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Widely considered one of the most prominent and influential television producers of all time, Steven Bochco has been responsible for groundbreaking dramas that pushed the boundaries for acceptable content, while underscoring the human frailty that exists in those who perform our toughest jobs. After working as a journeyman writer on such noted detective shows as "Columbo" (NBC, 1971-78) and "Delvecchio" (CBS, 1976-77), Bochco branched out on his own, creating his first Emmy-winning hit, "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87), the first show of its kind to depict police officers as human beings rather than heroes with a badge. But because of its tough subject matter and occasionally gruff language, Bochco routinely battled with network censors over the content of the show. After he left, he created his second Emmy-winning hit, "L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-1994), perhaps one of the most beloved shows of its day. Hot on the heels of that success, he created what many feel was the greatest police drama ever made, "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005), which ran afoul of all manner of advocacy groups for its routine nudity and coarse language. While actively pushing for his creative vision, Bochco always claimed never to...
Widely considered one of the most prominent and influential television producers of all time, Steven Bochco has been responsible for groundbreaking dramas that pushed the boundaries for acceptable content, while underscoring the human frailty that exists in those who perform our toughest jobs. After working as a journeyman writer on such noted detective shows as "Columbo" (NBC, 1971-78) and "Delvecchio" (CBS, 1976-77), Bochco branched out on his own, creating his first Emmy-winning hit, "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87), the first show of its kind to depict police officers as human beings rather than heroes with a badge. But because of its tough subject matter and occasionally gruff language, Bochco routinely battled with network censors over the content of the show. After he left, he created his second Emmy-winning hit, "L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-1994), perhaps one of the most beloved shows of its day. Hot on the heels of that success, he created what many feel was the greatest police drama ever made, "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005), which ran afoul of all manner of advocacy groups for its routine nudity and coarse language. While actively pushing for his creative vision, Bochco always claimed never to have pushed boundaries for its own sake - he was always interested in creating shows that realistically portrayed their worlds, giving him acclaim for being a true innovator in a medium not typically known for its artistry.
Born Dec. 16, 1943 in New York, NY, Bochco was born into a creative home - his father, Rudolph, was a child prodigy violinist who later played with the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini, and his mother, Mimi, was an accomplished painter and jewelry designer. From an early age, he dreamed of becoming a writer. Though not a voracious reader, Bochco nonetheless absorbed the works of J.D. Salinger, William Styron and Philip Roth. Despite lacking a passion for music, Bochco entered New York's High School for Music & Art as a singer, though much of his time was focused on standard academics rather than performance. After graduation, he spent a year at New York University, then transferred to Carnegie Tech - which later became Carnegie-Mellon University - where he majored in playwriting. Luckily, Bochco received several fellowships that helped him stay afloat at Carnegie, one of which was an MCA writing fellowship, which led to a summer job at Universal Studios. After final exams his senior year, he packed his car and drove out west with actor friend Michael Tucker, knowing he had a job at Universal waiting for him. Two days after arriving in Los Angeles, Bochco went to work as an assistant for a writing fellowship at Universal similar to the one that had brought him to the studio.
Eventually, he turned the administrator job into a $175-per-week apprenticeship writing television for the studio. Bochco cut his teeth on such early police and private detective series as "McMillan & Wife" (NBC, 1971-76), "Columbo" and "Griff" (ABC, 1973-74). He also ground out a few movies-of-the-week, putting his pen to paper for remakes of "Double Indemnity" (ABC, 1973) and H.G. Wells' "The Invisible Man" (NBC, 1975), while also churning out originals like "Richie Brockelman: Missing 24 Hours" (NBC, 1976), a standard detective show about an inexperienced gumshoe (Dennis Dugan) who tries to make it as a private detective despite his lack of know-how. Though the character was introduced on "The Rockford Files" (NBC, 1974-1980), the spin-off series never caught on with audiences. He next had his name put on "Gemini Man" (NBC, 1976), a rehashing of the failed "Invisible Man" series that depicted a government agent (Ben Murphy) able to turn himself invisible after being injured in a bizarre underwater accident. The two-hour pilot was a splicing of two separate episodes haphazardly bridged together with random voiceovers. Renamed "Riding with Death" years later, the movie was parodied in the 1990s on the hit cult series, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (Sci Fi Channel, 1989-2000).
