After the Chicago snowmageddon of 2011, Joe Minoso packed up his things and moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career. On the day he signed his lease, he also booked a TV series — that would film back in Chicago.
Five seasons later, Minoso and his fellow “Chicago Fire” cast members are celebrating the NBC show’s 100th episode, appropriately titled “One Hundred” and airing at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WMAQ-Channel 5.
Early Monday morning with just a few hours of sleep following his annual WhirlyBall fundraiser, Minoso reflected on what the show has meant to him.
“It’s given me everything,” said the actor, who plays firefighter Joe Cruz. “I met my wife on ‘Chicago Fire.’ It’s provided me the opportunity to buy my first home, my first car. I will forever be indebted to this show because its given me, possibly, the rest of my life. It’s been incredible.”
“Fire,” executive produced by Dick Wolf, the man who brought the “Law & Order” franchise to TV, premiered in October 2012. It quickly became a hit for the network and currently ranks as NBC’s second highest rated series behind “This Is Us.”
The drama about the firefighters and paramedics at the firehouse of Engine 51 has spawned two other shows, “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Med.” A third spin-off, “Chicago Justice,” will launch in early 2017.
“We’re still pinching ourselves. We just can’t believe it,” said Derek Haas, who created “Fire” with Michael Brandt and still runs the show, said during an October press event celebrating the franchise.
Not only did “Fire” bring Minoso back to the city where he acted in local theater for 10 years, it sparked a Chicago filming boom beyond its sister shows. In 2016, at least six other TV shows filmed in the city part- or full-time.
Minoso says he still is surprised by the success of “Fire” and the growing “One Chicago” franchise.
“You barely expect a Season 2, let alone five seasons and 100 episodes. I remember when we were filming it, we were all just kind of in awe,” he said. “That’s a lot of television. That’s a lot of hours that fans have spent their time committed to us and dedicated to watching the lives of these characters.”
Characters from all four series weave in and out of storylines in their sister shows, whether it be partying in Molly’s bar or visiting the hospital or working with the police. The latest cross-show romance involves “Fire” paramedic Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer) and “P.D.” Detective Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda). Seda — and his character — will move over to “Justice.”
During that October press event, Northbrook native Yuri Sardarov, who plays firefighter Brian “Otis” Zvonecek, said he loves the mini-crossovers. “Padding my bank account is always a great thing,” Sardarov joked, adding, “No, it’s great. We get some different moments than on our own show.”
The actor added that none of those moments would happen without the franchise. “To see how this has grown from our humble beginnings is insane,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
The 100th episode features another one of those “One Chicago” cameos. “Med” character Dr. Jeff Clarke (Jeff Hephner), a former firefighter, asks his old buddy Lt. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) to get a blood test to see if he is a match to donate bone marrow to a dying woman.
In another thread, paramedic Gabby Dawson (Monica Raymund) and Lt. Matt Casey (Jesse Spencer) take a big step in their plan to adopt their foster child, Louie (Aiden and Austin Cohen). But in the usual “Fire” fashion, something threatens their happiness.
The episode is chock full of the dramatic rescues for which the show is known, but the biggest rescue involves Molly’s, the struggling bar owned by some of the firefighters. When Otis learns that Molly’s is a former 1920s speakeasy, he comes up with a plan to throw a centennial party that will bail out the bar. A story by a Chicago Sun-Times reporter might throw a wrench into his plans.
For Minoso, including the 100th episode celebration into the plotline was a master stroke by the writers.
“That’s my favorite part about what we’re doing in the 100th episode,” he said. “I think that, in a lot of ways, gave the cast an opportunity to celebrate for the characters. And it gives our fans a way to celebrate, because we owe it all to the fans, man. They’ve been good to us.”