Hill Street Blues

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Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues.jpg
Police procedural
Created bySteven Bochco
Michael Kozoll
StarringSee Cast
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes146 (List of episodes)
Location(s)Republic Studios, Los Angeles, California
Running time49 minutes
Production company(s)MTM Enterprises
20th Century Fox Television
DistributorSteven Bochco Productions (1989–present)
20th Television (1990–present)
Original channelNBC
Picture formatColor
Original runJanuary 15, 1981 (1981-01-15) – May 12, 1987 (1987-05-12)
Followed byBeverly Hills Buntz
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Not to be confused with NYPD Blue.
Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues.jpg
Police procedural
Created bySteven Bochco
Michael Kozoll
StarringSee Cast
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes146 (List of episodes)
Location(s)Republic Studios, Los Angeles, California
Running time49 minutes
Production company(s)MTM Enterprises
20th Century Fox Television
DistributorSteven Bochco Productions (1989–present)
20th Television (1990–present)
Original channelNBC
Picture formatColor
Original runJanuary 15, 1981 (1981-01-15) – May 12, 1987 (1987-05-12)
Followed byBeverly Hills Buntz

Hill Street Blues is an American serial police drama that was first aired on NBC in 1981 and ran for 146 episodes on primetime into 1987.[1] Chronicling the lives of the staff of a single police station—"blues" being a slang term for police officers—in an unnamed American city, the show received critical acclaim, and its production innovations influenced many subsequent dramatic television series produced in North America. Its debut season was rewarded with eight Emmy Awards, a debut season record surpassed only by The West Wing, and the show received a total of 98 Emmy nominations during its run.

In 1993, TV Guide named the series The All-Time Best Cop Show in its issue celebrating 40 years of television.[2] In 1997, the episode "Grace Under Pressure" was ranked number 49 on TV Guide '​s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[3] When the list was revised in 2009, "Freedom's Last Stand" was ranked number 57. In 2002, Hill Street Blues was ranked number 14 on TV Guide '​s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time,[4] and in 2013 TV Guide ranked it #1 in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.[5]


MTM Enterprises developed the series on behalf of NBC, appointing Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll as series writers. The writers were allowed considerable creative freedom and created a series that brought together, for the first time, a number of emerging ideas in TV drama.

Hill Street Blues cast, circa 1986

Although filmed in Los Angeles, (both on location and at CBS Studio Center in Studio City), the series is set in a generic unnamed inner-city location with a feel of a U.S. urban center in the Midwest or Northeast such as Chicago or Pittsburgh.

The program's focus on failure and those at the bottom of the social scale is pronounced, very much in contrast to Bochco's later project, L.A. Law. Inspired by police procedural detective novels such as Ed McBain's 1956 Cop Hater, it has been described as Barney Miller out of doors; the focus on the bitter realities of 1980s urban living was revolutionary for its time. Later seasons were accused of becoming formulaic (a shift that some believe to have begun after the death of Michael Conrad midway through season four, which led to the replacement of the beloved Sergeant Esterhaus by Sergeant Stan Jablonski, played by Robert Prosky); thus, the series that broke the established rules of television ultimately failed to break its own rules. Nonetheless it is a landmark piece of television programming, the influence of which was seen in such series as NYPD Blue and ER. In 1982, St. Elsewhere was hyped as Hill Street Blues in a hospital. The quality work done by MTM led to the appointment of Grant Tinker as NBC chairman in 1982.

In season seven, producers received scripts from acclaimed writers outside of television: Bob Woodward and David Mamet.

There is also a short-lived Dennis Franz spinoff called Beverly Hills Buntz, in which Franz' dismissed Lt. Buntz character moves from the Hill to Los Angeles to become a private eye, taking along "Sid the Snitch" Thurston (Peter Jurasik) as his sidekick.


The theme song was written by Mike Post (featuring Larry Carlton on guitar) and reached No. 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 in November 1981.