Bochco continued to work on made-for-television movies and series, but increasingly found himself dissatisfied with the formulaic approach and the unnatural way characters talked and behaved. After settling into a producer role on the short-lived series like "Delvecchio," "Richie Brockelman, Private Eye" (NBC, 1977-78) and "Paris" (CBS, 1979-1980), he had moved from Universal over to MTM, where Bochco and fellow producer Michael Kozoll were asked to create yet another cop show, only one that focused much of its attention on their personal lives, which was practically unheard of at the time. But Bochco was reluctant to dive into procedural waters again, unless he was afforded creative autonomy and a significant amount of leniency regarding broadcast standards. The network granted what he wanted, while Bochco and Kozoll delivered the pilot script for what eventually became "Hill Street Blues," a fast-paced ensemble cop show that took place in the worst neighborhood in an unidentified city which realistically depicted the often troubled lives of the men and women sworn to protect the populace. Almost from the start, Bochco butted heads with network censors intent on sanitizing the content on his show, a battle he waged from the beginning to the end.
Because Bochco wanted "Hill Street Blues" to look and feel like audiences were dropped into the middle of the every day goings-on of a real police precinct, he relied heavily upon handheld camera movements, an ensemble cast and overlapping dialogue that ranged from the profound to the profane. But it was Bochco's stubborn adherence in fighting for the gritty and often controversial storylines - some of which hit hard on race and gender issues as experienced by those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder previously avoided by the networks. Atop of all the behind-the-scenes struggles, "Hill Street Blues" opened to abysmal ratings, landing at No. 66 out of 69 shows. But thanks to the tireless patience of Fred Silverman, president of NBC, and the resounding influence of television critics who hailed the series, "Hill Street Blues" survived its first season. In the end, Bochco's groundbreaking show won eight Emmy Awards, including ones for Bochco and Outstanding Drama Series. The wins helped build a loyal audience that suffered through several time changes that occurred over the course of the show's life. Meanwhile, Bochco won more Emmys in 1982, 1983 and 1984. Then in 1985, Bochco was fired.
There was never much in the way of an official explanation for Bochco's sudden firing, though it was widely accepted that his constant refusal to compromise coupled with the high cost of shooting an episode had something to do with it. But he also felt something personal was happening - Bochco's then-wife, actress Barbara Bosson, who starred on the show as Fay Furillo, was also let go. He did, however, have other irons in the fire, starting with the short-lived "Bay City Blues" (NBC, 1983-84), a comedic drama that focused on the trials and tribulations of players - both up-and-coming and washed-up - on a minor league baseball team. When he was through with "Hill Street Blues," Bochco went right to work on his next Emmy award-winning hit, "L.A. Law," a high-energy drama focusing on the personal and professional travails of lawyers working for a fictional Los Angeles law firm. In keeping with the precedence he set on "Hill Street Blues," Bochco pushed the boundaries of prime time television, only this time choosing to use sexual innuendo and suggestive language to underscore the high-flying world of corporate law instead of the down-and-dirty world of a police precinct.
Once again, Bochco created a groundbreaking show that broke all the rules on its way to becoming a ratings hit and Emmy Award winner. In fact, "L.A. Law" was considered to be one of the most popular and influential television shows of the late 1980s and early 1990s, turning previous unknowns Harry Hamlin, Corbin Bernsen and Jimmy Smits into stars. He also cast old friend Michael Tucker in a pivotal role. In an unusual turn, Bochco created "Doogie Howser, M.D." (1989-1993), a light drama about a brilliant child (Neal Patrick Harris) who becomes the youngest physician in the country while still trying to deal with normal teenage problems, a character inspired by his dad's own life as a musical prodigy. Though nowhere near as groundbreaking or controversial as his previous series, "Doogie Howser" nonetheless remained a popular show for a few seasons. Meanwhile, Bochco took a rare misstep with "Cop Rock" (ABC, 1990-91), a bizarre combination of police procedural and musical that quickly became a failure with both critics and audiences, thanks to characters spontaneously bursting out into song and dance numbers - Bochco even parodied the famous "Hill Street Blues" tagline, "Let's be careful out there," in an hilariously lame blues number. Because of the series pedigree and high production values, "Cop Rock" was long remembered as one of the most spectacular failures in television history and the punchline to many a joke.
