Spoilers ahead for the January 26 episode of FBI on CBS, called "Clean Slate."
FBI returned to its regular time slot with "Clean Slate," and the episode delivered a bombshell reveal about Nestor when Maggie learned that he has two kids, and the agents were kept busy with trying to find a kidnapped girl before the worst could happen. While it was an intense hour of television, the biggest shock I got out of the episode is actually (and accidentally) connected to FBI: Most Wanted and leaves me thinking there really could be potential crossovers between the shows in the shared Dick Wolf universe despite COVID protocols.
And I will come out and admit that I came to this conclusion because I actually made a mistake while watching the episode's live broadcast on CBS. Like I imagine a lot of people do, I stopped paying close attention to the TV while the commercials were on, and my attention didn't perk back up until I suddenly saw the cast of FBI: Most Wanted on a chase through the woods. Since the FBI team had been searching the woods for the kidnapped little girl, my first thought was that FBI was springing a surprise crossover on viewers, with the Most Wanted crew pitching in.
Of course, after about a minute, what I thought was a scene of the Most Wanted characters appearing in FBI's "Clean Slate" was revealed to be a prolonged promo scene for the episode of Most Wanted scheduled to air right after this episode of FBI. That said, my mistake led me to the conclusion that FBI accidentally proved how Dick Wolf crossovers can still happen. Apparently, not paying full attention during commercial breaks can be a good thing!
Both FBI showrunner Rick Eid and FBI: Most Wanted showrunner David Hudgins commented on the possibility of crossovers despite COVID ahead of the current seasons, with Eid saying that they were "certainly discussing crossovers" and there will be "certain character crossovers" but probably not any real crossovers, and Hudgins acknowledged the production challenges that will really only allow "characters from both shows" to cross paths and named two in particular. Basically, crossovers were acknowledged as kinda sorta possible, and characters could theoretically cross over to share scenes, but nothing big.
Now, after the "Clean Slate" broadcast, I see a very obvious solution that I probably should have come to based simply on what happened between two Dick Wolf shows at the end of the 2019-2020 TV season. Just like how FBI seemingly included Most Wanted characters simply by filming scenes completely separately and then editing them together with "Clean Slate," Chicago P.D. included Tracy Spiridakos' Upton in its Season 7 finale despite Upton still being in New York for the FBI crossover.
FBI and Most Wanted could easily produce crossovers by deliberately doing what I totally thought they did this week. Film phone call scenes, at the very least, or just tell a story that is cohesive without requiring all the characters in the same scenes in the flesh.
Despite how obvious this solution arguably is, I don't think any of the Dick Wolf shows proved how well filming separate footage and editing it together could work until this episode, even though that's technically not what FBI was doing. It's a good sign that I was completely fooled by the Most Wanted commercial, right? If I could believe that I was witnessing a surprise crossover as somebody who has watched a whole lot of TV crossovers ranging from the Arrowverse to One Chicago, I think that counts as proof that more multi-show productions are possible without breaking pandemic protocols.
In fact, this could apply to the three One Chicago shows and even Law & Order: SVU over on NBC as well as FBI and Most Wanted on CBS. Even if none of these series on either NBC or CBS can deliver the complex multi-part crossovers that viewers have become used to, they can totally pull off crossovers while still sticking to COVID precautions for the safety of all.
But will they? Considering CBS technically didn't actually try to make me think that FBI was delivering a surprise crossover with Most Wanted, this shouldn't be taken as a sign that Dick Wolf crossovers will be cut together this season. It's not impossible, though, and it's fun to speculate. For now, you can find FBI and FBI: Most Wanted back in their two-hour block on Tuesday nights on CBS, starting at 9 p.m. ET.
Still, as one last bit of proof that mostly separate crossovers can work even as multi-parters, I have to point to the traditional two-episode crossovers between Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. Those tend to be very separate episodes that simply continue a case, without the kind of show mixing that we'd see with the larger crossovers like the "Infection" three-parter, and they work. Why not do the same with at least FBI and Most Wanted?