the return of a captured fugitive turned into a story about how the New York Feds handled crisis management. Right after the handover, they got word of the massive terrorist attacks in Paris. “We spent the next three days with them in the city as well as in Paris.”
That story, as well as the massive FBI presence at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade shortly after the Paris massacre, is the focus of the opening episode of Inside the FBI.
“After we were finished shooting, the lawyers—both from the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office—entered the picture,” Levin recalls. “They wanted to discuss what the ground rules were and what unprecedented access meant.” With negotiations and promises not to reveal anything that was classified, or that would jeopardize the FBI or the country, and allowing the lawyers the right to review, the agency and the film crew “came to a working agreement.”
Among the other events covered: An intervention with a suspected ISIS sympathizer who turned out to be a 14-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome, and a look at the unit that deals with crimes against children. “It’s the only division that you have to volunteer for, because it’s is so psychologically draining," Levin says.
The crew also shadowed the organized and violent crime unit as it confronted gangsters.
“What touches us so much is how mission-driven these agents and the equally important analysts are,” says Levin. “It’s something that Director Comey refers to when he says that 'These are people who want to make difference.'”
Following Wolf’s past production moves, where shows like Law & Order and Chicago Fire spun off into several other series to be lucrative franchises, could there be more editions of this series to follow? Inside the FBI: Washington, for instance?
“You can be assured it’s all under discussion," Levin notes.
Inside the FBI: New York, Thursdays beginning April 27, 10/9c, USA Network