Pilot: Brandon Tartikoff commissioned a series from MTM Productions, who assigned Bochco and Kozoll to the project. The pilot was produced in 1980, but was held back as a mid-season replacement, so as not to get lost amongst the other programs debuting in the fall of 1980. Barbara Bosson, who was married to Bochco, had the idea to fashion the series into four- or five-episode story "arcs". Robert Butler directed the pilot, developing a look and style inspired by the 1977 documentary The Police Tapes, in which filmmakers used handheld cameras to follow police officers in the South Bronx.[6] Butler went on to direct the first four episodes of the series, and Bosson had hoped he would stay on permanently. However, he felt he was not being amply recognized for his contributions to the show's look and style and left to pursue other projects. He would return to direct just one further episode, "The Second Oldest Profession" in season two.

Season 1: The pilot aired on Thursday, January 15, 1981, at 10 pm, which would be the show's time slot for nearly its entire run. Episode two aired two nights later; the next week followed a similar pattern (episode 3 on Thursday, 4 on Saturday). NBC had ordered 13 episodes, and the season was supposed to end on May 25 with a minor cliffhanger (the resolution of Sgt. Esterhaus's wedding). Instead, building critical acclaim prompted NBC to order an additional four episodes to air during May sweeps. Bochco and Kozoll fashioned this into a new story arc, which aired as two two-hour episodes to close the season. One new addition with these final four episodes was Ofc. Joe Coffey (played by Ed Marinaro), who originally had died in the first season finale's broadcast.

In early episodes, the opening theme had several clearly audible edits; this was replaced by a longer, unedited version partway through the second season. The end credits for the pilot differed from the rest of the series in that the background still shot of the station house was completely different; it was also copyrighted in 1980 instead of 1981.

The show became the lowest-rated program ever renewed for a second season. However, it was only renewed for ten episodes. A full order was picked up part way through the season.[citation needed]

Season 2: A writer strike pushed the start of the season forward to October 29, meaning that only 19 episodes were completed that year. Kozoll was now listed as a consultant, signifying his diminished role in the show. He later stated he was already feeling burnt out, and in fact was relying more on car chases and action to fill the scripts.

A less muted version of the closing theme was played over the end credits.

Season 3: Kozoll left the show at the end of season two, replaced for the most part by Anthony Yerkovich (who later created Miami Vice after leaving Hill Street Blues at the end of this season) and David Milch. This was the show's most popular in terms of viewership, as it finished No. 21. This was also the birth of "Must See TV", as the show was joined by Cheers, Taxi, and Fame. The network promoted Thursdays as "the best night of television on television." Michael Conrad was increasingly absent from the show due to his ongoing battle with cancer.

Season 4: Following his death on November 22, 1983, Michael Conrad's final appearance was broadcast halfway through the season in February 1984 in a memorable send-off episode, "Grace Under Pressure". Det. Harry Garibaldi (Ken Olin) was introduced at the end of the season as a temporary replacement for LaRue.

The show won its fourth and final Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series this season.

Season 5: The show changed drastically this season, entering a somewhat "soap operatic" period according to Bochco. New characters included Sgt. Stanislaus Jablonski (played by Robert Prosky) and Det. Patsy Mayo (Mimi Kuzyk). Det. Garibaldi was now a regular, while Mrs. Furillo (Bosson) became a full-time member of the squad room. Bochco was dismissed at season's end by then-MTM President Arthur Price. The firing was due to Bochco's cost overruns, coupled with the fact that the show had achieved the 100-episode milestone needed to successfully syndicate the program.

Betty Thomas won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress In a Drama Series this season. However, at the awards ceremony, recurring imposter Barry Bremen rushed the stage ahead of Thomas and claimed she was unable to attend. He then claimed the award and left the stage, confusing viewers and robbing Thomas of her moment in the sun, although she returned and spoke after the ad break. Presenter Peter Graves suggested that Bremen was "on his way to the cooler."

Season 6: Major changes occurred as Patsy Mayo, Det. Harry Garibaldi, Lt. Ray Calletano (René Enríquez), Fay Furillo (Barbara Bosson) and Officer Leo Schnitz (Robert Hirschfeld) were all phased out at the start of the season, and Joe Coffey left near the end. The sole addition was Lt. Norman Buntz, played by Dennis Franz, who had played a different character, Det. Sal Benedetto, in several episodes of season 3. Peter Jurasik played a new recurring character called Sid the Snitch who was often teamed with Buntz. In a 1991 interview on Later with Bob Costas, Ken Olin explained that these characters were removed so that the new show-runners could add characters for which they would receive royalties.

