- Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues
Main title card
Format Police procedural Created by Steven Bochco
Starring See Cast section below Country of origin United States No. of seasons 7 No. of episodes 146 (List of episodes) Production Location(s) Republic Studios, Los Angeles, California Running time 49 minutes Production company(s) MTM Enterprises Distributor 20th Century Fox Television Broadcast Original channel NBC Picture format Color Original run January 15, 1981– May 12, 1987 Chronology Followed by Beverly Hills Buntz
Hill Street Blues is an American serial police drama that was first aired on NBC in 1981 and ran for 146 episodes on primetime into 1987. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a single police precinct in an unnamed American city, the show received critical acclaim and its production innovations influenced many subsequent dramatic television series produced in North America. Its debut season was rewarded with eight Emmy awards, a debut season record surpassed only by The West Wing, and the show received a total of 98 Emmy Award nominations during its run.
In 1997, the episode "Grace Under Pressure" was ranked number 49 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
MTM Enterprises developed the series on behalf of NBC, appointing Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll as series writers. The writers were allowed considerable creative freedom, and created a series which brought together, for the first time, a number of emerging ideas in TV drama.
- Each episode features a number of intertwined storylines, some of which are resolved within the episode, with others developing over a number of episodes throughout a season.
- Much play is made of the conflicts between the work lives and private lives of the individual characters. In the workplace, there is also a strong focus on the struggle between doing "what is right" and "what works" in situations.
- The camera is held close in and action cut rapidly between stories, and there is much use of overheard or off-screen dialogue, giving a "documentary" feel to the action.
- Rather than studio (floor) cameras, hand-held Arriflexes are used to add to the "documentary" feel.
- The show deals with real-life issues, and employs commonly used language and slang to a greater extent than had been seen before.
- Almost every episode begins with a pre-credit sequence consisting of (mission) briefing and roll call at the beginning of the day shift. From season 3 it experimented with a "Previously on HSB" montage of clips of up to 6 previous episodes before the roll call. Many episodes are written to take place over the course of a single day, a concept later used in the NBC series, L.A. Law.
- Most episodes concluded with Captain Frank Furillo and public defender Joyce Davenport in a domestic situation, often in bed, discussing how their respective days went.
Although filmed in Los Angeles (both on location and at CBS Studio Center in Studio City), the series is set in a generic unnamed inner-city location with a feel of a US urban center such as Detroit or Chicago. The police cars shown in the series were painted in a manner very similar to Chicago police cars of the period, using the phrase "Metro Police" in the same style and size as "Chicago Police" on that city's cars. Also, many second-unit establishing shots used recognizable locations in Chicago, including freeway entrances with Interstate Highway shields with route numbers which enter the city. Other shots include aerials of bilevel commuter trains entering and leaving the Chicago and North Western Railway's Chicago passenger terminal. The C&NW's green-and-yellow colors (and in later seasons, the colors of Chicago's Metra commuter rail system) are evident.
The program's focus on failure and those at the bottom of the social scale is pronounced, and very much in contrast to Bochco's later project, L.A. Law. Inspired by police procedural detective novels such as Ed McBain's 1956 Cop Hater, it has been described as Barney Miller out of doors; the focus on the bitter realities of 1980s urban living was revolutionary for its time. Later seasons were accused of becoming formulaic (a shift that some believe to have begun after the death from cancer of Michael Conrad midway through the fourth season, which led to the replacement of the beloved Sergeant Esterhaus by Sergeant Stan Jablonski, played by Robert Prosky); thus, the series that broke the established rules of television ultimately failed to break its own rules. Nonetheless it is a landmark piece of television programming, the influence of which was seen in such series as NYPD Blue and ER. In 1982, St. Elsewhere was hyped as Hill Street Blues in a hospital. The quality work done by MTM led to the appointment of Grant Tinker as NBC chairman in 1982.
