He pioneered the modern era of police and legal drama with three legendary shows and reinvented prime time television by knocking down the barriers of language and sexuality, yet we don’t seem to hear his name anymore. Seeing how this is the first part of an ongoing series spotlighting Crime TV creators and stars, it seemed logical to start with Steven Bochco.
Anyone older than a zygote will remember that there was a time when Bochco’s name was synonymous with quality TV. Even those not old enough to have watched it the first time around have surely heard of Hill Street Blues, the cop show that introduced Americans to the continuing story arc and large ensemble cast in an hour-long series. The show ran from 1981 to 1987 and was nominated for 98 Emmy Awards.
In 1986, Bochco co-created LA Law, a technically inferior show that garnered huge critical praise and even higher ratings than Hill Street. Much of this was due to the fact that it premiered in the midst of the Yuppie Era, when shows glorifying professionals living opulent lifestyles were huge. Whether or not these individuals noticed the constant social criticism of them is debatable.
LA Law ran from 1986-1994 and is arguably the reason The Practice and Boston Legal creator David E. Kelley has a job.
Bochco wasn’t without his failures, however. Cop Rock, a bizarre attempt at a gritty crime drama where characters would break into Broadway-style musical numbers, was his biggest. This vanity project combined with the failure of the two-season John Ritter dramedy Hooperman, led some to believe the pioneer had run out of new territory.
In 1993, Bochco reinvented the cop drama for the Nineties with NYPD Blue, possibly his most influential series. Blue starred a younger David Caruso, who departed after a season and a half to pursue what became a disastrous film career. But the series was like something found on cable, with its partial nudity and frequent swear words of the type George Carlin once said can’t be said on TV.
It is ironic that Blue influenced a whole generation of cable network crime dramas while the networks seem to have pulled away from challenging material in favor of bloodless procedurals steeped in legalese and very little in the way of character development.
It has recently been reported that Boccho is disgustred with the current state of network TV. In a 2007 interview with The Age, he desribes his experience with ABC while tying to rescue a show as “a horrible, horrible experience. It really sort of crystallised the way in which the business has changed, and that’s not for me any more.”
In that same interview, he expresses a lack of interest in working for the major networks and seems to feel that cable is a freer and superior market for his work. He feels the current foray into the fantastic has overshadowed realism. “I don’t have any disdain for it. It’s just not what I do,” he said.
Even coming from someone who loves and writes fantasy fiction, it’s become obvious that realism has been relegated to dull programs about cops and lawyers going to work. Of every there was a need for a Steven Boccho, it is now. We’re long overdue for not simply a reinvention but a total overhaul.