The Rookie Is Based on a True Story Nobody Knew About

The Rookie Is Based on a True Story Nobody Knew About
Image credit: ABC

He dropped everything to follow his dream.


  • Most cop shows follow the same formula, so we don't expect them to be based on real life.
  • However, ABC's The Rookie took inspiration from a guy just like John Nolan.
  • Although the show is fictional, Nolan has a lot of similarities to his real-life counterpart.

Cop shows have always been popular, and we don't usually stop to think about where their inspiration came from. Sure, Law & Order: SVU takes cases from real life, but generally the dozens of cop shows on the airwaves don't vary much from the usual formulas.

That may be why so many people assume The Rookie is just another spin on the same old writer's-room ideas. In fact, the popular ABC drama is based on a true story.

What's It About?

John Nolan is in a rut. He's divorced, working a construction job that doesn't satisfy him, and spinning his wheels in his Pennsylvanian town.

But one day John finds himself witness to a bank robbery, and springs into action to stop the criminals. That's when he realizes what he really wants in life: to be a police officer.

Unfortunately, John is 40 years old – years past the cut-off point for most police departments. John does his research and finds one place where he can undertake the police exam: Los Angeles. He decides to pack up, leave his ex-wife and teenage son behind, and become a member of the LAPD. There he faces a number of challenges as an older recruit, particularly from his initial nemesis Sgt. Wade Grey.

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The Real John Nolan

The Rookie was inspired by real-life LAPD Officer Bill Norcross. Just like his fictional counterpart, Norcross left behind a career in Pennsylvania to get a late start in law enforcement. His reasons for choosing LA were the same as Nolan's in the show: it was one of the few places that would accept recruits over the age of 37. In 2019, Norcross told the New York Post:

'[Law enforcement] was something I had always thought about in the back of my mind … then, all of the sudden, I wake up and I'm 40-something years old and I figured if I was ever going to make a change, that now was the time to do it…the LAPD has no age limit, as long as you can pass the requirements'.

Norcross has been in the LAPD since he joined in 2015, at the age of 44.

From the Streets to Prime Time

So just how does someone's life turn into a television show? As with everything in life, it's all about who you know.

When Norcross moved to LA, one of the few people he knew was a college buddy, Jon Steinberg, who works as a film and television producer. Steinberg had lunch with Norcross once a month and became intrigued by his stories of life on the force, told from the unique perspective of a late-start cop. Steinberg adapted his friend's story, and in 2018 it hit the airwaves as The Rookie, starring Nathan Fillion.

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Norcross serves as a consultant on the show, occasionally visits the set on his days off, and even made a cameo performance in season one. Still he has no intention of joining showbiz. He told the Post:

'I'm happy with my day job. I came out here to be a police officer and that's what I'm here for. Anything else that's happened to me … I've been incredibly fortunate — but I'm here to be a police officer.'

New episodes of The Rookie premiere at 9:00 ET on ABC.

Source: The New York Post.