There is also a short-lived Dennis Franz spinoff called Beverly Hills Buntz, in which Franz's dismissed Lt. Buntz character moves from the Hill to Los Angeles to become a private eye, taking along "Sid the Snitch" Thurston (Peter Jurasik) as his sidekick.
Pilot: Brandon Tartikoff commissioned a series from MTM Productions, who assigned Bochco and Kozoll to the project. The pilot was produced in 1980, but was held back as a mid-season replacement so as not to get lost amongst the other programs debuting in the fall of 1980. Barbara Bosson, who was married to Bochco, had the idea to fashion the series into 4- or 5-episode story "arcs." Robert Butler directed the pilot, developing a look and style inspired by the 1977 documentary The Police Tapes, in which filmmakers used handheld cameras to follow police officers in the South Bronx. Butler went on to direct the first four episodes of the series, and Bosson had hoped he would stay on permanently. However, he felt he was not being amply recognized for his contributions to the show's look and style and left to pursue other projects. He would return to direct just one further episode, "The Second Oldest Profession" in season two.
Season 1: The pilot aired on Thursday, January 15, 1981, at 10 pm, which would be the show's time slot for nearly its entire run. Episode 2 aired two nights later; the next week followed a similar pattern (episode 3 on Thursday, 4 on Saturday). NBC had ordered 13 episodes, and the season was supposed to end on May 25 with a minor cliffhanger (the resolution of Sgt. Esterhaus's wedding). Instead, building critical acclaim prompted NBC to order an additional four episodes to air during May sweeps. Bochco and Kozoll fashioned this into a new story arc, which aired as two two-hour episodes to close the season. One new addition with these final four episodes was Ofc. Joe Coffey (played by Ed Marinaro), who originally had died in the first season finale's broadcast.
In early episodes, the opening theme had several clearly audible edits; this was replaced by a longer, unedited version partway through the second season. The end credits for the pilot differed from the rest of the series in that the background still shot of the station house was completely different; it was also copyrighted in 1980 instead of 1981.
The show became the lowest-rated program ever renewed for a second season. However, it was only renewed for ten episodes. A full order was picked up part way through the season.
Season 2: A writer strike pushed the start of the season forward to October 29, meaning that only nineteen episodes were completed that year. Kozoll was now listed as a consultant, signifying his diminished role in the show. He later stated he was already feeling burnt out, and in fact was relying more on car chases and action to fill the scripts.
A less muted version of the closing theme was played over the end credits.
Season 3: Kozoll left the show at the end of season 2, replaced for the most part by Anthony Yerkovich and David Milch. Yerkovich later created Miami Vice after leaving Hill Street Blues at the end of this season. This was the show's most popular in terms of viewership, as it finished #21. This was also the birth of Must See TV, as the show was joined by Cheers, Taxi and Fame. The network promoted Thursdays as "the best night of television on television." Michael Conrad was increasingly absent from the show due to his ongoing battle with cancer.
Season 4: Following his death on November 22, 1983, Michael Conrad's final appearance was broadcast halfway through the season in February 1984 in a memorable send-off episode, "Grace Under Pressure".
The show won its fourth and final Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series this season.
Season 5: The show changed drastically this season, entering a somewhat "soap operatic" period according to Bochco. New characters included Sgt. Stanislaus Jablonski (played by Robert Prosky), Det. Patsy Mayo (Mimi Kuzyk), and Det. Harry Garibaldi (Ken Olin), while Mrs. Furillo (Bosson) became a full-time member of the squad room. Bochco was dismissed at season's end by then-MTM President Arthur Price. The firing was due to Bochco's cost overruns, coupled with the fact that the show had achieved the 100-episode milestone needed to successfully syndicate the program.
Betty Thomas won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress In a Drama Series this season. However, at the awards ceremony, recurring imposter Barry Bremen rushed the stage ahead of Thomas and claimed she was unable to attend. He then claimed the award and left the stage, confusing viewers and robbing Thomas of her moment in the sun, although she returned and spoke after the ad break. Presenter Peter Graves suggested that Bremen was "on his way to the cooler."
