Hill Street Blues is an American serial police drama that was first aired on NBCin 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 seriesproduced 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.

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.

  • Each episode features a number of intertwined storylines, some of which are resolved within the episode, with others developing over a number of episodes throughout a season.
  • Much play is made of the conflicts between the work lives and private lives of the individual characters. In the workplace, there is also a strong focus on the struggle between doing “what is right” and “what works” in situations.
  • The camera is held close in and action cut rapidly between stories, and there is much use of overheard or off-screen dialogue, giving a “documentary” feel to the action.
  • Rather than studio (floor) cameras, hand-held Arriflexes are used to add to the documentary feel.
  • The show deals with real-life issues, and employs commonly used language and slang to a greater extent than had been seen before.
  • Almost every episode begins with a pre-credit sequence (or “teaser”) consisting of (mission) briefing and roll call at the beginning of the day shift. From season three, it experimented with a “Previously on . . .” montage of clips of up to six previous episodes before the roll call. Many episodes are written to take place over the course of a single day.
  • Many episodes concluded with Captain Frank Furillo and public defender Joyce Davenport in a domestic situation, often in bed, discussing how their respective days went.


Hill Street Blues cast, circa 1986, left to right, from bottom: Taurean Blacque, Daniel J. Travanti, Michael J. Warren; Second Row: Betty Thomas, James B. Sikking; Third Row: Ed Marinaro, Denis Franz, Kiel Martin, Joe Spano; Top Row: Jon Cypher, Peter Jurasik, Robert Jablonski, Megan Gallagher

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. Bochco had intended this fictional city to be a hybrid of ChicagoBuffalo andPittsburgh.[2] However, at the beginning of Season 7, Episode 17, one of the police cars is driving past a sign indicating an approach to Interstate 90 and Interstate 94. Pittsburgh is in Allegheny County while Interstate 90 only runs in Erie County, approximately 150 miles apart. While Interstate 90 does run to Buffalo, Interstate 94 goes no further east than Michigan. The only major city where both Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 run is in Chicago. Additionally, a corner tavern sporting a Heileman Old Style beer sign appears in the opening title sequence. A regional beer brewed in Wisconsin, Heileman’s was a dominant product in the Chicago-Milwaukee area during the time the show was in production.

Another one of my favorites and the attitudes and scenarios were sometimes very realistic.

It was also a show I was glad I finally figured out the VCR timer.

2 Comments

  1. Let’s be careful out there

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