Wednesday 26 June 2019

Obituary: Steven Bochco

Producer who led the way for TV crime drama with Hill Street Blues

INFLUENTIAL: Steven Bochco
INFLUENTIAL: Steven Bochco

Steven Bochco, the writer and producer who has died aged 74, was responsible for some of American television's most intelligent and innovative crime dramas, including Hill Street Blues, LA Law and NYPD Blue; he was regarded by many as the most influential figure in modern television drama.

He pioneered the idea that crime series could be constructed in the manner of soap operas, with as much focus on the police characters' private lives as on their work, and with story lines that stretched across several episodes rather than being wrapped up neatly in an hour.

He favoured a style of documentary realism over glossiness, exploring gritty issues and employing salty language. Although his programmes usually featured large ensemble casts, he was acclaimed for investing his characters with a depth rarely seen in popular television drama. Perhaps his greatest creation was Detective Andy Sipowicz in NYPD Blue who, brilliantly portrayed by Dennis Franz, won viewers' hearts despite being a drunk and a racist.

His influence can be seen most clearly, therefore, in long-form dramas made for subscription channels - such as The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad - works comparable in artistic merit to the best feature films.

Steven Ronald Bochco was born in New York on December 16, 1943. His father, Rudolph, was a Polish-born Jew who had emigrated to America aged three and became a concert violinist; Steven would go on to end the credits of his television shows with an animated photograph of his father playing the violin, accompanied by a snatch of Vivaldi. His mother, Mimi, was an artist.

He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, before studying playwriting and theatre at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. A summer job at Universal Pictures led to his becoming a full-time script editor and writer. He wrote several of the early episodes of Columbo among many other programmes, and also co-wrote (with Michael Cimino) the dystopian science-fiction film Silent Running (1972).

In 1978, he moved to MTM, the company run by Grant Tinker and his wife Mary Tyler Moore. Paris (1979), a detective series he wrote for James Earl Jones, was a flop, but he had better luck with Hill Street Blues, which he co-created and co-produced with Michael Kozoll for NBC.

Although the novelist Ed McBain complained that the series drew heavily on his 87th Precinct books ("If it hadn't been stolen from me I would have admired it greatly"), Hill Street Blues was a departure from most cop shows with its focus on the realities of policing in shabby areas.

Initially it received dire ratings, but its first season was nominated for 14 Emmys and won six, and it ran for seven years from 1981.

The combative Bochco was fired after five series, however, ostensibly for going over budget; this led to a protracted dispute and the departure from the series of his actress wife, Barbara Bosson, who played Fay Furillo.

His next big success, LA Law (1986-94), applied the same ensemble formula to lawyers, and was considerably more glamorous, but he returned to gritty police work in NYPD Blue (1993-2005), which he co-created with David Milch. The series became renowned for its profanity and nudity.

He is survived by his third wife Dayna Kallins, whom he married in 2000.

© Telegraph

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