The Profile

Peter Jankowski ’86

Michael Reardon

Peter Jankowski ’86 drove out to California shortly after receiving his degree from Holy Cross to make his mark in television and be part of a creative industry. Today, as president and chief operating officer at Wolf Films, Inc., his cross-country dream has come true.

At first, his father’s connections from a 20-year career as a CBS executive opened a few industry doors. But once he walked through them, Jankowski had to sink or swim on his own. “I interviewed about 50 or 60 times,” he  says. “You just have to stay on it and make your own luck. You learn by going out and meeting other people. You find out where your heart truly lies.”

Jankowski says starting in a role that allows a newcomer to see various facets of the business is a good place to begin an entertainment career. As a production assistant on the series Growing Pains, he had “an opportunity to see what other people do,” and says that “You see what you want to do while you’re delivering cheese sandwiches to the stars.” Jankowski also took an unusual job at the home of Barbra Streisand in the late 1980s: helping work a fundraiser for Senator Alan Cranston. With A-list celebrities like Robin Williams on hand, Jankowski had to “make sure the Porta Johns ran smoothly.”

“It was my first interaction with real celebrities,” he recalls.

After observing the industry in these lower-level roles, Jankowski rose to senior vice president at Universal Television where he was executive in charge of production for series such as Northern Exposure, Coach and Quantum Leap. He joined Law & Order creator Dick Wolf at Wolf Films, Inc. in 1997.

Now, Jankowski is the executive producer of the highly successful dramatic NBC series Law & Order, and its spinoffs, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In its 19th season, Law & Order is the second longest-running network television drama in history, topped only by Gunsmoke, which was on the air for 20 years. And the Law & Order franchise continues to expand: Law & Order: UK premiered in February, and deals are in place for Russian and French versions.
A history major at Holy Cross, Jankowski also produced the World Trade Center tribute, Twin Towers, which won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. He most recently produced When You’re Strange, a documentary about the legendary Jim Morrison and The Doors, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Although it is still a struggle to break into the business, with the proliferation of cable television, there are more jobs in the industry than when Jankowski made his trek to California. “Television is a lot different now than when I got into it,” he observes. “Back then, all you had were the networks. There is more opportunity now. If I were doing it over again, as a history major, I’d probably go to The History Channel.”

Birthplace: Born in Jamaica, N.Y.; raised in Westport, Conn.
Current Home: Los Angeles
Date of Birth: Jan. 8, 1964
Family: Wife, Linda Caruso ’86, and sons, Sam (11) and Luke (7)


Do you believe the moral dilemmas faced by the Law & Order characters are a large part of its appeal?
“Our approach on Law & Order is that the first half of the show is a murder mystery, and the second half of the show is a moral mystery. It works on that level. The best shows are when the characters have different views on the issues and every view is right.”

Do you have a favorite episode of Law & Order?
“The pilot of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was terrific. When you saw Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni working together, it was magic.”

What is your favorite non-Dick Wolf television show?
“Mostly shows on ESPN, CNBC and The History Channel.”

What film, television show, play, book or other work of art has had a profound influence on you?
“Star Wars. My sons watch it over and over every day. I love movies like The Godfather, Chinatown and The French Connection. They had enormous attention to detail, great storytelling, and they entered a new world and they fleshed that out. They were serious movies, but they were also highly entertaining.”

What are you currently reading?
“Episode 22 of Law & Order. It’s 58 pages long, and it’s looking pretty good.”