In Memoriam: Steven Bochco, TV Master, Golden Globe Winner, 1943-2018

by Yoram Kahana April 2, 2018
Writer and Producer Steven Bochco, Golden Globe winner

yoram kahana/shooting star/ hfpa

Steven Bochco, a five-time Golden Globe winner, died on Sunday, April 1, 2018. He was 74.Feisty, innovative television writer-producer Steven Bochco left his mark on television with a trifecta of hit legal-themed television drama series, which brought him to the Golden Globes 15 times in a 17-year run, 1982 to 1999, a feat perhaps unmatched in television and Golden Globe history.

A sceeb from the TVseries Hill Street Bllues

"Let's be careful out there" - a scene from Hill Street Blues.

MTM Productions

 

Hill Street Blues (1982-1988) received a total of 11 Golden Globe nominations and scored three wins. The series was nominated four years running in the Best Drama-TV category, winning twice. 

Bochco, an up and coming writer, working at MTM Enterprises, was asked to propose a new series for then last-place NBC. He agreed ".. on one condition, which (should've)  killed the deal right there: that  (NBC)  leave (me) completely alone to do whatever (I) want."

When the network agreed, said Bochco in his extended interview for the Archives of the Television Academy, in 2002, "I began to hear words about myself: He’s arrogant, he’s this, he’s that. My attitude was- call me what you will, but I know I have a great project here... and I’m not going to screw this one up. I’d rather not do it. And they folded...on everything.”

Hill Street Blues was new and different. It caught the zeitgeist of the early 1980s.  The series had a large canvas, filled with many engaging but flawed characters, whose stories were told in a brisk pace, with layers of overlapping threads, shot documentary-style, often with a handheld camera. Hill Street innovated by running the narrative arcs over several weeks. "A TV show with a memory", Bochco called it. “Here are these cops who are trying to keep the lid on 10 pounds of crap in a nine-pound can. That created the incredible push/pull tension of that series. (…) We stuck intensely powerful melodrama side by side with slapstick farcical, fall-down clowning. It was absurd, and it worked.”

Hill Street Blues was an instant success, helping establish NBC as a TV powerhouse. But in 1985, Bochco refused to cut costs and pare down storylines and was fired. Undaunted, he moved on.

 

Cast and Golden Globe wins of L.A.Law

Legal eagles  & Golden Globe winners. (Clockwise from top left): Steven Bochco and co-creator Terry Louise Fisher (with Robert Wagner and Jaclyn Smith) and their Golden Globe for Best TV Series, Drama, in 1987; Steven Bochco accepts the Golden Globe for Best TV Series, Drama, in 1988; the cast of L.A. Law.

20th Century Fox Television/NBC

 

L.A. Law (1986-1994): a total of 31 Golden Globe nominations and five wins, including seven consecutive nominations in the Best Drama-TV category, twice winning the Globe.

When MTM fired Bochco, he signed with ABC to replace their departing legendary producer and Golden Globe regular Aaron Spelling. It was an unprecedented six-year, 10 series deal worth a then-astounding $10 million.

L.A. Law was a departure from Hill Street's gritty Midwest (presumably Chicago) police setting. It was an elegant drama set in the sleek legal world of Los Angeles, but with the trademark Bochco style, sweep and tight structure.

“To me, Los Angeles was the absolute antithesis (to the Chicago-set Hill Street), and the polar opposite thematically. (Hill Street)  at its core was about despair and the inevitable system failure. (Here), I got L.A. and the land of dreams and wealthy, young, upwardly mobile attorneys who drive Porsches. It’s the same legal system, yet these people are masters of the universe.”

 

the cast and Golden Globes of NYPD Blue

Game changer. (Clockwise from top left) David Caruso and Steven Bochco with the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama and Best Television Series, Drama, 1994; Steven Bochco and wife Barbara arrive at the 1994 Golden Globes; the cast of NYPD Blue.

hfpa archives/ron gallela/getty images/20th Century Fox Television/Steven Bochco Productions/ABC

 

NYPD Blue (1993-2005): A total of 11 Golden Globe nominations, four wins, including five nominations in the Best Drama- TV category, and one win.

The one-hour TV drama had no-hit shows after L.A. Law. ".. so my business was in the toilet." said Bochco, “I thought the only shot we had at reviving the form is if we were willing to compete with cable ...(ABC)  wanted a cop show from me. So I said, ‘I’ll give you the cop show you want, but be careful what you wish for because the price is the language and the nudity.’"

The religious right took out ads lambasting NYPD Blue's sex, language, and immorality before it even aired.“They created a stir that no publicity machine in the world could duplicate,” Bochco said, “And thank God they did. We never faltered. ... we came out of the chute huge.”

 

Writer and Priducer Steven Bochco, Golden Globe winner

getty images/brian vanderbrug

 

Over his more than 50-year career, Steven Bochco created many more shows, some successful, some dismal flops. But he never yielded, never compromised. "Time and time again he refused to bend to network chiefs or standards and practices execs, thus earning rare creative control during his five decades of envelope-pushing work." wrote one critic.Bochco was his own man, blunt, direct and honest. He used to tell how early in his career, a producer  "explained  how things work in television: He said to me- ‘You get shit on by the people above you, and you shit on the people below you.’ I thought to myself:  if you turn that upside down, you’re on to something. So what you try to do is never shit on the people below you and only shit on the people above you. That always seems to work.”

Suffering from leukemia, Bochco still did not slow down. A stem cell transplant in 2014 bought him three more years. "Steven fought cancer with strength, courage, grace and his unsurpassed sense of humor," a family spokesman said. "He died peacefully in his sleep”.

Bochco's motto on managing the hits and misses of a television career was simple: "Always share responsibility when it's good. Take all responsibility if it's bad."