The season premiere opened with a roll call filled with officers never before seen on the show, briefly fooling viewers into thinking the entire cast had been replaced. It was then revealed that this was, in fact, the night shift. The action then cut to the day shift pursuing their after-work activities. Another unique episode from this season explained through flashbacks how Furillo and Ms. Davenport met and fell in love.

This was the first season that Travanti and Hamel were not nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor/Actress in a Drama Series.

Season 7: Officer Patrick Flaherty (played by Robert Clohessy) and Officer Tina Russo (Megan Gallagher) joined this season in an attempt to rekindle the Bates-Coffey relationship of years past. Stanislaus Jablonski became a secondary character part way through this season, and when Travanti announced he would not return the next year, the producers decided to end the show in 1987. The program was also moved to Tuesday nights almost midway through the season after nearly six years to make way for L.A. Law on Thursdays.

This was the only season that Weitz was not nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Only Betty Thomas was nominated, making her the only member of the cast to be nominated all seasons. This was also the only season for which the show was not nominated for Outstanding Drama Series.


[clarification needed Where and when were these the air times? US/UK? Original run/channel?]

1Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m./Saturdays at 10:00 p.m.
2Thursdays at 10:00 p.m.
7Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m./10:00 p.m./Thursdays at 10:00 p.m.

The series later aired in reruns on TV Land, Bravo, AmericanLife TV, and is currently on NuvoTV. Seasons one through three can also be viewed on hulu.com. Season three can be viewed as streaming video on commercial sites and is also available in many countries from Channel 4 on YouTube.


The producers went to great lengths to avoid specifying where the series took place, even going so far as to obscure whether the call letters of local TV stations began with "W" (the Federal Communications Commission designation for stations east of the Mississippi) or "K" (signifying a station west of the Mississippi). However, occasionally they would let something slip, such as the use of call letters WREQ, TV channel 6, in the season three episode "Domestic Beef". Another indication that the series took place in the Midwest or Northeast was Renko's statement to his partner in the season one episode "Politics As Usual": "Just drop that 'cowboy' stuff. I was born in New Jersey, [and] never been west of Chicago in my life."

Specific references in other episodes to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, and Columbus, Ohio would exclude those locales, while the clearest indication where the program was set lies in brief and occasional glances at Interstate Highway signs, including one sign designating the junction of I-55 and I-90, which is in Chicago. There was also one episode that contained a closeup of an el-train with the letters CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) visible.

Show writer Steven Bochco attended college at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. The run-down, shabby, drug-ridden impression of Pittsburgh's Hill District that Bochco acquired was apparently part of the inspiration for the show.[7]

The implication of a fictitious metropolis combining urban characteristics of both New York City and Chicago was effectively demonstrated in one episode early in season six, "In The Belly of the Bus", in which Belker is on undercover assignment at an intercity bus terminal on 145th Street, suggesting the scale of Manhattan's reach of numbered streets into the 200 range. Yet that same episode's title derives from the detectives being knocked unconscious and stowed in a duffle bag by the perpetrator who places it in the cargo section of a bus bound for Springfield, Illinois, as visibly marked on a parcel thrown in at a subsequent stop: as the driving distance between Chicago and Springfield is 200 miles (320 km), that would appear to be about as conclusive as many of the show's establishing shots and credits footage.[citation needed]

Although the series was filmed in Los Angeles, and routinely used locations in downtown Los Angeles, the credits and some stock exterior shots were filmed in Chicago, including the station house, which is the old Maxwell Street police station on Chicago's Near West Side (943 West Maxwell Street). The show's police cruisers are painted and marked similarly to Chicago police cars. The series frequently used establishing shots, under the credits at the beginning of the first act, showing an Interstate 80 sign, commuter trains entering and leaving the old Chicago and North Western Railway Chicago terminal (the C&NW yellow and green livery was clearly evident), and aerial views of South Side neighborhoods. Exterior views of the Cook County Criminal Courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue were used to establish court scenes. An exterior view of Philadelphia City Hall represented the state capitol.


