Wednesday nights must be quite exhilarating, and just a little emotional, for Peter Jankowski.
On this night, every week, his name appears twice in primetime – as Executive Producer in the credits right at the top of two popular one hour dramas.
As President and Chief Operating Officer of Wolf Films Inc, Jankowski helped develop the extremely successful “Law & Order” branded series and is currently Executive Producer for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” He also serves as executive producer of Wolf Films’ newest series, “Chicago Fire.”
“Law & Order: SVU” and “Chicago Fire” air back-to-back every Wednesday night beginning at 9/8c. Recently, it was announced that the two dramas will return next season as well, with “Chicago Fire” earning a second season and “SVU” moving into its 15th (!) season.
Jankowski’s name has emerged during the opening frames of hundreds of hours of television in the past, and continues to appear regularly in reruns. And ‘hundreds.of hours’ is no exaggeration. The original “Law & Order” alone tallied 456 episodes and “SVU” hit 300 episodes this year. In fact, it’s a safe bet that you can find a show with Jankowski’s name on it airing somewhere on television nearly every single day of the year.
Regarding his small screen longevity, with a bit of a laugh, Jankowski points out, “I’ve been parking in the same spot for 25 years. There’s a lot of comfort in that in an industry that’s as volatile as television.”
In his role as Executive Producer, Jankowski’s responsibilities include overseeing both artistic elements as well as mamaging organizational tasks. Sharing his secret for balancing all of those duties, he reveals, “Well, for me, every decision has essential creative and administrative parts to it and the key is to equalize those two elements as much as possible. For example, with each episode you have to weigh all of the very specific artistic components and then factor those into the cost of that episode. Then you have to become resourceful in how you’re going to make that creative vision work within the budgetary framework. It’s the same thing with casting; the creative part is finding the actor that’s right for the role while the administrative part is figuring how to secure that person”.
In 2003, Jankowski ventured outside the episodic genre to produce “Twin Towers,” a World Trade Center tribute that featured the story of two brothers – one a firefighter, one a police officer – and their heroic efforts on 9/11. The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
Jankowski also produced “When You’re Strange,” a Grammy award-winning and Emmy nominated documentary about Jim Morrison and The Doors.
After producing hours and hours of content, Jankowski is, at first, a bit reluctant to reveal the product that he’s most proud of saying this; “There are a few ‘Law & Order’ episodes and a few ‘SVU’ episodes that stand out in my mind for personal reasons. I’m also very proud of ‘Chicago Fire’ and the work we’re doing on that show.” But then, after a contemplative moment, Jankowski divulges, “I’m really probably most proud of ‘Twin Towers’ because it encapsulates everything we do here at Wolf Films in our support of everyone in the police department and all of the rescue people. It was a personal letter to all of the 9/11 families. That really touches me the most and I’m very grateful that I had a chance to be a part of it.”
When crafting his work, Jankowski follows a few guidelines that he’s gathered over the years. “I learned from Dick (Wolf) that you should never go to the lowest common denominator. It’s really so easy to do, but it’s wrong for so many reasons. For anything that will truly last in television or film or any other art form, you really need to push yourself and reach for the highest common denominator. That’s why I’m proud to be part of the ‘Law & Order’ franchise for all of these years. I truly think that the stories that we tell and the situations we expose have made a difference and enhanced people’s lives. That means a great deal to me.”
“Law & Order: SVU” airs Wednesday nights at 9/8c, followed by “Chicago Fire” at 10/9c on NBC.