Regarded as a hallmark in American dramatic television. First dramatic series to incorporate long shots and handheld shots and continuous storylines. Nominated for 21 Emmys for its first season - a record despite having low ratings.
NBC executives supported the series in its infancy despite a lack of viewers; in 1981 it became the lowest-rated series ever renewed for a second season. IT also wasn't renewed for the entire season, just for ten episodes. It was only picked up for the full season after ratings improved.
The pilot script said the show took place in an unnamed Midwestern city. Throughout the show's seven-year run, the exact name of the city was never mentioned, although there were hints as to its location. The police cars were based on those of the Chicago Police Dept., while the officers' uniforms were based on that of the New York City Police Dept. Neither city has a precinct known as "The Hill", although Pittsburgh, PA (where series creator Steven Bochco attended Carnegie Institute of Technology, now known as Carnegie Mellon University) does). In addition, the City Hall shown in the series is actually that of Philadelphia, PA.
Though it was never officially established in which city the show took place, it was long thought to have been Chicago. In fact, at least one location shot included an elevated train with the letters "CTA" on the front. "CTA" stands for "Chicago Transit Authority".
The theme music written by Mike Post became a hit song on its own and won a Grammy. Post said that when he was writing the theme, he first wanted the music to match the gritty visuals he was shown. He then decided to instead do the opposite, to create a theme that was beautiful and serene, that "took you away" from what you were seeing.
Originally, Hill and Renko were supposed to die in the shooting in the drug house in the first episode. When it was decided that the series needed more uniformed cops to justify its title, several finished or in-production episodes were reworked to show that they had survived and to bring them back; other uniforms' parts were expanded as well.
Contrary to popular belief, it was Renko alone who was supposed to have died in the shootout in the pilot while his partner Hill survives. Charles Haid was originally a guest star in the pilot as a favor for series creator Steven Bochco. After he shot the "Hill Street" pilot, he shot one for a proposed NBC hospital dramatic series, but it wasn't picked up by the network. He then asked Bochco if Renko could be resurrected and made into a regular in the series.
The opening credit sequence was shot in Chicago, while the episodes themselves were shot in Los Angeles. Location scouts said it was hard to find L.A. locations for the show because they could not have visible palm trees. Most of the "grittier" exterior scenes were shot in the grimier parts of downtown L.A., which has the look of a decaying Midwestern or Northeastern city. At least the first episode (possibly as many as the first three) was shot on location in Chicago)
The exterior shots of the "Hill Street" station were those of an actual Chicago police station. Now no longer used by the city, it was at one time the home of the 7th District, located near the old Maxwell Street Market, and is now called "The Hill Street Blues Station". It is now used by the University of Illinois-Chicago police. During Prohibition, this precinct had a reputation as the most corrupt in the US. Its captain once distributed his personnel roster to the Mafia bagmen who delivered the weekly payoffs, because they were handing out money to every cop in the place indiscriminately, and cops from other stations were showing up on payoff day.
Series creator Steven Bochco named the show after an area of Pittsburgh, PA, known as "The Hill", near where he went to college at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University).