Season 6: Major changes occurred as Joe Coffey, Patsy Mayo, Det. Harry Garibaldi, Lt. Ray Calletano (René Enríquez), Fay Furillo (Barbara Bosson) and Officer Leo Schnitz (Robert Hirschfeld) all left the show. The sole addition was Lt. Norman Buntz, played by Dennis Franz. In a 1991 interview on Later with Bob Costas, Ken Olin explained that these characters were removed so that the new showrunners could add characters for which they would receive royalties.
The season premiere opened with a roll call filled with officers never before seen on the show, briefly fooling viewers into thinking the entire cast had been replaced. It was then revealed that this was, in fact, the night shift. The action then cut to the day shift pursuing their after-work activities. Another unique episode from this season explained through flashbacks how Furillo and Ms. Davenport met and fell in love.
This was the first season that Travanti and Hamel were not nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor/Actress in a Drama Series.
Season 7: Officer Patrick Flaherty (played by Robert Clohessy) and Officer Tina Russo (Megan Gallagher) joined this season in an attempt to rekindle the Bates-Coffey relationship of years past. Stanislaus Jablonski became a secondary character part way through this season, and when Travanti announced he would not return the next year, the producers decided to end the show in 1987. The program was also moved to Tuesday nights after six years to make way for L.A. Law on Thursdays.
This was the only season that Weitz was not nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. This was also the only season for which the show was not nominated for Outstanding Drama Series.
Season Timeslot 1 Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m./Saturdays at 10:00 p.m. 2 Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. 3 4 5 6 7 Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m./10:00 p.m./Thursdays at 10:00 p.m.
The producers went to great lengths to avoid specifying where the series took place, even going so far as to obscure whether the call letters of local TV stations began with "W" (the Federal Communications Commission designation for stations east of the Mississippi) or "K" (signifying a station west of the Mississippi). However, occasionally they would let something slip, such as the use of call letters WREQ, TV channel 6, in the season 3 episode "Domestic Beef". Another indication that the series took place in the Midwest or Northeast was Renko's statement to his partner in the season one episode "Politics As Usual": "Just drop that 'cowboy' stuff. I was born in New Jersey, [and] never been west of Chicago in my life."
Specific references in other episodes to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, and Columbus, Ohio would exclude those locales, while the clearest indication where the program was set lies in brief and occasional glances at Interstate Highway signs, including one sign designating the junction of I-55 and I-90, which is in Chicago.
Show writer Steven Bochco attended college at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. The run-down, shabby, drug-ridden impression of Pittsburgh's Hill District Bochco acquired was apparently part of the inspiration for the show. Street, neighborhood and police precinct names from Buffalo, New York, the hometown of Anthony Yerkovich and David Milch, are prevalent after the second season.
The implication of a fictitious metropolis combining urban characteristics of both New York City and Chicago was effectively demonstrated in one episode early in Season 6, "In The Belly of the Bus", in which Belker is on undercover assignment at an intercity bus terminal on 145th Street, suggesting the scale of Manhattan's reach of numbered streets into the 260 range. Yet that same episode's title derives from the detectives being knocked unconscious and stowed in a duffle bag by the perpetrator who places it in the cargo section of a bus bound for Springfield, Illinois, as visibly marked on a parcel thrown in at a subsequent stop: as the distance between Chicago and Springfield is 150 miles, that would appear to be about as conclusive as many of the show's establishing shots and credits footage.
Although the series was filmed in Los Angeles, and routinely used locations in downtown Los Angeles, the credits and some stock exterior shots were filmed in Chicago, including the station house, which is the old Maxwell Street police station on Chicago's Near West Side (943 West Maxwell Street). The show's police cruisers are painted and marked similarly to Chicago police cars. The series frequently used establishing shots, under the credits at the beginning of the first act, showing an Interstate 80 sign, commuter trains entering and leaving the old Chicago and North Western Railway Chicago terminal (the C&NW yellow and green livery was clearly evident), and aerial views of South Side neighborhoods. Exterior views of the Cook County Criminal Courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue were used to establish court scenes. An exterior view of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's City Hall represented the state capitol.
