Steven Bochco’s Legacy: 4 Ways ‘NYPD Blue’ Co-Creator Changed TV

From “Hill Street Blues” to “Cop Rock,” Bochco built a legacy as one of TV’s greatest risk-takers

Last Updated: April 2, 2018 @ 2:56 PM

Steven Bochco, the man behind a number of television’s most successful dramas, died at the age of 74 over the weekend, leaving behind a legacy responsible for shaping what TV looks like today.

The creator of groundbreaking shows like “Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue” and “L.A. Law,” Bochco is routinely cited as one of the most influential figures in TV history.

From bare butts to “Cop Rock,” here are four ways Bochco left his mark on the business:

1. Serialized Drama

One of Bochco’s most lasting impacts on television came from the 1981 NBC series “Hill Street Blues,” which Bochco co-created with Michael Kozoll. Over the course of its seven seasons, “Hill Street Blues” became one of the first serialized dramas in primetime, fusing the the case-of-the-week cop show format with the ongoing personal storylines popularized by soaps.

“Hill Street” frequently delved into the home lives of its characters — a sprawling ensemble of officers at the fictional Hill Street Station, led by Daniel J. Travanti as Capt. Frank Furillo — venturing beyond the confines of the episodic format that was previously standard fare.

In many respects, Bochco’s first major success set the template for what nearly all subsequent TV dramas would become.

Hill Street Blues

NBC

2. Pushing Boundaries

In addition to defying conventions of format, Bochco’s shows will also be remembered for the risks they took in their storytelling.

“NYPD Blue,” which ran on ABC for an astonishing 12 seasons between 1993 and 2005, earned critical praise (and 84 Primetime Emmy nominations) for its portrayal of a hard-nosed police detective Andy Sipowicz.

Played by Dennis Franz, Sipowicz was, at times, a racist, bigoted alcoholic and one of TV’s first true anti-heroes. Even before HBO and “The Sopranos” ushered in TV’s golden age of problematic male leads, Bochco proved that audiences would tune in to complex, compelling characters who didn’t always do the right thing.

Bochco and his co-creator David Milch displayed a similar willingness to shirk convention in making the show, raising eyebrows with content warnings alerting viewers to nudity and strong language never before seen on primetime TV. One 2003 episode was so objectionable, it resulted in a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

3. Big Swings

Not all of Bochco’s projects were huge, critically acclaimed successes. “Doogie Howser, M.D.” launched the career of Neil Patrick Harris, but it never cleaned up awards and it isn’t much remembered as one of the format’s finest entries. “Hooperman” and “Murder One” didn’t last longer than two seasons. “Brooklyn South,” “City of Angels,” “Philly,” “Over There” and “Blind Justice” all flopped. And “Cop Rock” is one of the most infamous failures in TV history.

But “Cop Rock” was another one of Bochco’s bold experiments, bringing elements of the stage musical to the small screen, something later attempted by shows like “Glee,” “Galavant” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” “Murder One” took the case-of-the-week and blew it up to fill a season, setting the stage for anthologies like “American Crime,” any number of British crime dramas and Bochco’s own TNT drama “Murder in the First.” “Doogie Howser” was one of the standout successes out of the ’80s boom of TV dramedies.

Doogie Howser M.D.

ABC

4. Passing the Torch

For as successful as Bochco’s own shows were, he also helped launch the career of other writers who would go on to big things.

“NYPD Blue” co-creator Milch is also responsible for “Deadwood,” one of HBO’s most popular shows (which may or may not be in contention for a revival). After coming up on Bochco’s “L.A. Law” and co-creating “Doogie Howser,” David E. Kelley would go on to create several acclaimed shows of his own, including “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal” and “Big Little Lies.”

After news of his death broke on Sunday, tributes to Bochco poured in, with everyone from Joss Whedon to Judd Apatow to Beau Willimon citing him as an influence and mentor.