‘Cal Fire’: Will Show Offer Competition Against ‘Chicago Fire’?

by Jennifer Shea

There’s no question “Chicago Fire” is a hit show. But now CBS is looking to give NBC a run for its money. It’s rolling out its own firefighters drama: “Cal Fire.”

The new show is in development at CBS. And it stems from an idea hatched by Max Thieriot, star of “SEAL Team,” Deadline reports. The show follows Bode Donovan, a young convict from Northern California who gets sent back to his small hometown to put out the wildfires engulfing the area. Working alongside veteran firefighters, Donovan is hoping for a shot at redemption, not to mention a shortened sentence.

Thieriot, Tony Phelan and Joan Rater are executive producing. So are Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman and KristieAnne Reed with Jerry Bruckheimer Television. The production company has launched some of CBS’s most popular procedurals over the past two decades.

‘Cal Fire’ Is Based on a Real Program

In California, inmates have for decades helped to fight the state’s wildfires, according to the Sacramento Bee. But since the pandemic hit, the supply of inmates serving in fire crews has dwindled.

As COVID-19 tore through the state prison system, inmate crews became unavailable to fight wildfires. The state inmate fire camp program shrunk from 4,200 inmates serving in fire crews a decade ago to 1,426 this past February. Many of the inmate fire camps were in lockdowns to fight the spread of COVID-19.  

But that’s not the only reason California fire crews are shorthanded. Over the past decade, California officials have been trying to cut the size of the state’s prison population. So they’ve been holding some felons in county custody or just releasing them outright. And those efforts have indeed reduced the overall prison population. But that’s eaten into the number of candidates available for the fire camp system.

It looks like the idea for “Cal Fire,” while based on a very real system, may increasingly be outdated as the state’s supply of inmate firefighters drops further.

Jerry Bruckheimer Television Is Behind the New Show

Meanwhile, “Cal Fire” got a boost when executive producer Bruckheimer and his team signed on to join it. Jerry Bruckheimer Television is the successful company behind hits like “CSI,” “Training Day” and “The Amazing Race.”

The company parted ways with Warner Bros. Television in 2016 after 15 years of exclusive work with the studio. Bruckheimer continued to work with Warner Bros. on the movie side. And he said that he planned to collaborate with them again on television projects, just not exclusively.

“We’ve always been entrepreneurial,” Bruckheimer told Variety at the time. “We’ve always loved trying new things. Warner Bros. is fantastic. They’ve been great partners. We’re not out of business with them. We’re just no longer exclusive with them.”

Audiences will have to wait and see what Bruckheimer can do with “Cal Fire.” But given Bruckheimer’s track record, Thieriot’s project is likely to present “Chicago Fire” with a healthy challenge.