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The personal lives of police at the heart of ‘Chicago Fire’ spinoff

Chicago Fire - Seas1

Chicago Fire - Season 1

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Updated: June 16, 2013 6:39AM

‘Chicago Fire” producers were scouting the old Monroe District police station for their upcoming spinoff when someone noticed a framed photo in what had been the commander’s office.

The man in the photo was Chicago Police officer Brian Strouse, 33, fatally shot by a gang member in a Pilsen alley in 2001.

The show’s writers wanted to know more. They talked to a couple of officers who were with Strouse the night he was gunned down.

“It’s still a very difficult memory for them,” said “Chicago Fire” showrunner Matt Olmstead, an executive producer of the spinoff, “Chicago PD.” “You see these tough cops get quiet. It was a real defining moment for the show in terms of what we’re trying to do: to tell stories about what the cops go through personally, how they approach the job and how they interact with each other. That’s the heart of it.”

Viewers will get a taste of “Chicago PD” at 9 p.m. Wednesday on “Chicago Fire,” from creator Dick Wolf of the “Law & Order” franchise, along with screenwriters Derek Haas and Michael Brandt (“3:10 to Yuma”). The season’s penultimate episode doubles as a so-called “back-door pilot,” a sample of what’s to come in the cop-focused spinoff NBC picked up for midseason.

Wednesday’s installment has fire department Lt. Matt Casey (Jesse Spencer) forced to team up with the enemy, shady police Sgt. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe), to find out who killed Casey’s girlfriend.

Fans of “Chicago Fire” know there’s plenty of bad blood between Casey and Voight, who did a short stint in prison for harassing the fireman. Voight and Detective Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda) initially cropped up in the third episode of the freshman series.

“Their characters really popped,” Olmstead said. “It was Dick Wolf who first had the idea that these guys could be part of a cop show.

“It happened really fast. The normal process for a pilot would be about a year. We had a few months.”

Beghe, whose character has been portrayed as a dirty cop, said the spinoff will give people a chance to see “there’s more to Hank Voight than meets the eye.”

“I wouldn’t say he’s Gandhi but he’s also not Hitler,” Beghe said. He’s looking forward to spending more time in Chicago, where the native New Yorker has strong family ties. His parents are from here. His brother lives here. His great-grandfather Charles Deneen was governor of Illinois as well as a U.S. senator.

Beghe and Seda are part of “Chicago PD’s” nine-person ensemble, with Harvey native LaRoyce Hawkins being the sole local actor of the bunch. Tania Raymonde (“Lost”) and Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, were both introduced briefly in last week’s “Chicago Fire.” One of the new faces in Wednesday’s episode is stand-up comic J.B. Smoove (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), who plays Sgt. Pruitt.

“He’s comic relief but he’s not just a court jester,” said Olmstead, a former writer for “Prison Break” and “NYPD Blue,” a show he views as a template for what he’d like “Chicago PD” to be.

Filming likely will start in August. “Chicago PD” has a soundstage near “Chicago Fire’s” at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, making it easy for characters on both shows to mix and mingle.

“We want to have as much connective tissue as we can between ‘Chicago Fire’ and ‘Chicago PD’ in terms of crossing characters over,” Olmstead said, adding that Molly’s bar will be the preferred watering hole for both the firefighters and the cops.

The Near West Side’s former Monroe District station at 100 S. Racine serves as home base for fictional District 21. It houses beat cops as well as members of the Intelligence Unit, a team that combats high-profile murders, organized crime and drug trafficking citywide. The unit is headed by Voight, whose office is where producers first came upon the photo of slain officer Strouse.

“His photo hangs in Hank Voight’s office and will for the remainder of the show,” Olmstead said. “It was just a nice way for us to pay our respects to the Chicago Police Department and to Brian and his family.”

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