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Delvecchio was a good, solid show with a fine cast. It was on the very edge of being renewed for a second year, and one wonders what Judd Hirsch's career would have been like if his first hit had been a drama rather than a sitcom. Delvecchio was created by Steven Bochco several years before Hill Street Blues. Although it lacked the stylistic innovation of the later show, Delvecchio had equally interesting characters - and some of the actors moved from the one show to the other, most importantly Charles Haid and Michael Conrad. There were even more connections. As 1976 was pre-VCR for me, I made an audio tape of several episodes. Imagine my surprise when I saw a Hill Street episode some years later and found the exact same, line to line, dialogue in one of their plot arcs as in the Delvecchio episode "Bad Shoot." Apparently it was so good it had to be used again!
The short-lived series "Delvecchio" was a very good cop show,with a
solid cast and fine performances to boot and it was right up there with
some of the great cop and private eye shows that emerge from the
mid-1970's. "Delvecchio" was so brilliant in every detail that it was
on the edge of being renewed for its second season,and one wonders what
would had happened if Judd Hirsch's career would have been like if this
show haven't come along. Who would have known if his first big hit had
been a drama rather than a sitcom. Who knows what would had happened if
this show made Judd Hirsch a huge star. The series "Delvecchio"
premiered in the fall of 1976,two years before the show that made Judd
Hirsch a bonafide star in one of the biggest comedy sitcoms ever to
grace the late 1970's-"Taxi".
Getting back to "Delvecchio" however,the series only produced 20 episodes and it ran on CBS-TV from September 9,1976 until the final episode of the series on July 17,1977. The series was created and produced by the great Steven Bochco,several years before "Hill Street Blues" and several years before "NYPD Blue". Also on board was the creative team of Joesph Polizzi and Sam Rolfe,who served as executive producer for this short-lived detective cop series. Rolfe,however along with Polizzi were the masterminds of one of the great espionage shows of the 1960's "The Man From UNCLE" in which Sam Rolfe was one of the architects for that series. Rolfe was also the creator of the classic 1950's psychological western drama "Have Gun,Will Travel".
About the show,"Delvecchio" was the story of a tough,independent big city police detective fighting crime in the mean streets of Los Angeles,California. Sgt.Dominick Delvecchio(Judd Hirsch),and his partner Sgt. Paul Shonski(Charles Haid)were assigned cases ranging from narcotics investigations to murders and auto thefts not to mention corruption within the department they worked for. His boss,and the man who assigns most of the cases they worked on,was Lt. Macavan(Michael Conrad). Also seen in some of the episodes was Delvecchio's father Tomaso(Mario Gallo),and Old World type from Italy(Delvecchio was Italian),who ran a small barbershop and was constantly perplexed about why his stubborn,determined son wanted to become a cop. Instead,Delvecchio was studying to be a lawyer anyway,but still had the instincts of a cop.
It was still a good cop show,but it lacked the stylistic innovation of the later show since Delvecchio had interesting characters-and some of the actors that were on this show moved from one show to the next,most importantly Charles Haid and Michael Conrad did as they went to star in one of the most intelligent and controversial cop shows of the 1980's- "Hill Street Blues". However,Delvecchio was the precursor to Hill Street Blues and other cop shows to follow that same format. Most importantly,the theme score from Billy Goldenberg was one of the best musical compositions ever to grace the awe of 1970's TV.
Thirty-nine year old Judd Hirsch was a total unknown (except for stage
work) before he starred in the fine TV movie "The Law" (1974). Hirsch
sent in a commercial he had done as an audition tape for "The Law" so
NBC executives could see what he looked like. The network would have
preferred George Segal for the apparently Jewish hero, but producer
William Sackheim held out for Hirsch. It must have been a hard sell.
When have you ever seen an unknown star in a TV movie, before or since?
The entire cast of "The Law" were unknowns at the time, including Gary
Busey, Bonnie Franklin, and John Hillerman.
"The Law" was an incredible break for Judd Hirsch, but he was still a little irritated that John Beck received more money for playing a prosecutor.
"The Law" was a major critical success. Director Johm Badham and writer Joel Oliansky received Emmy nominations. The two and a half hour movie won the Emmy as outstanding special of the year. John Badham, Joel Oliansky, and William Sackheim had previously worked together on "The Senator" (1970) with Hal Holbrook, which was also remarkable.
Hirsch played public defender Murray Stone in "The Law". The movie was a Fredrick Wiseman like view of the legal system. A three episode trial run series followed the movie. Murray Stone now worked for a fancy law firm. The hour long series didn't catch on. Hirsch said that if Murray had remained a public defender representing life's losers the show would have run forever.
"Delvecchio" (1976) was an attempt by producer Sackheim to redo "The Law" but to have a hit. Dominick Delvecchio was a young detective sergeant who had gone to law school at night. But he has flunked the bar exam - several times. But he keeps taking the exam. Maybe "Delvecchio" would have eventually become a lawyer show.
Back in 1954 Sackheim had written and produced a movie called "The Human Jungle". Gary Merrill was excellent as a police captain who has passed the bar exam and plans to quit the force and start a law practice. But his boss talks him into to taking command of a brutally lawless precinct instead. Sackheim had also written a "Playhouse 90" called "Before I Die" where the hero's name was Dr. Del Vecchio. These previous projects might have provided a little of the inspiration for "Delvecchio" (and perhaps also for "Hill Street Blues").
Fifty-six year old Sackheim was the executive producer of "Delvecchio" and thirty-two year old Steven Bochco was one of the producers. Bochco was a contract writer at Universal. It's hard to see any trace of greatness in Bochco's work before "Delvecchio". In Bochco's own opinion, he was a studio hack doing whatever he was asked to do. When Bochco saw the early scripts coming in for "Delvecchio", he thought they were pretty good. Sackheim said they were junk and had to be rewritten. Bochco says his year on "Delvecchio" was key in his writing life. Bochco's work after "Delvecchio" is of a different order.
Michael Kozoll was story editor of "Delvecchio" and wrote six episodes. Kozoll was later executive producer of "Hill Street Blues" along with Bochco. Kozoll wrote an episode of "Kojak" the next season where Kojak is offered a high paying job as chief investigator for a big law firm by managing partner Charles Aidman. Aidman turns out to be dirty and is trying to compromise Kojak. I always thought this was a planned second season episode of "Delvecchio" that was recycled when "Delvecchio" didn't come back.
William Sackheim was a tough curmudgeon who seemed to get the best out of talented young writers. David Chase ("The Sopranos") did a series early in his career with Sackheim called "Almost Grown" with Tim Daly.
The most charismatic performance in "Delvecchio" was given by Michael Conrad as Lieutenant Macavan, the boss of the precinct squad room. Charles Haid played detective sergeant Shonski, Delvecchio's overweight but tough partner. Shonski was one of the few TV cops to wear glasses. Sackheim wasn't interested in pretty boy cops.
"Delvecchio" wasn't as stylishly filmed as "The Senator", "The Law", or "Hill Street Blues". The writing also wasn't as breath taking. Judd Hirsh was later a little dismissive of "Delvecchio". He thought the only distinctive part of the show were the character interactions in the squad room.
But "Delvecchio" was a fine, very entertaining effort. It was one of the few cop shows I have ever watched regularly. I loved the opening credits with Billy Goldenberg's theme music. I wish "Delvecchio" had lasted longer than one season.
It would have been cool if Steven Bochco had brought back Dominick Delvecchio as an attorney on "L.A. Law" (1986). Delvecchio definitely would have been a loose cannon at Mackenzie, Brackman.
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