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In the days of E.R and NYPD Blue, it's hard to remember just how
ground-breaking a show HSB was. Nothing like it had ever been seen
before. The quality of the acting and writing, the documentary look and
feel, the seedy broken down environment, the brutally frank situations
and language (for the time), the fact that the "bad" guys got away with
it as often as not, the huge ensemble cast, the long one-take scenes,
the unhappy endings etc. etc.
Needless to say, the American people wanted nothing to do with such quality at first - until it won a record number of Emmys and they couldn't ignore it anymore. If nothing else, this series proved to the networks that quality can sell soap after all.
If you like your E.R. think a kind thought for Hill Street Blues - the series that made it all possible.
When Hill Street Blues was being made, here in the UK it didn't get
networked. Instead, my local commercial station (Central) picked it up and
showed it on a Friday night at 11pm. My opinion of the show can be judged
from the fact that I used to get home early from the pub to watch
It might be a cliche, but this really was a ground-breaking series. Compare it to its forbears, series like Kojak and Starsky & Hutch. Instead of there being three or four central characters, and a single plotline per episode, HSB had a couple of dozen characters and five or six plotlines, each interwoven and often continuing from week to week.
It brought an extra level of realism, too. In previous series, if cops got into a fist fight then they'd remain standing, although maybe with a bloody mouth. If someone got shot, odds on it was the bad guy, with the cops not receiving a scratch.
HSB changed all that. Fights looked real; policemen got shot; the bad guys often got away. And it went beyond that, including police corruption; politics interfering with the job; the way the police reached compromise deals with people like Jesus Martinez, even though he was a gang leader and notionally a 'bad guy'.
You cared about the characters, too. When Joe Coffey got shot, when Esterhaus died, any of a dozen others, they felt like they meant something. This wasn't a show that you watched, then forgot about.
Stephen Bochco went on to series like LA Law, NYPD Blue, Murder One and ER, all of which owe a lot to the style of HSB. It really did break the mould of TV drama; its influence is still clear, even today.
Bear with me on a bit of background: For a full decade as a penniless
hippie, I didn't have a TV. None of my friends did either. To our
minds, TV was a puerile waste of time, pablum for the masses, a
substitute for life. Besides, we couldn't afford one. When I settled
down tho & my son started going to school, his friends talked
constantly about TV programs he knew nothing about. So he wouldn't feel
culturally deprived, we decided to get him a little black & white set
for his room. Thereafter, whenever I came home from work, I knew where
to find my wife & son both in his room glued to the tube.
One evening I was leaning in the doorway waiting for a commercial so I could talk to them & I got caught up in what they were watching some tough portly mustached detective had been captured by a lunatic with a shotgun & bound to a chair. Tense! When the commercial did come, I said, "Hey, this is a pretty good movie, what is it?" "That's not a movie", they told me, "it's Hill Street Blues, a TV series!" No way, I thought, they had to be pulling my leg. I couldn't believe TV had reached that level of sophistication. They'd taken your standard soap opera format, where no one character predominates & the interwoven stories carry over from episode to episode, & applied it to cops. Cops lead what has got to be hands-down the most bizarre lifestyle imaginable & the viewer's sense of involvement is certainly heightened by knowing that at any moment one of your favorite characters might be gunned down. The show was brilliant & I was hooked. From there on, I watched every episode of HSB I possibly could.
Years later, suffering thru a near-suicidal post-divorce funk, coming home to the aching loneliness of an empty apartment with not even a dog anymore to wag his tail in greeting, too depressed even to look up old friends let alone make new ones, I found myself watching the show again. They were showing HSB reruns 5 nights a week just then, so I got to spend an hour each evening with all these familiar faces I'd come to know so well & care about, my own grief momentarily forgotten amidst their trials & tribulations. It's the only thing I can recall with any pleasure from that period & it's not much of an exaggeration to say HSB pulled me thru.
So now that the series is finally being released on DVD, I'm pre-ordering it as fast as it comes out. Seeing it again now, I'm much more aware of its flaws improbable scenes like the EATers shooting up that liquor shop in the very first episode & other contrived situations that strain to produce a few chuckles. Yet I like it all the more for that; it transcends such flaws so easily. Watching it now for maybe the 4th or 5th time, I'm still amazed at the depth & range of characterization, not to mention the added kick of spotting well-known actors like Danny Glover, Forest Whitaker & David Caruso who appeared on the show before they made it big. More sophisticated shows now like NYPD Blue, ER & Sopranos may make HSB seem dated by comparison, but they would never even have existed if HSB hadn't led the way. Not for nothing was it one of the longest-running dramas on TV.
I still don't think much of TV, but Hill Street Blues will always hold a special place in my heart.
I remember coming home from swimming in the evening, waiting to see Hill Street Blues. My mum would hold my hand as I walked down the street, just as the lady did at the begining of HSB when the police car is driving in the snow the camera picks up on a lady and her child walking down the street, reminds me of me and my mum. The programme was ace, just too dam good. Television today has a lot to learn. One thing I will always remember about that show was the music, it was so sad, but lovely to hear. p.s I wonder where that boy and mother are now?
Hill Street Blues was an unconventional cop show for the '80s, and even
today. Why? Because it was real. Well as real as you can get with a TV
show, without taking some liberties ofcourse. Unlike Miami Vice, T.J.
