‘Chicago Fire’: 1 Character’s Sudden Death Was Influenced By an ‘NYPD Blue’ Plotline

Chicago Fire is the first installment of NBC’s Chicago franchise, which also includes Chicago PD and Chicago Med. Currently, in its ninth season, which premiered in the winter of 2020, the show follows the personal and professional lives of the staff at Chicago’s Firehouse 51. Over the past nine years, Chicago Fire has never shied away from major cast changes. Fans have had to say goodbye to Dr. Hallie Thomas (played by Teri Reeves), Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett), and Jessica Chilton (Dora Madison), just to name a few. And one major character’s sudden death was inspired by the way another TV show tried to shock its audience.

(L-R) Monica Raymund as Gabriella Dawson and Lauren German as Leslie Shay gathered around a stretcher in front of fire trucks
(L-R) Monica Raymund as Gabriella Dawson and Lauren German as Leslie Shay | Elizabeth Morris/Getty Images

‘Chicago Fire’ premiered in 2012

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Chicago Fire launched the entire Chicago franchise when it premiered in October 2012. The show traces the lives of paramedics, firefighters, and rescue personnel as they navigate dramatic rescues and equally dramatic personal storylines. It immediately became a ratings success. “The Wednesday night drama about the complex and heroic men and women of the Chicago Fire Department … became the first new drama of the season to beat its premiere rating,” noted the Hollywood Reporter at the time. 

NBC’s entertainment president Jennifer Salke told the publication that Chicago Fire‘s producers did “an amazing job developing a high-stakes series with lots of great heroic characters whose exploits are depicted in Dick’s typically epic storytelling style.” While Chicago Fire broke records, it wasn’t the first show in the law enforcement and first responder genre. That honor belongs to NYPD Blue, which was one of the first shows to popularize the theme.

NYPD Blue was on the air from 1993 to 2005. Like Chicago Fire, NYPD Blue followed the professional and personal lives of New York’s police. Over the course of its 12 seasons, NYPD Blue would go on to earn nearly 300 award nominations, including dozens of Emmy Award nods. Some of the similarities between Chicago Fire and its ’90s predecessor might not be a simple coincidence. In fact, Chicago Fire’s executive producer has ties to NYPD Blue.

Matt Olmstead is the executive producer of ‘Chicago Fire’

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Olmstead is a Hollywood producer. According to IMDb, Olmstead has worked on numerous hit shows like Prison Break, Lie to Me, and The Crossing. But most of his career has actually been spent serving as executive producer of not only NYPD Blue but also Chicago Fire, Chicago Justice, Chicago PD and Chicago Med. Olmstead has often said that he likes the idea of crossovers between all of the different shows he’s worked on.

“The talent pool is only so big, and now you’re pulling through it on … different shows,” he explained, talking about the entire Chicago franchise with AssignmentX. “We’re at the point now of using actors that we had on season one of Chicago Fire that maybe we could bring them back on [Chicago PD]. They did that on Law & Order many times. I think it was a three-year rule, or a four-year rule, where they had to be not on the show, so they could come back as a different character. So we’re doubling back a little bit.” But that’s not the only time Olmstead has borrowed from his other shows. When one Chicago Fire character was suddenly killed off, he was inspired by his past work on NYPD Blue.

Olmstead killed off ‘Chicago Fire’ character Leslie Shay

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Leslie Shay was a Chicago Fire paramedic who worked on Ambulance 61 and was a main character during the first two seasons of the show. In the 46th episode (entitled “Real Never Waits”) of season two, a building fire occurs. The crew of Squad 3, followed by Shay and her colleague Gabriela Dawson, attend to the fire. A sudden explosion causes a pipe to hit Shay, who dies from her injuries. Fans were shocked and emotional about how suddenly the character’s story ended, especially because the character seemed to be in the midst of an ongoing romantic plot. 

In an interview with TV Line, Olmstead notes that the producers were intentional about killing off a central character like Shay. “Going into it, we knew if we were going to do it, it had to be someone who was going to give us a big impact,” he says. And he explains the inspiration came from NYPD Blue.

“The first gig I ever had was on NYPD Blue a long time ago,” says Olmstead. On that show, they killed a fan-favorite named Bobby Simone. “It was [an] unbelievable arc in terms of a death of a character,” he adds. “But what it gave [fans] emotionally and in terms of storytelling … was worth it. Sometimes, you have to do that to bring more storylines into a show, and that’s what we decided to do.”