Forget The Wire, Your Favourite Cop Show Should Be Hill Street Blues

Never mind all these gritty police dramas that try to make a bold political statement while thrusting the harsh realities of street life into your face. What you really want is interweaving story lines, a documentary feel and a character called 'Buck Naked'.
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Never mind all these gritty police dramas that try to make a bold political statement while thrusting the harsh realities of street life into your face. What you really want is interweaving story lines, a documentary feel and a character called 'Buck Naked'.

You may like The Wire with it’s stark realism, mumbled dialogue and Eton educated detectives and that would be great, it’s a good show. You may like CIS, NCIS, CSI, NCSIY, which again would be great as again they are all fine and watchable from what I’ve seen even if they are about 30 of them now in every city in the US.  All of these shows owe a big debt of thanks to NYPD Blue which is probably due a re-run on Sky Atlantic sometime soon but, in my view, NYPD Blue was a shaky shot re-make of a great 80’s show Hill Street Blues.

I might just add at this stage that The Bill was almost certainly not inspired by Hill Street Blues, from what I can work out it must have had the working title “Grange Hill, School’s Out” or “Tucker’s Now a Bent Copper”. It was shit anyway as you’d expect from ITV really, like a school play that made it onto the TV somehow.

Anyway, back to The Hill, you may remember the opening credits which lasted all the way up to the first set of adverts. Huge light blue and white police cruisers knack their suspension tear-arsing about the fictitious host City (it was shot in LA but was just supposed to represent the flavour of a deprived US city without being specific) sirens wail then it kicks in… the most sublime TV theme tune of all time. Mike Post’s piece was so good it charted all over the world and inspired The Who’s Pete Townshend to write “Mike Post’s Theme” in 2006.

I might just add at this stage that The Bill was almost certainly not inspired by Hill Street Blues, from what I can work out it must have had the working title “Grange Hill, School’s Out” or “Tucker’s Now a Bent Copper”.

The show, surprisingly, was produced by Mary Tyler Moore, known for light comedy rather than groundbreaking drama, and written by the superb Stephen Bochco (who also wrote NYPD Blue). It ran from 1981 to 1987, received nearly 100 Emmy Nominations and was full of great characters. Characters such as Frank Furrillo the ice cool, morally sound captain who’s back story was that of a recovering alcoholic and Mick Belker the herring and pickle sandwich eating undercover detective who would growl and bite purps. JD LaRue, played by the superb Keil Martin, who was a functioning addict who had almost every vice going but generally only tip-toed over the line into full on debauchery, his concsience was his partner Neil Washington, a toothpick chewing “by the book” type of guy who took his job very seriously. Washington was played by the fabulously monikered Taurean Blacque which sounded more like part of a dating advert than a name but cool nonetheless. There was even a regular character called “Buck Naked” who turned up occasionally to flash his old lad, announce he was “buck naked” and get arrested. Fabulous.

By far my favourite though was a detective called Norman Buntz, or was it Sal Benedetto or was it Andy Sipowicz?  Actor Dennis Franz played all three, the first two in HSB and the last in NYPD.  He played such a good character that they didn’t mind the continuity police calling foul on his reappearance.  First off as Benedetto he is in and out as a bad cop who cold cocks Officer Renko only to get a hiding from his partner Bobby Hill, then as the more established Buntz who bends and breaks rules but was a solid cop.  If you get to see the early episodes with Franz as Benedetto you will witness a strange phenomenon which was peculiar to the era. A fat middle aged man in tight slacks, patent leather shoes and a fur collared leather trench coat was considered a hard case, not a cause for much laughter.

It’s repeated fairly often on some Sky channel or other and I’ve probably recorded it and watched the whole thing twice over now.  I never tire of it although, as a seasoned fan will know, when the scene starts with Furillo and his missus in the sack it’s like that miserable get Zebedee sending everyone to bed in The Magic Roundabout or the shopkeeper appearing in Mr Benn, the show’s over, time to switch off.

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