Hooker or Hunter, HSB had a lot of detail and accuracy.
Sure Miami Vice was an entertaining show, but only for being stylish and hip for it's time. HSB didn't try to be cool, it tried to be accurate. Miami Vice and all the other cop shows and cop movies of the '80s, '90s and today are extremely fake in the way they present themselves, going more for a target demographic then bothering to portray how things operate in our world. In the real world, cops in America aren't wearing Armani suits and constantly trying to bust Columbian drug dealers and their shipment of cocaine while spitting out mile a minute obscure metaphors and similies that take us a few seconds to figure out. If you want to see the way REAL COPS in America speak, act and carry themselves through real crime cases, then watch HSB. You won't be dissapointed.
An American cop show - who'd have thought an American cop show of all things could exemplify the best of television. From the land that gave us the pits of tv (have you seen Donahue?) there comes, once in a while, a beacon of greatness. The last episode of M*A*S*H, and the whole of HSB make the invention of television worthwhile.
Tough cops are everywhere!! This series did not officially designate a city in which it took place, but, all indications point to "Hill Street Blues" being set in the city of Chicago!! The Old Style beer sign outside one of the bars that the television audience saw during the introduction of the show sort of gave it away!! I loved this show, the cast was a big reason!! Daniel Travanti was extremely likable just by virtue of the fact that he was very faulted!! Veronica Hamel, was the hard working feminist D. A. who attempted to dissect reality, it then became a moot question as to whether or not she would be able to stomach it!! Ed Marinaro was terrific as a Chicago cop, this is absolutely remarkable considering the fact that he was a professional football player from New York!! Betty Thomas was the ideal prototype for a lady cop!! Kiel Martin was perfect as the sleaze ball working on the right side of the law!! Last but not least, Bruce Wietz, "Grrrrrrrr!!" he added an astutely hilarious perspective to the series through his portrayal as the undercover guy!! One time, Kathy Bates played his sister, she also made the noise "Grrrrrrrr!!" and used the term "dog breath". "Hill Street Blues" was enormously popular throughout the entire eighties decade because, it depicted tragedy in a manner which portrayed it as something that does not simply disappear!! Part of NBC's powerful Thursday night line-up, it always highlighted the bothersome travesties which afflicted a precinct in a poverty ridden section of the city!! So many ideas seemed complicated, until the figureheads of the law came to grips with the fact that there was no solution to most crimes, just aspects of mollification to them!! The prevailing circumstances of adversity on this program are what gave all of the characters in the show "Hill Street Blues" a tailor made invitation to seek amelioration for their actions!! Many situations that are very sad remain that way for both sides!! Victims of their environment turned criminals by default, as well as the detectives and policemen, all seem to be making deals with the devil!! Before "Law and Order", before "L A Law", there was "Hill Street Blues"... Reality is nauseating, reality is humorous, reality is perverse, reality has a definite monotony, and, in this case, reality for effective television programming was "Hill Street Blues". I thought this television show was one of the best ever!! I wish there could be more shows like "Hill Street Blues" on prime time television today!! "Hill Street Blues" was a definite winner!!
No one will ever come close to making such a down to earth drama.In any other show, the re-use of actors to play different characters would have never worked. Dennis Franz as both Bennedetto and Norman Buntz is only one of many examples. And for the gentleman who wanted to know the leader of the Shamrocks, it was none other than David Caruso, who was John Kelly in the first season of NYPD Blue. Bochco has many uses for the great actors he comes in contact with, even his own wife!!! Who can forget Faye Furrillo shreiking "Let me tell you something Mister". It is a wonder he slept at night!! I have almost every episode on tape, if someone has them all please contact me Thanks Jacqui
During an era of cop shows where the main characters were often portrayed as superheroes or as charicatures, this priceless classic was born. For the first time since the days of Jack Webb and Joseph Wambaugh, we finally had a show that showed police as real people with all the faults and failings that all people had. You had Furillo, who was a recovering alcoholic, Renko and Hill, who were dealing with their own fears, Hunter, the reactionary head of the S.W.A.T. team, Bates, who just wanted to prove that she was a good police officer as well as a woman, Belker, the maniacal undercover cop, and of course the fatherly Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, the father figure for the whole squad. This show definitely set the stage for shows like N.Y.P.D. Blue and the Law and Order franchise and will always be a classic.
Hill Street Blues is perhaps the best cop drama in television history. It was groundbreaking then and now! It is well-casted with a diverse ensemble. The writing is unbelievably brilliant enough to stand two decades. This is what classic shows are about. It is now seen frequently on Bravo with a fantastic theme song. The cast like Daniel J. Travanti, Veronica Hamel, Barbara Bosson, Betty Thomas, Dennis Franz, Ed Marinaro, and so many others perform brilliantly to make this show likable. The characters are real, candid, rather than just stereotypes. Watching most shows today, I miss the golden age of eighties television where the best shows like Hill Street Blues completed the NBC lineup. It was never a ratings winner but the network kept a quality show like this on to win countless awards including Emmys and Golden Globes. NBC in their Golden Age allowed Hill Street Blues and shows like St. Elsewhere and L.A. Law to flourish without worrying about ratings. Too bad, they still do not exist anymore. While the shows are now produced by networks who do a terrible show, a show like Hill Street Blues would never be approved or foreseen as a brilliant show.
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