Once the 1990s were in full swing, Bochco returned to form with "Civil Wars" (ABC, 1991-93), a short-lived, but critically acclaimed courtroom drama that focused on the lives and cases of New York City divorce attorneys. Despite several award nominations, including one for Best Actress for star Mariel Hemingway, "Civil Wars" was canceled after two seasons. But Bochco was saving his absolute best for his next series, the long-running, groundbreaking and delightfully controversial procedural, "NYPD Blue" (NBC, 1993-2005), a grim and gritty look at the hard lives of police detectives inside the 15th precinct in New York that Bochco co-created with David Milch, starring David Caruso and Dennis Franz as the mismatched partners. Almost from the start, parental advocacy groups and religious affiliations were lining up to push back at what they perceived to be unsuitable content for broadcast television - namely partial nudity and rampant profanity. One particular group, the American Family Association, successfully spearheaded a protest that led numerous ABC affiliates to refuse to air the show after naked backsides were seen time and again. But once the affiliates saw the high ratings, they dropped all moral pretensions and aired the series. Meanwhile, the series explored the troubled lives of the 15th's detectives, including an alcoholic widower (Dennis Franz) struggling to raise his son and overcome his racist behavior, as he moves through a variety of partners over the years, including Caruso (who abruptly left the series after season one to pursue a film career), Jimmy Smits, Rick Schroder and Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
Over the course of 12 seasons, "NYPD Blue" earned gobs of critical acclaim, 20 Emmy Awards (atop numerous nominations) in several categories, two Humanitas Prizes and a whopping $1.4 million dollar fine for showing full rear nudity and partial frontal nudity of actress Charlotte Ross during a shower scene shown in a February 2003 episode. The fine, however, was imposed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2008, five years after the fact. No fine was ever levied for a more infamous shower scene that showed Dennis Franz's posterior, leading many critics to lambaste the FCC for hypocrisy. Meanwhile, during the mighty reign of "NYPD Blue," Bochco put his stamp on several series that failed to match his previous successes. He developed "The Byrds of Paradise" (ABC, 1993-94), a drama about a Yale professor (Timothy Busfield) who quits his job and moves to Hawaii with his three children after the murder of his wife, followed by "Murder One" (ABC, 1995-97), a serialized procedural that follows a single murder case over the course of an entire season. After the quiet failure of two more cop series, "Total Security" (ABC, 1997-98) and "Brooklyn South" (CBS, 1997-98), he created "City of Angels" (CBS, 1999-2001), a medical drama centered on the predominantly African-American doctors and nurses of the Angels of Mercy Hospital in Los Angeles.
Despite the ongoing success and critical acclaim of "NYPD Blue," which was by the early 2000s, a cash cow for ABC, Bochco had a string of failures. He remained, however, the top television producer in the game, though bigger names from the feature side like Jerry Bruckheimer and McG began encroaching on his territory. As "NYPD Blue" wound down its final seasons, Bochco's failure streak continued, despite the high-caliber production values and extensive marketing campaigns. In 2004, he created "Blind Justice" (ABC, 2004-05), a cop procedural about a detective (Ron Eldard) who solves crimes despite having suffered an injury on duty that left him blind. Though the show was heavily promoted, it failed to catch on with audiences. The following season, Bochco created "Over There" (FX, 2005-06), a gritty and often repulsively violent look at a group of soldiers from the Army's Third Infantry Division fighting in Iraq while their families suffer and worry at home. Though the show received critical praise, some criticized it for not taking a position on the war amidst growing opposition. Regardless of the apolitical tone, the show failed to connect with viewers, many of whom were most likely sick of seeing the real thing on the news every night anyway. After taking over showrunning duties from Rod Lurie on the doomed White House drama "Commander in Chief" (ABC, 2005-06), Bochco created "Raising the Bar" (TNT, 2008-09), a legal drama about a group of former law school grads who find themselves on opposite sides of the same case.
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CAST: (feature film)
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For his early TV writing on the series "Columbo", Bochco received two Emmy nominations (1971/72 and 1972/73), a Writers Guild Award, and an Edgar Allan Poe Award. Bochco has also received two Humanitas Awards, three NAACP Image Awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards and a second Writers Guild Award.
Inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Hall of Fame in 1996
"Steve has always been one to break the rules. He does it more cleverly, even diabolically, than anyone else. He rocks the boat as a hobby." --Former NBC chairman Grant Tinker on Bochco, quoted in Time, May 2, 1988.
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