Steven Bochco, ‘Hill Street Blues’ Creator, Dies

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Much of the primary cast of TV’s Hill Street Blues

Steven Bochco, one of television’s most important and innovative creative forces in the 1980s and ’90s with such hits as LA Law, Hill Street Blues and its successor, NYPD Blue, died Sunday, April 1, after a long battle with leukemia.

Bochco’s dramas were known for their sprawling casts and a gritty realism. Gone were traditional sets with one-on-one conversations. Instead, a Bochco hourlong series featured overlapping dialog, abrupt transitions and interruptions–much like real conversations–and multiple storylines.

While the hugely successful scripted drama Dallas, a non-Bochco series which ran on CBS from 1978 – 1991, often focused on dialog-heavy scenes on staid sets, a Bochco drama was more like a free-for-all, with multiple actors entering and exiting a scene. A Bochco signature was the use of hand-held cameras, particularly in the much-honored Hill Street Blues, to emphasize the grittiness and mayhem of the inner-city police precinct in which the series was set.

Hill Street Blues, which anchored NBC’s Thursday night lineup for most of its 1981 – 1987 run, earned 98 Emmy Award nominations for its seven seasons. Despite its decent, but unspectacular ratings, the show earned four consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series. Bochco created the program with Michael Kozoll, and served as one of its most prominent writers.

The huge cast included Daniel J. Travanti, Veronica Hamel, Ed Marinaro, Dennis Franz and Michael Conrad, who memorably ended each episode of his two Emmy-winning seasons with “Let’s be careful out there” to the precinct’s staff.

Watch the opening credits accompanied by the instrumental theme by Mike Post, which reached #10 on the Hot 100 in 1981

The LA LAW license plate served as the series logo

His legal drama, LA Law, ran on NBC from 1986 – 1994, also earning four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series, while also reinventing the genre’s category with storylines that emphasized the large cast’s personal lives. Its regulars included Susan Dey, Corbin Bernsen, Jimmy Smits, Blair Underwood and Richard Dysart. The program introduced TV audiences to many future stars including Jeffrey Tambor, David Schwimmer, Bryan Cranston and William H. Macy.

Bochco was born in New York City on December 16, 1943. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s prestigious fine arts program in Pittsburgh, PA, and ultimately hired many of his classmates for his productions including three Hill Street Blues stars: Charles Haid (who played Andy Renko), Bruce Weitz (Mick Belker) and Barbara Bosson (Fay Furillo).

Bochco teamed with David E. Kelley to create TV’s Doogie Howser, M.D., which starred Neil Patrick Harris as a teenage physician and aired on ABC from 1989 to 1993.

Bochco and David Milch later delivered the long-running NYPD Blue to ABC, finding success again with a cop show that featured multiple plot lines and a sprawling cast. The series, which aired from 1993 to 2005, featured many Bochco alums including Smits, Franz and James McDaniel.

 

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