A Steven Bochco Retrospective

Steven Bochco passed away yesterday at age 74.  For a generation of television viewers, he was a visionary in television drama.  He experimented with new techniques and storylines, he created new aesthetics in drama, and changed the way we watched prime time television forever.

Today’s blog post shows many of Bochco’s greatest television programs – both his successes and his failures – and shows how much he changed our television viewing patterns.

Let’s start with a Rockford Files spinoff called Richie Brockleman, Private Eye.

This was co-created by Bochco and Stephen J. Cannell, and lasted for just a few episodes.  Nothing major.

Bochco’s next attempt at a dramatic series was Paris, a police procedural starring James Earl Jones.

This show was a groundbreaker in that it starred a person of color – James Earl Jones – as the lead in a drama series.

Then came his first major success – a drama called Hill Street Blues.

Hand-held cameras which showed a documentary-style cinema verite of a day in an urban police setting.  Plotlines that stretched from episode to episode in a serialized drama.  Characters that were often morally ambiguous, but still had hearts of  gold.  A show that became an anchor of NBC’s Thursday night lineup, and won dozens of Emmy Awards.

The success of Hill Street Blues allowed Bochco to create another drama for NBC, Bay City Blues, based around a minor league baseball team.

Although Bay City Blues barely survived its first few episodes, the actors on this show would later appear in other Bochco dramas.  Oh yeah, and this show had an early appearance by actress Sharon Stone.  Yes, THAT Sharon Stone.

Bay City Blues was NOT a spinoff of Hill Street Blues, but there WAS a spinoff of Hill Street Blues made – in the final two seasons of Hill Street Blues, the character of Detective Buntz – played by Dennis Franz – left the Hill Street Precinct and moved to California for a new life as a private investigator.  Joining him was his informant, Sid the Snitch (Peter Jurasik), and Beverly Hills Buntz was born.

Bochco’s next big success was the legal procedural L.A. Law, which he co-created with Cagney and Lacey producer Terry Louise Fisher.  This show was a MAJOR success on NBC, and was appointment television back in the day.

With this success, Bochco took his talents to ABC, where he received a major deal to produce new and unique television shows.  And he did hit a couple of home runs with his new network.  Let’s put it this way.  You would not have Neil Patrick Harris if you did not have Doogie Howser, M.D.

Unfortunately, the output at that time included one of the most ridiculed television shows of all time, Bochco’s attempt at merging music videos with a police procedural, Cop Rock.

Another Bocho misfire was the animated drama Capitol Critters, an attempt at political satire with rodents in the White House.  I’ll save the joke about the rodent we currently have in the White House.

Then his greatest ABC success came with the twelve-year run of the police procedural NYPD Blue.

At the time, this show was a major breakthrough – a network drama with profanity and nudity – mostly the use of the words “bullshit” and “scumbag,” and the nudity restricted to bare rear ends.  But it was still a major success, nonetheless.

There were many other Bochco productions – a spinoff of NYPD Blue called Public Morals that lasted maybe one episode, a drama called Commander in Chief with Geena Davis as the President of the United States, a half-hour drama called Hooperman with John Ritter, and a year-long drama, Murder One, focusing on one single trial from arrest to conviction.

I thank Steven Bochco for all these great television dramas, and for what he did to extend and evolve television as we know it today.  And honestly, there’s no way to end a Steven Bochco retrospective … without this.