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Steven Bochco, 1943-2018
April 1, 2018  | By David Bianculli  | 7 comments

Steven Bochco, the pioneering TV writer-producer who changed the content and direction of television with such landmark shows as NBC’s Hill Street Blues and ABC’s NYPD Blue, has died at age 74. He had as great an impact on TV as almost anyone in the history of the medium…

Bochco was a writer on Columbo in the 1970s, and co-created Hill Street Blues in 1981, starting a string of productions that changed the landscape of television, were deliciously quirky shows, or both. His other major credits as co-creator include not only NYPD Blue, but L.A. Law, Doogie Howser, M.D., Murder One, Over There, and, yes, Cop Rock.

I interviewed Bochco in August 2015, profiling him as one of my favorite TV artists in my 2016 book, The Platinum Age of Television. It was, I suppose, one of his final interviews, though I was hoping for more. Bochco had agreed to be my guest of honor at a Q&A session at this coming weekend’s Broadcast Education Association in Las Vegas, where I’d interview him about his life, career and inspirations. He had to cancel because of a health relapse, and we also reluctantly cancelled a planned Rowan University TV Festival tribute this summer, intended to honor both Bochco and one of the many talents he mentored, David E. Kelley.

(Others, for the record, include David Milch of NYPD Blue and Deadwood, Anthony Yerkovich of Miami Vice, and Dick Wolf of all the Law & Order iterations.)

In our interview for The Platinum Age of Television, Bochco singled out some very specific reasons why he thought two of  his series, Hill Street and NYPD Blue, (David Caruso, Dennis Franz, right) were so significant.

The former, he said, crammed more information into the frame visually and aurally than any series before it, with scripts written to have separate dialogue and action for what was happening in the background.

“Most television, up to that point, was sort of east/west,” Bochco told me then. “By that I mean, things moved from left to right and right to left. And with Hill Street, it became dimensional. It was also north/south.”

As for his intentionally, aggressively mature NYPD Blue, Bochco said he created it to combat the freer censorial standards of cable TV at that time, but ended up helping those he considered, at the time, to be the enemy.

“I think NYPD Blue created the cable drama world,” Bochco said then. “I think that’s the door that it opened. That’s when cable started to realize that they could be in both businesses. They could be in the adult business and in the television business. So, the unintended consequences, as we say…”

The first time I met Bochco was in the first 1981 press tour after Hill Street premiered. NBC threw a tiny little celebration because, partly due to support from critics, Hill Street had survived an initial low-rated rollout, nabbed a bunch of Emmys, and emerged that summer as the linchpin of what became NBC’s Must-See TV Thursday lineup.

NBC’s subsequent quality hits under network executives Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff all rode Bochco’s coattails and followed his examples. And when Hill Street and especially NYPD Blue championed the antihero with such characters as Dennis Franz’s Andy Sipowitz, Bochco also led the way to Tony Soprano, Walter White, and all the complex TV characters we’ve embraced and enjoyed since.

Thanks, Steven. Sorry we couldn’t hit Vegas together… but we’ll always have Paris.

 (That’s an underappreciated cop show he made, starring James Earl Jones, just before Hill Street. But it’s fitting…)

Please go to The New York Times for an obituary and further recognition, by David Bianculli, of Mr. Bochco's enormous contributions to television.

And for David's remembrance on Fresh Air, as well as a 1989 interview with Bochco with Terry Gross, see the Fresh Air website.  

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Apr 28, 2022   |  Reply
Mark Isenberg
Yes,Mr.B. was a great visionary for Hill St.,LA Law but especially for taking such a risk on awful Cop Rock the singing criminal and police series on ABC that lasted maybe five episodes. Murder One was also not well liked but it gave Mr. Benzali a very good role. We all know Dennis Franz does not like to do chat shows and revisit the past but somebody should try. Jimmy Smits and even the late Larry Drake? of LA Law made debuts under Mr.B. His last works for A&E or was it USA were not so good but it did not matter as long as we have Michael Conrad telling us to be careful,out there before the iconic Mike Post theme for Hill St. Blues and some pet name for Daniel Travanti-Pizzaface. Salute!
Apr 2, 2018   |  Reply
Even Bochco's misses are worth investigating. We are currently revisiting the first year of Murder One with Daniel Benzali. NYPD Blue fans met Benzali moments into the pilot,as the mob lawyer who took apart Andy Sipowitz in court. It's just before the "Ipsa,this,you...."tag before the credits roll. My wife & I had our own "Ipsa,this" moment decades ago-we celebrate 24 years of marriage soon.The power of redemption-the center of NYPD Blue.
Hill Street Blues reawakened my interest in TV,and Dennis Franz' involvement,in two different roles,cemented that interest. Baseball began the other day and a visit to the Bay City Blues(including Franz) are in order. Cop Rock,Philly,Brooklyn South.
Thanks,Stephen,for your ideas,your drive and tenacity.
Apr 2, 2018   |  Reply
Note that NPR's Fresh Air has David leading off today with an appreciation of Mr. Bochco,followed by host Terry Gross' edited interview with Stephen from 1989(available online now).
The Heroes & Icons network runs Hill Street Blues@ 3PM followed by NYPD Blue @ 4PM,M-F. They usually show them in chronological order and NYPD Blue just flipped to the first season the other day,so one can catch Franz & Caruso early on(season 1,episode 3 today). It is possible that one of these "retro" channels,often on subchannels needing no cable,will be putting together a marathon or tribute,which,outside speeding up the timing for more catheter cowboy ads,would be great.
Apr 2, 2018
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