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Pollock Theater building.

Beyond the Silver Screen

TV icon Dick Wolf supports research, teaching, and public programming about media

Two-time Emmy winner Dick Wolf, one of television’s most respected drama series creators and producers, has reinvested in UC Santa Barbara’s eponymous Carsey-Wolf Center (CWC) with a gift to support interdisciplinary media studies faculty and programming. As a creative force in television for over 25 years, Wolf provides crucial support and industry expertise to CWC, including the Department of Film & Media Studies and its cross-disciplinary partners.

Wolf is the architect of one of the most successful brands in the history of television. “Law & Order” ran from 1990 to 2010 and tied “Gunsmoke” for the then longest-running dramatic show in television history. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” followed in 1999 and is now the longest-running US live action series on television. Wolf also created the OneChicago trilogy: “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D” and “Chicago Med,” as well as the three FBI branded series on CBS: “FBI,” “FBI: Most Wanted” and the new “FBI: International.”

UC Santa Barbara’s Carsey-Wolf Center supports research, teaching, and public programming about media. Reflecting the vision of its founding benefactors, Marcy Carsey and Wolf, CWC’s goal is to foster informed dialogue, critical thinking skills, historical understanding, and new forms of literacy for a global and interconnected world.

“No other institution explores the forces behind media with the insight of the Carsey-Wolf Center,” said Wolf, a core partner and advisor to CWC since its inception in 2006. “The center not only advances the field, but also gives UC Santa Barbara students the tools to pursue their academic interests.”

CWC supports research in five overlapping areas that reflect the scope and depth of media studies as a field. Students can take specialized media studies courses that complement the center’s research priorities. For example, CWC offers Storytelling for the Screen, a screenwriters’ summer workshop led in partnership with the Department of Film & Media Studies. During the year, students enrolled in the course Greenscreen create environmental films. CWC also offers student internships.

The Carsey-Wolf Center houses the Pollock Theater, which Wolf considers world class. Six running programs explore historic themes, examine adaptation from script to screen, think critically about television, celebrate the history of cinema, and bring renowned writers, directors, producers, editors, and actors to campus. As part of its series “TV at the Pollock,” Wolf joined Carsey-Wolf Center Director Patrice Petro for a special discussion of the art of television storytelling and the evolution of his own writing.

“It was such a pleasure to talk with Dick Wolf about the art of television storytelling and the evolution of his own writing, from his early Emmy Award-nominated work for “Hill Street Blues” to the iconic pilot episode of his “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,”” said Patrice. “This event follows upon an earlier daylong symposium sponsored by CWC in 2011, when it hosted a daylong conference on “Law & Order,” exploring its ongoing influence on television as a business, its impact on society’s views of the police and justice systems, and its international resonance.

“That conference ended with an engaging conversation between Wolf and television producer Marcy Carsey, who discussed the show within the broader context of network and cable television. Across our most recent conversation, focusing more specifically on his own career, Wolf explained that writing is the key to great television,” she continued. “While he often draws an idea for a script from the headlines, he is not interested in reflecting reality or remaining absolutely faithful to source material. Instead, he is focused on telling stories that complicate easy assumptions and even easier conclusions, thus compelling us to think critically about the stories that shape the news and our understanding of the world. We are deeply grateful for his support of the center.”

Wolf’s philanthropy helps provide an intellectual and physical space in which the university and the public can interact through educational activities, research projects, and public programming. The center collaborates with campus partners including UCSB Arts & Lectures. This year, Wolf joined Carsey in supporting Arts & Lectures’ Race to Justice, a series of 23 virtual events about the Black experience in America. Philanthropic support helps UC Santa Barbara remain responsive to evolving issues.

“The Carsey-Wolf Center explores media in a rapidly changing world,” said Wolf. “Through the center, UC Santa Barbara scholars advance the public understanding of media in society. My ongoing investment in CWC means that this scholarly inquiry can maintain relevant, exploratory, expansionist thinking at the cutting edge.”