The style of Hill Street Blues was vastly different from the police shows of the time. The series used multiple storylines, several of which carried over to subsequent episodes. Many scenes featured background voices and other noises. Sometimes you had to really concentrate to follow the main dialogue though all the commotion. The show filmed action from non-traditional locations such as the men's bathroom at the station. Some scenes were dimly lit. Producers used many closeup shots from handheld cameras and often rapidly switched between camera angles. These techniques provided a more realistic feel, gave a sense of the chaos on inner city streets, and helped depict the dangers faced by the men and women in blue.
In contrast to a typical show of this genre which would focus on one lead detective and a sidekick, Hill Street Blues featured a large array of main characters. This opening credits sequence from 1985 showcases a whopping 16 names:
The innovative series was created by Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll. In this interview, Bochco discusses various aspects of the show including the parallel storyline concept, casting decisions, and the pilot episode. He also talks about another iconic feature - the awesome piano theme music written by Mike Post.
Hill Street Blues covered topics such as police misconduct, racial tension, office politics, and ethical quandaries. The show also spotlighted the personal lives of the squad members and masterfully developed these characters over time. Many themes focused on personal demons - alcoholism, gambling, infidelity, depression.
Each episode would start in the morning and cover a single day. The show opened with the morning roll call which was conducted in the early seasons by Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad). Esterhaus would speak in a distinctive slow-paced voice interspersed with eloquent language. He would always conclude with a version of his signature phrase "Let's be careful out there!".
Daniel J. Travanti played Captain Frank Furillo who exhibited a calm demeanor in dealing with each crisis that arose. A primary story line in season 1 was his intimate relationship (secret at the time) with public defender Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel). They formed an intriguing couple as their respective jobs sometimes pitted them as adversaries. Another interesting dynamic was how Frank was constantly juggling interruptions from his ex-wife Fay played by Barbara Bosson.
Two of its actors had a major sports background. Mike Warren (who portrayed Hill) played basketball at UCLA and was a starting guard on the 1967 and 1968 national championship squads. Ed Marinaro (who played Coffey) was a running back at Cornell and finished second in the 1971 Heisman Trophy voting before playing parts of six seasons in the NFL.
Several episodes spotlighted the rather friendly working relationship between police officers and gangs. One aspect I found fascinating was the negotiations between police and gang leaders over terms such as turf boundaries. One gang leader was played by David Caruso who later served in the lead role in the Bochco series NYPD Blue. One episode featured a benefit basketball game between police and gang members which gave Warren a chance to show off his talent on the court.
- 0:00 - morning roll call
- 2:35 - scene in the station house men's room (involving Hunter of course)
- 3:16 - a "Judas Priest!" exclamation from Hunter (and another at 4:25)
- 6:30 - start of an action scene with dim lighting involving JD LaRue and Neal Washington
- 10:00 - LaRue accepts a bribe
- 12:14 - Henry Goldblume and Furillo negotiate with gang leaders (Caruso's character appears at 12:25)
- 15:07 - during a booking, Belker growls twice, types with one finger, and fields a phone call from his mother
- 20:37 - Hill and Renko investigate a disturbance
- 26:34 - Furillo gets advice from Davenport
- 30:10 - action scene with Hill and Renko
- 35:05 - a demonstration of Furillo's leadership style
- 38:40 - LaRue gets framed
- 39:34 - Furillo/Davenport bubble bath scene
- 42:40 - Frank deals with the latest situation involving Fay
Hill Street Blues was cleverly written and brilliantly casted. It was entertaining, educational, intense, and downright hilarious at times. Above all, it was riveting and drew me to subsequent Bochco series such as LA Law and NYPD Blue (and even the short-lived Bay City Blues).
This post is part of a Classic TV Detectives Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Please check out the complete schedule of blog posts for this event.