Throughout the 146 episodes there are various references to the other police precincts in the city. In a season one episode Commander Swanson states that he has "16 precincts" to take care of; but this conflicts with the season two episode "The Shooter", when Officer Wallins of the Property Department states that he has to look after all the city's property, "from 14 Precincts". The seventeen Precincts which are named during the course of the various episodes are: Hill Street, Polk Avenue, Midtown, Von Steuben Avenue, North-East, St James's Park, Michigan Avenue, Washington Heights, South Ferry, West Delavan, Filmore, South Park, Preston Heights, Castle Heights, Richmond Avenue, Farmingdale and Jefferson Heights. The Hill Street precinct house is marked "7th District" outside. In some scenes the Midtown precinct house is marked "5th District", though in others it is marked "14th Precinct". Officers in uniform (apart from the Emergency Action Team - EAT) wore shoulder flashes with the name of their precinct embroidered on them.
Officers are listed by the rank they held at first appearance on the program; some officers later held higher ranks.
- Captain Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti [original cast], 1981–87)
- Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel [original cast], 1981–87)
- Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad [original cast], 1981–84)
- Detective Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz [original cast], 1981–87)
- Sgt. Henry Goldblume (Joe Spano [original cast], 1981–87)
- Officer Andy Renko (Charles Haid [original cast], 1981–87)
- Officer Bobby Hill (Michael Warren [original cast], 1981–87)
- Lt. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking [original cast], 1981–87)
- Sgt. Lucille Bates (Betty Thomas [original cast], 1981–87)
- Detective J.D. LaRue (Kiel Martin [original cast], 1981–87)
- Detective Neal Washington (Taurean Blacque [original cast], 1981–87)
- Lt. Ray Calletano (Rene Enriquez [original cast], 1981–86)
- Officer Joe Coffey (Ed Marinaro, 1981–86)
- Fay Furillo (Barbara Bosson [original cast], 1981–86)
- Sgt. Stan Jablonski (Robert Prosky, 1984–87)
- Detective Harry Garibaldi (Ken Olin, 1984–85)
- Detective Patricia "Patsy" Mayo (Mimi Kuzyk, 1984–85)
- Lt. Norman Buntz (Dennis Franz, 1985–87)
- Officer Patrick Flaherty (Robert Clohessy, 1986–87)
- Officer Tina Russo (Megan Gallagher, 1986–87)
- Chief Fletcher Daniels (Jon Cypher, 1981–87)
- Officer Leo Schnitz (Robert Hirschfield, 1981–85)
- Grace Gardner (Barbara Babcock, 1981–85)
- Jesus Martinez (Trinidad Silva, 1981–87)
- Captain Jerry Fuchs (Vincent Lucchesi, 1981–84)
- Judge Alan Wachtel (Jeffrey Tambor, 1982–87)
- Captain Freedom (Dennis Dugan, 1982)
- Assistant D.A. Irwin Bernstein (George Wyner, 1982–87)
- Officer Robin Tattaglia Belker (Lisa Sutton, 1982–87)
- Officer Sal Benedetto (Dennis Franz, 1983)
- Gina Srignoli (Jennifer Tilly, 1984–85)
- Detective Manny Rodriguez (Del Zamora, 1985)
- Celeste Patterson (Judith Hansen, 1985–86)
- Sid "The Snitch" Thurston (Peter Jurasik, 1985–87)
Gangs in Hill Street Blues
Gang culture was a feature in all seven seasons beginning with the first episode. Several storylines related to gang life, and the different approaches to negotiation, in particular by officers such as Furillo, Goldblume, Hunter, and to a lesser extent those of the uniform or plain clothes detective ranks.