During the course of the various episodes, 17 precincts are named: Hill Street, Polk Avenue, Midtown, Von Steuben Avenue, North-East, St James's Park, Michigan Avenue, Washington Heights, South Ferry, West Delavan, Filmore, South Park, Preston Heights, Castle Heights, Richmond Avenue, Farmingdale, and Jefferson Heights.[8][9][10]


Officers are listed by the rank they held at first appearance on the program; some officers later held higher ranks.

Main characters[edit]

Other characters[edit]

Gangs in Hill Street Blues[edit]

Gang culture was a feature in all seven seasons beginning with the first episode. Several storylines related to gang life, and the different approaches to negotiation, in particular by officers such as Furillo, Goldblume, Hunter, and to a lesser extent those of the uniform or plain clothes detective ranks.

Interactions included multiple gang meetings held at the precinct to negotiate "turf" boundaries and truces in exchange for facilitating a presidential visit that did not come to pass or the return of a governor's pet dog. The gang/police meetings more often formed part of the comic rather than the dramatic elements of the series.

Gang interactions mostly centered around the Hispanic gang Los Diablos, and the fragile, but productive and increasingly trusting, relationship between its leaders, Martinez and Furillo, who even attends Martinez' wedding. Martinez, the only gang character given any extended development, moves through the series from early and relapsing belligerence, to negotiation, to finally renouncing his gang colors and qualifying as a paralegal. David Caruso had a recurring role as Tommy Mann, the leader of a rival Irish street gang named the Shamrocks, in the early years of the series.[11]

Danny Glover had an early career appearance in the first four episodes of season two as Jesse John Hudson, erstwhile leader of the Black Arrows, whose stated aim to "go straight" turned out to be hypocritical, when he attempted to take back control of the gang.

Critical reception[edit]

Hill Street Blues received rave reviews from critics initially in general alongside dismal Nielsen ratings. Early schedule switching did not help; the show was broadcast once weekly on four different nights during its first season alone but gradually settled into a Thursday night slot. The NBC Broadcast Standards Unit deemed it too violent, too sexy, too grim. The producers described the show as an hour drama with 13 continuing characters living through a Gordian knot of personal and professional relationships. John J. O'Connor in a May 1981 review charted its growing popularity and called it "a comfortable balance between comedy and drama".[12] The groundbreaking choice to include African-Americans as mainstays in the core ensemble cast and to feature several inter-racial and inter-ethnic cop partnerships drew notice and praise, as did the overlapping plots and examinations of moral conundrums such as police corruption, racism, alcoholism, and both interpersonal and institutional forgiveness.[13]

The show was very influential, with many others imitating its use of handheld cameras, ensemble cast, and multiple overlapping story arcs lasting for several episodes, set in urban decay. Alan Sepinwall wrote in 2014 that it "is on the short list of the most influential TV shows ever made. Whether through shared actors, writers, directors or through stylistic and thematic complexity, its DNA can be found in nearly every great drama produced in the 30-plus years since it debuted". He compared Hill Street Blues to Casablanca, which was so influential on other films that "if you come to see it for the first time after a lifetime of watching the copies, it could be at risk of playing like a bundle of clichés — even though it invented those clichés".[14]


DVD releases[edit]

20th Century Fox released the first two seasons of Hill Street Blues on DVD in Region 1 in 2006.[17] Both releases contain special features including gag reel, deleted scenes, commentary tracks and featurettes.

On December 5, 2013, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series in Region 1. They subsequently released Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series on DVD on April 29, 2014.[18]

On November 4, 2014, they will release season 3 as a single season set.[19]

In Region 2, Channel 4 DVD released the first two seasons on DVD in the UK in 2006.[20][21]

In Region 4, Shock Records released the first three seasons on DVD in Australia on December 4, 2013,[22][23][24] and the remaining four seasons on 30 April 2014.[25][26][27][28] On December 4, 2013, Shock Records also released a complete series set.[29]

SeasonEpisodesRelease Date
Region 1Region 2Region 4
The Complete 1st Season17January 31, 2006March 25, 2013December 4, 2013
The Complete 2nd Season18May 16, 2006
The Complete 3rd Season22November 4, 2014
The Complete 4th Season22April 30, 2014
The Complete 5th Season23
The Complete 6th Season22
The Complete 7th Season22
The Complete Series146April 29, 2014December 4, 2013

In popular culture[edit]

Hill Street Blues has inspired parodies, storylines, characters, and cultural references in numerous media vehicles.

