7 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Hill Street Blues’
Groundbreaking and influential, NBC’s Hill Street Blues, which premiered on January 15, 1981 aired for seven seasons from 1981-87, was a critical darling that piled up awards and nominations year after year during its run. The first season starred, Daniel J. Travanti, Bruce Weitz, Veronica Hamel, Michael Warren and Michael Conrad. However, the series was never a major ratings hit. It was No. 87 in its first season, peaked at No. 21 during its third season and was down to No. 42 in its last. Still, more than 40 years after the show’s debut, its legacy endures. In 2014, CNN labeled it the most influential TV show ever. Here are eight things you (probably) didn’t know about Hill Street Blues.
The series was directly inspired by the 1981 Paul Newman movie Fort Apache, the Bronx, in which Newman plays an NYPD officer. Then-NBC President Fred Silverman was a fan and he asked television producers Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll to create a cop show for the network with the movie in mind. They came up with Hill Street Blues.
The writers’ room on the series was full of major talent. It included Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, Miami Vice creator Anthony Yerkovich, Twin Peaks cocreator Mark Frost, playwright David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), novelist Robert Crais (the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels) and screenwriter John Romano (The Lincoln Lawyer).
Ed Marinaro, who played Officer Joe Coffey, visited production company MTM Enterprises, who were casting for Hill Street Blues, to audition for a movie about male strippers they were making, not the television series. His timing was fortunate and he was able to audition for Coffey while he was there, quickly winning the part.
Test audiences hated the pilot. They said the main characters were not good at their jobs and had flawed personalities. The ending wasn’t satisfying and there were too many loose ends. The police station wasn’t realistic. There was too much chaos and the officers couldn’t control their own workplace. Bochco said it took audiences a full year to figure the series out.
It had a budget that was unprecedented for television. It cost $1 million for a single episode (roughly $3 million in today’s dollars), the first weekly series to hit that figure.
The list of guest stars who appeared in small roles before they found fame is extensive and impressive. They included Tim Robbins, Joaquin Phoenix, Forest Whitaker, Andy Garcia, Linda Hamilton, Don Cheadle, Laurence Fishburne and many more.
Dennis Franz played two parts, and the second one got his own spinoff series. First he was corrupt cop Sal Benedetto in five episodes, before reappearing in the final two seasons as Lt. Norman Buntz. After Hill Street Blues ended, Franz played Buntz on the short-lived Beverly Hills Buntz. NBC only broadcast nine episodes.
Hill Street Blues is currently only available for purchase from Vudu, Amazon and Apple+