Interactions included multiple gang meetings held at the precinct to negotiate "turf" boundaries and truces in exchange for facilitating a presidential visit that did not come to pass or the return of a governor's pet dog. The gang/police meetings more often formed part of the comic rather than the dramatic elements of the series.
Gang interactions mostly centered around the Hispanic gang Los Diablos, and the fraught but productive and increasingly trusting relationship between its leader, Martinez, and Furillo, who even attends Martinez' wedding. Martinez, the only gang character given any extended development, moves through the series from early and relapsing belligerence, to negotiation, to finally renouncing his gang colors and qualifying as a para-legal.
Danny Glover had an early career appearance in the first 4 episodes of season 2 as Jesse John Hudson, erstwhile leader of the Black Arrows, whose stated aim to "go straight" turned out to be hypocritical, when he attempted to take back control of the gang.
- The pilot episode, "Hill Street Station," was awarded an Edgar for Best Teleplay from a Series.
- Over its seven seasons, the show earned 98 Emmy Award nominations. That averages out to 14 nominations every year.
- The series shares the Emmy Award record for most acting nominations by regular cast members (excluding the guest performer category) for a single series in one year. (Both L.A. Law and The West Wing also hold that record). For the 1981-1982 season nine cast members were nominated for Emmys. Daniel J. Travanti and Michael Conrad were the only ones to win (for Lead Actor and Supporting Actor respectively). The others nominated were Veronica Hamel (for Lead Actress), Taurean Blacque, Michael Warren, Bruce Weitz, and Charles Haid (for Supporting Actor), and Barbara Bosson and Betty Thomas (for Supporting Actress). Also that year, for the only time in Emmy Award history all five nominees in an acting category (in this case, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series) were from a single series.
- In 2007, Channel 4 (UK) ranked Hill Street Blues #19 on their list of the "50 Greatest TV Dramas."
Unusually Hill Street Blues received rave reviews from critics initially in general alongside dismal Nielsen ratings. Early schedule switching did not help; the show was broadcast once weekly on 4 different nights during its first season alone but gradually settled into a Thursday night slot. The NBC Broadcast Standards Unit deemed it too violent, too sexy, too grim. The producers described the show as an hour drama with 13 continuing characters living through a Gordian knot of personal and professional relationships. John J. O'Connor in a May 1981 review charted its growing popularity and called it "a comfortable balance between comedy and drama". The groundbreaking choice to include African-Americans as mainstays in the core ensemble cast and to feature several inter-racial and inter-ethnic cop partnerships drew notice and praise, as did the overlapping plots and examinations of moral conundrums such as police corruption, racism, alcoholism, and both interpersonal and institutional forgiveness.
Theme and music
The theme song has been used for the ending of the new Mario Kart game.
20th Century Fox released the first two seasons of Hill Street Blues on DVD in Region 1 in 2006. Both releases contain special features including gag reel, deleted scenes, commentary tracks & featurettes. Due to poor sales no other seasons have been released.
In Region 2, Channel 4 DVD released the first two seasons on DVD in the UK in 2006.
Seasons 1 and 2 can also be found on hulu.com. Season 3 can be viewed as streaming video on commercial sites.
In popular culture
Hill Street Blues has inspired parodies, storylines, characters, and cultural references in numerous media vehicles.
In 1991, Krisalis Software (developed by Simeon Pashley and Rob Hill) released the computer game, Hill Street Blues, based on the TV show. The game runs on the Amiga, Atari ST, and DOS platforms and places the player in charge of Hill Street Station and its surrounding neighborhood, with the aim of promptly dispatching officers to reported crimes, apprehending criminals, and making them testify at court. If certain areas have less serious crimes unresolved, such as bag-snatching, they soon escalate to more serious ones, such as murder in broad daylight. The game, which now falls into the category abandonware, is still available for download at computer game sites and outlets, and has received mixed reviews.