Computer game[edit]

In 1991, Krisalis Software (developed by Simeon Pashley and Rob Hill) released the computer game, Hill Street Blues, based on the TV show. The game runs on the Amiga, Atari ST, and DOS platforms[30] and places the player in charge of Hill Street Station and its surrounding neighborhood, with the aim of promptly dispatching officers to reported crimes, apprehending criminals, and making them testify at court. If certain areas have less serious crimes unresolved, such as bag-snatching, they soon escalate to more serious ones, such as murder in broad daylight.[31] The game, which now falls into the category abandonware, is still available for download at computer game sites and outlets, and has received mixed reviews.[32]




  1. ^ Hill Street Blues at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ a b TV Guide April 17-23, 1993. 1993. p. 38. 
  3. ^ a b "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28–July 4). 1997. 
  4. ^ "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows". CBS.
  5. ^ Roush, Matt (February 25, 2013). "Showstoppers: The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time". TV Guide. pp. 16-17.
  6. ^ Fetherston, Drew (May 10, 1987). "Last Call for the Cop Show That Broke All the Rules". Newsday. p. 11. 
  7. ^ Clemetson, Lynette (August 9, 2002). "Revival for a Black Enclave in Pittsburgh". New York Times{{inconsistent citations}} 
  8. ^ Corruption in South Ferry was a prominent feature of the Sullivan Commission in season two, while West Delavan and South Park (infrequently named) were first specifically mentioned by Esterhaus in the opening moments of the season one episode "Freedom's Last Stand". Philmore is named in the opening scene of the episode "The Shooter".
  9. ^ The episode "Domestic Beef" introduces Preston Heights and Richmond Avenue, while in the same episode Farmingdale is said to be an easy precinct, suitable for a less able Captain to run.
  10. ^ Castle Heights is named only once, by Washington, in the episode "Honk if You're a Goose" while Washington & LaRue are listing officers (and their precincts) who have taken their own lives.
  11. ^ Bochco, Steven; Yerkovich, Anthony; & Lewis, Jeffrey, Episode 3/9, "Hair of the Dog."
  12. ^ O'Connor, John J. (10 May 1981). "TV View; 'Hill Street Blues'- A Hit with Problems". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ "Forgiveness on Prime-Time Television, A Case Study: Hill Street Blues," (Mark Fackler and Stephen Darling), Studies in Popular Culture X (1987): 64-73.
  14. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (2014-04-28). "Review: 'Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series' on DVD / The groundbreaking '80s cop drama still holds up after decades of imitators". HitFix. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  15. ^ O'Neil, Tom (August 31, 2011). "Mad Men may tie record as Emmy's drama series champ". Awards Tracker (blog). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2011. 
  16. ^ [1][dead link]
  17. ^ "Release Information for Hill Street Blues". Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  18. ^ Update and Package Art for Shout! Factory's 'Complete Series' Set
  19. ^ "Hill Street Blues: Season Three". Shout!Factory. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  20. ^ "Hill Street Blues Season 1". Channel 4 Store. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  21. ^ "Hill Street Blues Season 2". Channel 4 Store. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  22. ^ "Hill Street Blues – Season 1". ScreenPop. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  23. ^ "Hill Street Blues – Season 2". ScreenPop. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  24. ^ "Hill Street Blues – Season 3". ScreenPop. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  25. ^ "Hill Street Blues – Season 4". Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  26. ^ "Hill Street Blues – Season 5". Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  27. ^ "Hill Street Blues – Season 6". Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  28. ^ "Hill Street Blues – Season 7". Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  29. ^ "Hill Street Blues – Complete Collection". Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  30. ^ Johnny "ThunderPeel2001" Walker (424), Martin Smith (63992) and phlux (4157). "Hill Street Blues Game Review". MobyGames.com. Retrieved 29 September 2010. 
  31. ^ Crusades83 (15 January 2007). "Hill Street Blues Game Review". Classic PC Games. Retrieved 29 September 2010. 
  32. ^ Home of the Underdogs (15 January 2007). "Hill Street Blues Game Review". Squakenet.com. Retrieved 29 September 2010. 

External links[edit]