A 1982 episode of SCTV parodied how the large cast swarmed the stage for the show's 1981 Best Drama Emmy. In the parody, a mob rushed the stage and trampled Herve Villechaize, played by John Candy. Another episode parodies the show, in a sketch entitled "Benny Hill Street Blues", portraying life at the police station, but in the slapstick styles of the British comedian.
A 1984 edition of The Lenny Henry Show featured a single-sketch parody of the show, including a roll-call sequence and opening credits where the actors' billings (Lenworth J. Henry, Jane J. Bertish, Jr.) clearly referenced the show's star, Daniel J. Travanti.
A 1990 episode of Bochco's Cop Rock parodied the roll call with an original song, "Let's Be Careful Out There," based upon Sergeant Esterhaus' trademark instruction to his officers at the close of each roll call. James B. Sikking made a cameo appearance at the end of the scene, dressed as Lieutenant Howard Hunter in LAPD SWAT uniform, lighting his pipe on the way out of the roll call room as his character typically did on Hill Street Blues.
In episode 53 of The Sopranos, titled "Two Tonys" (2004), Carmela Soprano worries that a wild bear lurking in the neighborhood (symbolizing the untamed, menacing power of Tony Soprano and the mafia, which potentially endangers all who encounter it and those nearby) might kill Bruce and Jeannie Cusamano's chained-up dog, Esterhaus, next door. (Esterhaus represents the tamer, more restricted, and therefore less potent law and order system.)
- ^ Hill Street Blues at the Internet Movie Database
- ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28–July 4). 1997.
- ^ "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows". CBS.
- ^ Fetherston, Drew (May 10, 1987). "Last Call for the Cop Show That Broke All the Rules". Newsday: p. 11.
- ^ Clemetson, Lynette (August 9, 2002), "Revival for a Black Enclave in Pittsburgh", New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/09/us/revival-for-a-black-enclave-in-pittsburgh.html
- ^ Corruption in South Ferry was a prominent feature of the Sullivan Commission in season two, while West Delavan and South Park (infrequently named) were first specifically mentioned by Esterhaus in the opening moments of the season one episode "Freedom's Last Stand". Philmore is named in the opening scene of the episode "The Shooter".
- ^ The episode "Domestic Beef" introduces Preston Heights and Richmond Avenue, while in the same episode Farmingdale is said to be an easy precinct, suitable for a less able Captain to run.
- ^ Castle Heights is named only once, by Washington, in the episode "Honk if You're a Goose" while Washington & LaRue are listing officers (and their precincts) who have taken their own lives.
- ^ http://www.thestage.co.uk/tvtoday/2007/03/the_50_greatest_tv_dramas.php
- ^ O'Connor, John J. (10 May 1981). "TV View; 'HILL STREET BLUES'- A HIT WITH PROBLEMS". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/05/10/arts/tv-view-hill-street-blues-a-hit-with-problems.html?pagewanted=1.
- ^ "Forgiveness on Prime-Time Television, A Case Study: Hill Street Blues," (Mark Fackler and Stephen Darling), Studies in Popular Culture X (1987): 64-73.
- ^ Johnny "ThunderPeel2001" Walker (424), Martin Smith (63992) and phlux (4157). "Hill Street Blues Game Review". MobyGames.com. http://www.mobygames.com/game/hill-street-blues. Retrieved 29 September 2010.
- ^ Crusades83 (15 January 2007). "Hill Street Blues Game Review". Classic PC Games. http://www.classic-pc-games.com/amiga/games/hill_street_blues.html. Retrieved 29 September 2010.
- ^ Home of the Underdogs (15 January 2007). "Hill Street Blues Game Review". Squakenet.com. http://www.squakenet.com/computer_games/1069/Hill-Street-Blues/download.html. Retrieved 29 September 2010.
- Hill Street Blues at the Internet Movie Database
- Hill Street Blues at TV.com
- Encyclopedia of Television
- The Hill Street Blues Fans website
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